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.

closed as too localized by FumbleFingers, user11550, tenfour, Brendon, Mitch Jan 15 '12 at 15:52

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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

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

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.


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


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).



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.

  • 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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