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286 Topics: Ask an American: Louisville Slugger; globe versus sphere versus orb; on/by horseback; to hit one’s funny bone; to stub one’s toe

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Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 286.

This is ESL Podcast’s English Café episode 286. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is eslpod.com. If you go there, you can visit our ESL Podcast Store, which has some additional courses in business and daily English. You can also download the Learning Guide for this episode. The Learning Guide contains a lot of additional information, including a complete transcript of this episode. It also has vocabulary words, definitions, sample sentences, cultural notes, and a short comprehension quiz on what you’re listening to now.

On this Café, we’re going to have another one of our Ask an American segments, where we listen to other native speakers talking at a normal speed. We’re going to listen to them and then explain what they are talking about. Today we’re going to talk about one of my favorite topics, baseball. In particular, we’re going to talk about something called the “Louisville Slugger.” And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

This episode’s topic is baseball. We’ve talked about baseball a couple of different times here on the Café. In particular, you might want to listen to Café number 50 from a few years ago, where we explained some of the basic rules of baseball and some of the vocabulary that we use in everyday English that comes originally from baseball. We have a few other Cafés, such as number 128, which also deals with some of the traditions and customs of a baseball game.

Our topic on this Café is going to be about something you use in a baseball game: a bat (bat). A “bat” can be a kind of animal, but here it means a long piece of wood used to hit the ball in the game of baseball. There are many different kinds of baseball bats made by many different companies, but the most popular and famous bat in the United States for both professional baseball players and regular people playing – children and adults – just for fun is the Louisville Slugger. Louisville refers to the place where the bats are made, in Louisville, Kentucky, which is located in the eastern central part of the United States. “To slug” (slug) means to hit something or someone very hard, so the word “slugger” (slugger) is a person who can hit a baseball very hard, in this case using the baseball bat. So in this case, the bat itself is called a Louisville Slugger. Someone who uses the bat, a baseball player, could also be called a slugger.

The company that makes the Louisville Slugger is called Hillerich and Bradsby. Today we’re going to listen to someone who works for the company. He’s going to talk about how many baseball bats are made by his company. We’ll listen first and then go back and explain what he’s talking about. Let’s listen:

[recording]

We make 2,500 bats a day on average. During peak production, around spring training time, we can make as many as 5,000 bats a day. We make 1.8 million wood bats here every year. Fortunately for us, the young son prevailed and we’re not making butter churns any longer, so…

[end of recording]

He begins by saying his company makes 25 hundred (2,500) bats a day – each day – on average. Some days it’s more, some days it’s less, but on average it’s 2,500 bats a day. He continues “During peak production, around spring training time, we can make as many as 5,000 bats a day. Something that is “at its peak” (peak) is the very highest point. We talk about the peaks of mountains. There’s a famous top of a mountain in Colorado called Pikes Peak. “Peak” is the very top of something, something very tall. So, “peak production” would mean the time when the factory – the place where the bats are made – is working as hard as it can, manufacturing, or making, as much of its product as it can. Companies that make candy, for example, are probably in peak production right before Halloween, because a lot of people by candy for Halloween in the end of October. Companies that make toys are in peak production in November and December because people are buying toys for Christmas. When talking about baseball bats, peak production is around spring training time.

“Spring training” is when baseball teams begin practicing – begin training. “To train” is to prepare for something. For baseball, the spring training season usually begins in February and March, which is technically a little before spring. The spring training season lasts about six to eight weeks. The first official regular baseball games begin in late March-early April. So, spring training is a time when the teams are preparing, and that’s when the bat factory has its peak production time.

He says that the company makes 1.8 million wood bats every year. That’s a lot of baseball bats! The company used to make other things, back many, many years ago. The original owner of the company wanted to make what are called “butter churns” (churns). Butter churns are not used very much anymore. They’re large wooden tools that used to be used to make butter by moving a piece of wood up and down in the cream, salt, and other ingredients that go into butter. However the owner of this factory – this is, again, many years ago – liked sports and thought that the company should make baseball bats instead. So that’s why you hear this mention of butter churns at the end of the quote. He says, “Fortunately for us (for our company), the young son (the son who wanted to play baseball, who liked baseball) – the young son prevailed and we’re not making butter churns any longer.” “To prevail” (prevail) means to win, usually an argument. In this case, the son convinced the father to make baseball bats, and that led to eventually the creation of the Louisville Slugger.

