As you may know, in (American) English there are many metaphors about baseball, including “hit a home run” and “touch base”. This is also the case in Japanese, the language of the country where baseball is one of the most popular sports. This article introduces unique Japanese baseball metaphors that you can “pitch” in a casual conversation! (However, don’t go overboard, as you may sound like a middle-aged baseball fanatic!)
ストライク (すとらいく, sutoraiku)
(Original): a strike
(Metaphorical): one’s type of girls/boys, girls/boys one finds OK or acceptable
Wow, is that girl your “strike”? Your “strike zone” is very wide!
Similarly, a “ball” refers to a girl/boy out of your “strike zone”. If they are on the borderline, you may say “ぎりぎりストライク/ボール”, where ぎりぎり is an adjective that describes something is on the borderline (e.g., near the deadline).
変化球 (へんかきゅう, henkakyū)
(Original): a breaking/curve ball
(Metaphorical): something twisted, unorthodox, unusual, surprising
It’d be good to give a present like a “breaking ball” (= unusual) to your boyfriend sometimes.
During the interview, I was asked a “breaking-ball” (unexpected, twisted) question and couldn’t answer it.
(Original) : a fast ball
(Metaphorical): straightforward, blunt
* To put emphasis, ド is often added before 直球.
“Why did you divorce”, I asked a “fast-ball” (very blunt) question.
It’s important to confess your feelings for your crush using “fast-ball” (straightforward) words
打席に立つ (だせきにたつ, daseki ni tatsu)
(Original): stand at a batter’s box/be at bat
(Metaphorical): make an action/try something without worrying about the outcome
Instead of 打席 (だせき), the katakana word バッターボックス loaned from “batter box” is also used.
To make your girlfriend, you first need to “stand at a batter’s” box many times (make some actions) and experience various things.
To be successful, it is important to keep “standing at a batter’s box” (= “making actions”) .
代打 (だいだ, daida)
(Original): a pinch hitter
(Metaphorical): a person who does something on behalf of someone who cannot make it
The katakana word ピンチヒッター from “pinch hitter” is also used
Because he is on his business trip, I am in charge of this work today as a “pinch hitter” for (on behalf of) him.
Because he was not able to go to the group blind-date, I was invited as a “pinch hitter” (instead).
キャッチボール (きゃっちぼーる, chatchi bōru)
(Original): playing catch
(Metaphorical): a mutual conversation/communication
It’s often used as “言葉/会話のキャッチボール” meaning “playing catch of words/conversation”
“Playing catch of words” (mutual communication) is very important between a child and parents.
Without listening to others, you cannot do “playing catch of a conversation” (have a mutual conversation)
ホームラン (ほーむらん, hōmuran)
(Original): a home run
(Metaphorical): a big success
In comparison, ヒット (a hit) is used as a small success.
In order to “hit a home run” (make a big success), you must keep striving without giving up.
Let’s aim to hit many hits (small success), not a single home run (big success).
逆転ホームラン (ぎゃくてんほーむらん, gyakuten hōmuran)
(Original): a come-from-behind home run
(Metaphorical): a big success after failure/
To put emphasis, you can add 大 (だい, dai) meaning “large”, or 一発 (いっぱつ, ippatsu) meaning “one-shot” before the phrase.
One year after I couldn’t get into all the universities I applied for, I “hit the come-from-behind home run” (a very big success): I got accepted into The University of Tokyo.
In investment, you should not aim for a “one-shot come-from-behind home run” (one big success after failure).
トップバッター (とっぷばったー, toppu battā)
(Original): a leadoff hitter/a batter who bats first
(Metaphorical): someone who performs something first
トップバッター literally means “top batter”, but actually indicates a leadoff hitter in baseball.
Because I am “the leadoff hitter” of tomorrow’s presentations (“the first person who gives a presentation”), I feel nervous.
The “the leadoff hitter” (the first performing group) on today’s TV show is AKB48!
(Metaphorical): those who are not concerned with/not responsible for one’s things
Shut up, “outfielders” (those who are not concerned with our things)
Sorry for saying lots of things from “the outfield”
= Sorry for saying lots of things although I’m not in charge of/related to your things.
九回裏ツーアウト満塁 (きゅうかいうら つーあうと まんるい, kyuukaiura tsūauto manrui)
(Original): loaded bases, two outs (out of three) in the bottom of the ninth (= last) inning
(Metaphorical): a last stand, a last big chance, a win-or-lose situation
To put emphasis, you can add フルカウント (full count).
This is exactly the situation when “bases are loaded, two outs in the bottom of the ninth”, (a last big chance)
(Trivia) It is said that ファイナルファンタジー (Final Fantasy, a globally popular Japanese video game) was named after the idea that this game was going to be the “final dream” — the company was then facing a last stand without any big hits. In the end, the company hit the “come-from-behind home run” in the situation when “bases are loaded, two outs in the bottom of the ninth”.