Baseball fans are lightweights. They can feast on meatballs, cans of corn, cheese and even salami and never gain an ounce.

That’s because baseball lingo has long been peppered with sweet and savory phrases. Food has worked its way into descriptions of all facets of the game during baseball’s 150 years or so as America’s pastime. Some of these date back about as far as the sport itself. Others, like calling a very fast pitch “cheese,” became hip and cool more recently. Cheese owes a lot of its current popularity as a baseball term to Red Sox broadcaster and hall of fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley.

According to a Twitter feed of Eckersley’s most creative turns of phrase called The Ecktionary, he uses at least eight variations of cheese when calling a game. Sneaky cheese is a fastball that looks faster than it is. Easy cheese – which is also a brand of an underappreciated canned cheese spread – is what he calls a fastball thrown with seemingly little effort.

“I’ve been hearing and using these terms as long as I’ve been in baseball,” said Eckersley, 64, in an email forwarded by his publicist. “Cheese is my favorite. I probably use that the most.”

For a total foodie experience at Hadlock Field in Portland, enjoy your ballpark treats while talking baseball’s appetite-inducing lingo. Here, then, is a list of some important food-centric baseball terms:

Beanball: It’s not a ball made of pintos or cannellini. It’s a pitch thrown intentionally at a batter’s head, or in the parlance of yesteryear, “the ole bean.”

Can of corn: A high, easy-to-catch fly ball. The term supposedly originated in the late 19th century and refers to how grocers would use a hooked stick to pull items off the shelf and let them drop into their apron. Canned corn was a best-seller, so it was on the lower shelves and, therefore, an easy catch.

Cup of coffee: Minor league ballplayers who are promoted to the major leagues for just a short time before being sent back down are said to have been up for “a cup of coffee.” The Sea Dogs are filled with players hoping to get up to the Red Sox, so this is a good term to know.

Goose egg: Refers to the number zero on the scoreboard. When your team fails to score in an inning and you’re disgusted, you say “Well, they hung another goose egg on the scoreboard.”

Grapefruit league: The term for the major league teams that conduct their spring training in Florida each year, as opposed to Arizona. That’s called the Cactus League, and most of us New Englanders don’t eat cactus.

Jam: Maine’s Stonewall Kitchen is known for its variety of jams, and so is baseball. To throw a pitch so far inside that a batter can’t extend the bat is to jam that batter. If the bases are loaded, they are also jammed, and that pitcher who put those three runners on base is said to be in a jam.

Juiced: Another multi-use term. If there’s a runner on every base, the bases are juiced. Players who take steroids and other things to become bigger and stronger are said to be juicing. Juicing, by the way, is against the rules.

Meatball: Refers to a pitch that is way too easy to hit, right down the middle of the plate. Often used by kids deriding their pitcher’s effort, as in “You’ve been throwing nothin’ but meatballs today, ya bum.”

Mustard: Older, pre-cheese term for some extra velocity on a fastball. “The pitcher really put some mustard on that one.”

Pickle: The more colorful and edible term for a rundown. This is when a runner is caught between two bases, say first and second, and the fielders throw the ball back and forth until one of them tags the runner out.

Rhubarb: A lively dispute on the field, often involving managers and umpires, is a rhubarb. This can also mean a fight on the field. The term was popularized by Red Barber, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ radio broadcaster in the 1940s and ’50s.

Salad: Baseball has vegetarian options, too. Salad is a more modern way of saying meatball, or an easy-to-hit pitch. Another favorite of Eckersley’s when calling Red Sox games.

Salami: Grand salami is another way to refer to a grand slam, which is a home run with the bases loaded. When the Seattle Mariners were filled with feared sluggers in the 1990s, broadcaster Dave Niehaus was often heard to say “Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma, it’s grand salami time.”

Snow cone: When a fielder barely catches the ball, with most of the ball sticking out of the glove, it’s said to be a snow cone. Can also be a verb as in “He got lucky with that one. Snow coned it.”

Table setter: A hitter, usually the first hitter, who is good at getting on base and getting in position to score. This hitter is said to be “setting the table” for the power hitters. It’s their job to drive him in. Why they don’t say those hitters are “clearing the table” or “doing the dishes” is unclear.

Tater: A synonym for a home run. It was used, most notably for Red Sox fans, by slugger George “The Boomer” Scott in the 1970s. The ball itself was sometimes referred to as a tater, or potato, early in the game’s history. Then a home run became a long tater, and then just a tater.

 

 


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