Let’s listen to the quote one more time:

[recording]

We make 2,500 bats a day on average. During peak production, around spring training time, we can make as many as 5,000 bats a day. We make 1.8 million wood bats here every year. Fortunately for us, the young son prevailed and we’re not making butter churns any longer, so…

[end of recording]

You may be wondering why all of this interest in baseball bats, and why in this particular bat called the Louisville Slugger. Next, we’re going to hear the gentleman from the company talk about why the Louisville Slugger is so special. Let’s listen:

[recording]

I think Lou Brock, the great Hall of Famer for the St. Louis Cardinals said it best when he said that, you know, if you didn’t have a Louisville Slugger in your hands, you weren’t playing baseball. I mean when people think of baseball bats, or especially certainly wood baseball bats, they’re thinking of a Louisville Slugger.

[end of recording]

He begins by referring to a man named Lou Brock, who was a great Hall of Famer for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. The Baseball Hall of Fame is an organization that honors the very best baseball players, and you have be voted into the Hall of Fame; not every player makes it to the Hall of Fame. Most sports, at least in the United States, have a Hall of Fame. You can actually go to the place, there’s a building sort of like a museum, and you can see the pictures and other things from the players’ participation – their life as a baseball player. It’s considered a great honor to be put in the Hall of Fame for any sport. The Baseball Hall of Fame is located in Cooperstown, New York – in the state of New York. Cooperstown, according to legend – according to some people is where American baseball was first started, where it was first played. A Hall of Famer, with an “r” at the end, would be a person that is in the Hall of Fame, and Lou Brock was one of the great baseball players of the 20th century. He played for the St. Louis Cardinals. St. Louis is located in the central part of the United States in the state of Missouri. A “cardinal” is a kind of bird. Baseball teams have different names; sometimes they’re animals, sometimes they’re related to the place where the team plays, and so forth.

He says that Lou Brock said it best. The phrase “to say (something) best” is used when many people have expressed the same idea, but you believe one person has explained it in the best way, most clearly, perhaps most poetically. Lou Brock said, “If you didn’t have a Louisville Slugger in your hands, you weren’t playing baseball.” So if you didn’t have this particular wooden bat, then you really weren’t playing baseball; all real baseball players use the Louisville Slugger. That’s the idea of his quote.

He says, “I mean when people think of baseball bats, or especially certainly wood baseball bats, they’re thinking of a Louisville Slugger.” He says “especially” and “certainly.” He was trying to think of the right word; when we talk we don’t always speak in perfect sentences, and that’s what happened here.

Let’s go back now and listen to what he has to say about why the Louisville Slugger is so famous:

[recording]

I think Lou Brock, the great Hall of Famer for the St. Louis Cardinals said it best when he said that, you know, if you didn’t have a Louisville Slugger in your hands, you weren’t playing baseball. I mean when people think of baseball bats, or especially certainly wood baseball bats, they’re thinking of a Louisville Slugger.

[end of recording]

As I mentioned at the beginning of this episode, it really is true that people associate baseball with the Louisville Slugger bat, and any boy or any adult who has played baseball will know about the Louisville Slugger. Baseball is popular among young boys in the U.S., or at least it used to be. Of course, there are also girls and women who play baseball, although softball, which is played with a different ball – a bigger ball – is more popular with females. A lot of kids now play other sports as well; other sports have become popular in many places, including soccer. But baseball is still considered the national sport, and there are still lots of people who play it as children and, of course, as adults if you are very good.

