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I've heard the phrase, "We gotta ball game". It could also be "We have a ball game". But I don't understand the meaning of "having a ball game". If anyone has heard this expression before, please help. I'm so very confused after guessing about this for a long time. The person who said it couldn't even tell me what he meant by this.

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  • Since even the person who said this to OP couldn't explain what he meant, I'm afraid I'm duty-bound to vote to close as "too localised". – FumbleFingers Jan 14 '12 at 19:03
  • @Fumble: I think your vote to close is premature. People often repeat expressions they've heard without completely understanding their meaning. – Callithumpian Jan 14 '12 at 21:11
  • @Callithumpian: Yes, but it seems very likely that in this case the original speaker not only didn't understand what he himself meant - he was quite probably misrepeating some version of "We've got a whole new ball game". I find no instances in Google Books of "We've got a ball game" followed by, for example, now, going or any other word consistent with it not being a straightforward literal statement (as in ...to go to this afternoon). – FumbleFingers Jan 14 '12 at 21:43
  • I agree with closing this; the answers illustrate how unclear the question is. – tenfour Jan 14 '12 at 23:10
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The prototypical phrase is "We've got ourselves a whole new ball game"; often meaning that the situation has so changed that one has a sporting chance of success in whatever the situation is. Without the "whole new" part, it means that regardless of whether the situation has changed, one has a chance of success.

Idiomquest.com says, regarding "whole new ball game":

When the state of affairs change dramatically and presents new opportunities.

Edit: As others have mentioned, a phrase like we have a ball game may mean that a contest has developed, in a game that formerly looked like a walkover. That might be what was meant by the person who said it, and of course is the sort of thing meant by the phrase a sporting chance in my answer above.

Looking at ngrams, it appears that the phrase new ball game is found a hundred times as frequently as any of got a ball game, us a ball game, or have a ball game; and looking at links from ngrams, the contest-has-developed sense is surprisingly rare, but of course does occur.

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    I agree this is a common idiom taken from sports jargon, but I don't believe this is the phrase referred to by the OP. – Callithumpian Jan 14 '12 at 20:31
  • @Callithumpian, I've updated my answer to include that alternate possibility – James Waldby - jwpat7 Jan 14 '12 at 21:13
  • Ok. I retracted my downvote. Though I have mixed feelings about having what I think is my correct interpretation of the question folded into someone else's answer. Since your answer was already chosen, I suppose it's all good. – Callithumpian Jan 14 '12 at 21:23
  • @Callithumpian: Perhaps you'd be so good as to track down a few more instances where OP's "cut-down" version could be anything different to, say, a boxing commentator saying "We've got a boxing match" halfway through the fight. Which would simply mean that the earlier rounds weren't much of a contest, but would in no way imply that "We've got a boxing match" was something worthy of consideration here on ELU. Whereas jwpat7 is spot-on in pointing out that "...whole new ball game" is very much part of the general lexicon outside sports commentating. – FumbleFingers Jan 14 '12 at 21:49
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    @FumbleFingers: See my edit. Jwpat7 may be spot-on regarding whole new ball game. Unfortunately, that phrase has nothing to do with this particular question. – Callithumpian Jan 14 '12 at 22:57
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American sportscasters and sports fans will often say we have a ball game (often preceded by now or suddenly) when two sports teams seem equally matched or when the score of a game gets close, thus avoiding a blowout. A blowout could be seen as the opposite of a ball game in this sense. Another way of thinking about it is that having a ball game is synonymous with having a competitive matchup that is fair and interesting to watch.

This phrase has been borrowed from sports jargon and is commonly applied to other competitions, such as a close political race.

Edit:

At @Fumble's request, here's some more examples of the phrase used idiomatically:

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When "we DON'T have a ball game," it suggests that the "match" is one-sided. "It's a ball game again," or "we've got a ball game" means that a recent event "suddenly" made a formerly lopsided game competitive.

Say one team is leading another in an American baseball game 5-0. In professional games, at least, that represents almost a sure win for the first team. But suppose the occurrence of the unlikely event that the trailing team hits a "grand slam" home run (for four points). Now, it's 5-4, not 5-0, and the formerly one-sided game is suddenly "competitive" (especially since the trailing team is still "at bat," and might add more runs).

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Basically,

We have a ball game

is just a shortened form of:

We have a ball game to attend to.

Similary, "I have a meeting." is a shortened version of "I have a meeting to attend to".

People tend to shorten expressions for convenience.

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  • Given that the OP said, "The person who said it couldn't even tell me what he meant by this." it's probably metaphorical, not this literal. – Matthew Flaschen Jan 15 '12 at 6:40

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