What does "break character" mean in the following baseball context? (the quote is from a recent Associated Press sports newstory)

The Japanese two-way player got the silent treatment from teammates when he returned to the dugout, but not from the crowd. After the players broke character and jumped around Ohtani to celebrate, Mike Trout pointed to the field and instructed Ohtani to take a curtain call.

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    Doesn't it just mean that they stopped the "silent treatment"? The character that they took upon themselves was "silent treatment" towards the Japanese player and later they jumped around him thereby breaking that character. – Vahagn Tumanyan Apr 5 '18 at 8:18
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    The term is from the acting domain. When an actor breaks character, they inadvertently (contrast '[deliberately] breaking the fourth wall') slip out of character, perhaps laughing at an inappropriate moment, perhaps glancing at their watch when filming a Roman epic. They stop maintaining the persona they're supposed to be maintaining. I'm not sure this works here unless Ohtani's teammates had been instructed to give him the cold shoulder. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 5 '18 at 9:58
  • There are some psychological / social implications. In order for someone to be perceived in that way (breaking character) means that you would have had to mentally impose or establish a specific role for them that you expected them to play. – Bread Apr 5 '18 at 12:04

The selection uses three phrases, silent treatment, break character, curtain call. The one you ask about is a verb phrase to break character; the other two are noun phrases.

The teammates decided to give Ohtani the silent treatment as a "joke" (rather than immediately heaping praise upon him). Then they broke character (gave up this role of being silent) and gave him great praise. Then Trout told him to take a curtain call, which in this context means to go out onto the field and tip one's cap to the fans. As Edwin notes in a comment, the phrase break character is from the world of acting.

Perhaps the sports writer does too much ("goes overboard") in employing three such related phrases in such a short span of text.

Again, break character is a verb phrase; if it helps, you can write it as to break character. By contrast, the other two phrases are used with verbs, usually 'to give someone the silent treatment' (or, here to get the silent treatment) and 'to take a curtain call', just as in the story.

  • Yep, the phrase is from theatre, where an actor "breaks character" and exhibits some behavior different from the role he had been playing. – Hot Licks Apr 5 '18 at 11:54

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