Now let’s listen to one more quote, talking about how many bats a baseball player uses in a season. Let’s listen:

[recording]

Everyday players will probably go anywhere from 12 to 14-15 dozen bats in a season. When they get them, they go through them and they pick out the ones they want for the games, they pick out the ones they want for batting practice, and they pick up the ones they want to sign and sell to their friends…

[end of recording]

It’s a little difficult to understand what he’s saying because there’s a lot of noise in the recording where they are doing the interview. He begins by saying, “Everyday players,” meaning baseball players who play the game, every game, every day almost. “Everyday players will probably go anywhere from 12 to 14-15 dozen bats in a season.” The phrase “to go anywhere from” is very informal, but it means approximately, about, when you are giving what we would call a “range” (range), the maximum (the most) and the minimum (the least) amount of something. So the typical, everyday player will probably go from 12 to 15 dozen bats – a dozen is 12 – so we’re talking about somewhere between 144 and 180 bats every season. The season in baseball is the time that it is played. Normally we talk about the four seasons: fall, winter, spring, and summer. But when we’re talking about sports or television, actually, a season is a part of the year when something is shown, or in this case, played. The typical baseball season professionally has 162 games, and the typical player uses somewhere between 144 and 180 bats. Of course, the bats often break during the game when they’re hitting the ball – that happens a lot – and that is one reason why they have to keep getting new bats.

He continues by saying that when they (the baseball players) get them (the baseball bats – the Louisville Sluggers), they go through them (they look at them) and pick out the ones they want for a game, they pick out the ones they want for batting practice. So when the player gets the bats, the player looks at each bat – looks at the ones because each bat is slightly different or can be slightly different. He’ll pick out the ones that he’s going to use for the regular games and what he’s going to use during batting practice. “To bat” (bat) is a verb; it means to use something such as a baseball bat to hit something else, in this case to hit the baseball. Batting practice happens before every game, where the players stand and they keep hitting balls one after another. Usually they have a machine that throws the ball at the player and the player practices hitting the balls. Sometimes batting practice is done by a real person; a pitcher will go up and start throwing balls to the players, and they will try to hit them – to bat them. So they “pick out” – that’s a phrasal verb meaning to select, to choose. They pick out the ones they want for batting practice, and they pick up the ones they want to sign and sell to their friends. He says “pick up” here, which is another phrasal verb. “To pick up” means to grab something and lift it up in the air or to lift it from where it is sitting. If I drop my pen, I can go down to the floor and pick it up; “pick out” means to select. So, I’m not sure if he made a mistake here; it’s possible to say they “pick up” the ones they want, they physically grab them. In either case, they pick up the ones they want to sign – put their signature on, their autograph – and sell to their friends. I’m not sure if he’s making a joke here. If a player is going to sell a bat to their friends, they’re perhaps not very good friends!

Let’s listen to the quote one more time:

[recording]

Everyday players will probably go anywhere from 12 to 14-15 dozen bats in a season. When they get them, they go through them and they pick out the ones they want for the games, they pick out the ones they want for batting practice, and they pick up the ones they want to sign and sell to their friends…

[end of recording]

You notice when he’s speaking quickly he sometimes, as we all do in English, shorten or abbreviate the word – leave out some of the sounds. Instead of “them” he’ll sometimes say “‘em”; “when they get ‘em” rather than “when they get them.” He’ll say “battin’ practice” instead of “batting practice.” That’s just the way people speak in conversational English in mostly informal situations, but also in formal situations; if you’re talking quickly that’s a very common thing to do.

My own baseball experience was very short. I don’t remember ever having a Louisville Slugger; I certainly used one when I was in school, and we played baseball in school. We also had some summer baseball teams, groups of young boys that would get together to play baseball. I love watching baseball, but I can’t say I was ever very good at playing it. I don’t think the Louisville Slugger would have helped me very much!

Now let’s answer a few of your questions.

Our first question comes from Hendrik (Hendrik) in Germany. Hendrik wants to know the meanings of the words “globe,” “sphere,” and “orb.” All three words refer to something – an object – that is round like a ball.

“Sphere” (sphere) is the most common word when talking about an object or a space that is shaped like a ball; it’s especially in math and science. You could say that an orange is a sphere – the fruit that you eat, that orange is a sphere.

“Globe” is now used more to talk about the Earth or a map of the Earth that is in the shape of a ball. We talk about “around the globe,” we mean all over the world, in different countries. “Globe” can also refer to a smaller round object that is not the Earth or a representation of the Earth, but it isn’t used that way very often anymore. If you hear or read the word “globe,” the person is probably talking about the Earth, all of the different countries on Earth.

“Orb” (orb) is not used very often anymore; it’s a rather rare word that can sometimes refer to round objects outside of the Earth, in what we might call “outer space.” It could also refer poetically to the eyes – your eyes, what you see with. But it’s not used hardly ever; I haven’t heard it or seen it in a long time.

There’s one additional meaning of “sphere.” It can sometimes be used to talk about the extent or the size, the amount of power or knowledge that a certain person or even group has. It’s often used with the word “influence.” You may talk about the United States having a “wide sphere of influence,” they have influence in many different areas. That’s something you may read especially in talking about politics. Before 1990, the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence included most of Eastern Europe.

Ivan (Ivan) in Brazil is reading an actually quite famous book called Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee; it’s a book about American Indians. I won’t talk about that now, maybe in another Café. In any case, he came across (he saw; he read) a couple of words he didn’t understand: “on horseback” and “by horseback.”

Well, let’s start with “horseback.” “Horseback” (one word) refers to someone who is on a horse – who is riding a horse, the animal, to go from one place to another. If you say someone is going to go “on horseback,” you mean they’re going to travel by riding a horse. “By,” here, really means the same thing. “On horseback” is a little more common, but “by horseback” means the same.

The prepositions “on” and “by” are often used when talking about modes or ways of transportation, how you get from one place to another. For some ways of traveling you can say either “on” or “by,” there are other ways where you can use “on” or you can only use “by.” If you’re talking about walking, you could say “I’m going to go by foot,” but it would be much more common to say “He’s going on foot.”

Notice we don’t say “on the foot” or “on the horseback.” We don’t use the definite article “the” or the indefinite article “a” typically when we are using these prepositions.

We use “by,” for example, when talking about airplanes: “He’s going to travel by air.” You wouldn’t say “on air,” that means something different. You can travel by motorcycle or you could travel on [a] motorcycle. “Bicycle” is probably one where we would use “by”: “He’s going by bicycle.” “Car” is also with “by”: “We’re going to go by car.” You cannot say, “We’re going to go on car.”

So as you can see, it really depends. You can go by plane, by train, by bus, by boat, by spaceship. “By” is probably the most useful one to know. And, of course, by car.

Finally, Jorge (Jorge) in Peru, but living now in the U.S., wants to know the meaning of two common expressions that use parts of the body: “to hit (one’s) funny bone” and “to stub (one’s) toe.”

“To hit (one’s) funny (funny) bone (bone)” is to hit your elbow in such a way that your entire arm has a strange feeling as if it were frozen, as if it were, we would say, “numb” (numb). That’s a phrase that you often hear kids use: “Oh, I hit my funny bone.” They mean they hit their elbow on a table or on something and it caused this strange feeling, this strange pain in the rest of their arm.

There’s another expression, “to tickle your funny bone.” “To tickle” (tickle) usually means to make someone laugh by touching them very lightly. “To tickle your funny bone” means simply to make someone laugh; they aren’t actually physically touching you. It’s sort of an old expression.

“To stub your toe” is still very common. Your “toe,” of course, is on your feet. “To stub” (stub) means to hit your toe, usually on a rock or perhaps on the wall or door. You’re not watching where you are walking and you accidentally stub your toe. When you hit your toe and hurt it like that, it’s almost always something we indicate with the verb “stub” We don’t use the verb “stub” very often for other things. It is possible to “stub out” your cigarette, meaning to put it on something – put it in something so it stops burning, but that’s not used very much. “Stubbing your toe,” however, is very common, both in life and in modern English.

If you have a question about modern English – not about life, I can’t answer your life questions – email us at eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Whether you’re traveling by car, by subway, by train, or on horseback come back and listen to us wherever you are on this big globe of ours, and we’ll try to tickle your funny bone a little bit here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse, copyright 2011 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
on average – a typical number; the number obtained by adding up several items and then dividing by the number of items

* On Monday the temperature was 56, on Tuesday it was 58, and yesterday it was 63, so on average the temperature so far this week has been 59.

peak production – when a factory is working as hard as it can, manufacturing as much of its product as possible

* At peak production, we can produce more than 300 gadgets per hour.

spring training – when baseball teams form and start to have regular practices, trying to improve their skills before they start participating in competitive games in the late spring and early summer

* If you want your kids to be on a baseball team, be sure to sign them up for spring training in March.

butter churn – a large wooden tool that used to be used to make butter by moving a piece of wood up and down in the cream, salt, and other ingredients

* After using the butter churn for just 20 minutes, her arms were very sore and tired.

to prevail – to win an argument; to dominate or be stronger

* Which army prevailed in the battle?

Hall of Famer – an athlete who is honored for his or her accomplishments

* Michel dreams of being a professional baseball player and becoming a Hall of Famer.

to say it best – to express an idea that many people have expressed, but more clearly, poetically, or artistically than anyone else

* Condoleezza Rice said it best: “Immigration reform is about the ‘national soul’.”

Louisville Slugger – a popular brand of baseball bats

* Shane can still remember the day when his uncle gave him his first Louisville Slugger and taught him how to hit a ball.

anywhere from – an informal phrase meaning approximately or about

* Eunice talks on the phone anywhere from two to three hours per day.

season – the time of year when something is done

* Most people eat too many cookies during the holiday season.

batting practice – the act of moving one’s bat quickly through the air, trying to hit a baseball many times to become better at batting, hitting balls over and over again

* If you want to become a better baseball player, you need to spend more time in batting practice with your teammates.

globe – used to talk about the earth or a ball-shaped map of the earth

* Close your eyes, spin the globe, and wherever your finger lands is where we’ll go on our next vacation!

sphere – the most common word used to talk about an object or space that is shaped like a ball; used especially in math and science

* If you give a baby a rectangular toy, she might hurt her eye. Giving her a sphere would be safer.

orb – an uncommon word referring to round objects in outer space, or to eyes

* The child drew a large monster with orange and green orbs for eyes.

to hit (one’s) funny bone – to hit one’s elbow in a way that gives the whole arm a strange, numb (frozen) feeling

* When Lula hit her funny bone against the doorframe, it made her drop her keys.

to stub (one’s) toe – to hit something with one’s toe by mistake, causing one pain

* Please pick up your toys! I just stubbed my toe on that toy car again!

What Insiders Know
Field of Dreams

The 1989 movie Field of Dreams is about a farmer in Iowa who walks through his corn “fields” (areas of land where something is grown) and hears a voice “whispering” (talking very softly and quietly), “If you build it, he will come.” He also sees a “vision” (the experience of seeing something even though it isn’t really there) of a “baseball field” (the place where a baseball game is played). So the farmer “plows” (uses a machine to turn over the dirt, usually to plant something) the corn field and builds a baseball field “in its place” (replacing something else).

Once the baseball field has been built, he begins to see the “ghosts” (spirit; what is left of a person after he or she dies, but not the body) of baseball players who come to his field to play the game. The farmer continues to hear voices, and he “turns to” (requests advice or guidance from) an “author” (writer) to help him understand what is happening.

The “line” (phrase) whispered by the voice in the field is often “misquoted” (said incorrectly) as, “If you build it, they will come.” Americans often use this phrase when talking about something that someone “proposes” (suggests) doing or making something when there seems to be little or no need for it or interest in it. For example, someone living in a very small town could decide to build a large shopping center. When other people tell him that there won’t be enough shoppers to make the business “profitable” (with more income than expenses), he might respond, “If you build it, they will come,” because he believes that once a large shopping center has been built, many people will come to the small town to see it and to shop there.