|This article needs additional citations for verification. (June 2012)|
|Highest governing body||World Baseball Softball Confederation|
|First played||United States, 1887|
|Team members||2 teams of 9–10|
Softball is a variant of baseball played with a larger ball on a smaller field. It was invented in 1887 in Chicago as an indoor game. It was at various times called indoor baseball, mush ball, playground, softbund ball, kitten ball, and, because it was also played by women, ladies' baseball. The name softball was given to the game in 1926. A tournament held in 1933 at the Chicago World's Fair spurred interest in the game. The Amateur Softball Association of America (founded 1933) governs the game in the United States and sponsors annual sectional and World Series championships. The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) regulates rules of play in more than 110 countries, including the United States and Canada; before the WBSC was formed in 2013, the International Softball Federation filled this role. Women's fast-pitch softball became a Summer Olympic sport in 1996, but it (and baseball) were dropped in 2005 from the 2012 games.
There are two types of softball. In the most common type, slow-pitch softball, the ball, sometimes larger than the standard 12 inches, must arch on its path to the batter; there are 10 players in a team; and bunting and stealing are prohibited. In fastpitch softball, the pitch is fast, there are nine players on the field at one time, and bunting and stealing are permitted. Softball rules vary somewhat from those of baseball. Two major differences are that the ball must be pitched underhand—from 46 ft. (14 m) for men or 43 ft, and 35ft for 10u, 8u, and 6u girls. (12 m) for women as compared with 60.5 ft. (18.4 m) in baseball—and that seven innings instead of nine constitute a regulation game.
Despite the name, the ball used in softball is not very soft. It is about 12 in. (30.5 cm) in circumference (11 or 12 in. for slow-pitch), which is 3 in. (8 cm) larger than a baseball. The infield in softball is smaller than on a baseball diamond; each base is 60 ft (18 m) from the next, as opposed to baseball's 90 ft. (27 m).
- 1 History
- 2 Overview
- 3 Gameplay
- 4 Equipment
- 5 Umpires
- 6 Gameplay
- 7 Positions
- 8 Modification of rules
- 9 International competition
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
The earliest known softball game was played in Chicago, Illinois on Thanksgiving Day, 1887. It took place at the Farragut Boat Club at a gathering to hear the outcome of the Yale and Harvard football game. When the score was announced and bets were settled, a Yale alumnus threw a boxing glove at a Harvard supporter. The other person grabbed a stick and swung at it. George Hancock called out "Play ball!" and the game began, with the boxing glove tightened into a ball, a broom handle serving as a bat. This first contest ended with a score of 41-40. The ball, being soft, was fielded barehanded.
George Hancock is credited as the game's inventor for his development of ball and an undersized bat in the next week. The Farragut Club soon set rules for the game, which spread quickly to outsiders. Envisioned as a way for baseball players to maintain their skills during the winter, the sport was called "Indoor Baseball". Under the name of "Indoor-Outdoor", the game moved outside in the next year, and the first rules were published in 1889.
In 1895 Lewis Rober, Sr. of Minneapolis organized outdoor games as exercise for firefighters; this game was known as kitten ball (after the first team to play it), lemon ball, or diamond ball. Rober's version of the game used a ball 12 inches (305 mm) in circumference, rather than the 16-inch (406 mm) ball used by the Farragut club, and eventually the Minneapolis ball prevailed, although the dimensions of the Minneapolis diamond were passed over in favor of the dimensions of the Chicago one. Rober may not have been familiar with the Farragut Club rules. The first softball league outside the United States was organized in Toronto in 1897.
The name "softball" dates back to 1926. The name was coined by Walter Hakanson of the YMCA at a meeting of the National Recreation Congress. (In addition to "indoor baseball", "kitten ball", and "diamond ball", names for the game included "mush ball", and "pumpkin ball".) The name softball had spread across the United States by 1930. By the 1930s, similar sports with different rules and names were being played all over the United States and Canada. The formation of the Joint Rules Committee on Softball in 1934 standardized the rules and naming throughout the United States.
Sixteen-inch softball, also sometimes referred to as "mushball" or "super-slow pitch", is a direct descendant of Hancock's original game. Defensive players are not allowed to wear fielding gloves. Sixteen-inch softball is played extensively in Chicago, where devotees such as the late Mike Royko consider it the "real" game, and New Orleans. In New Orleans, sixteen-inch softball is called "Cabbage Ball" and is a popular team sport in area elementary and high schools.
By the 1940s, fast pitch began to dominate the game. Although slow pitch was present at the 1933 World's Fair, the main course of action taken was to lengthen the pitching distance. Slow pitch achieved formal recognition in 1953 when it was added to the program of the Amateur Softball Association, and within a decade had surpassed fast pitch in popularity.
The first British women's softball league was established in 1952.
In 1991, women's fast-pitch softball was selected to debut at the 1996 Summer Olympics. The 1996 Olympics also marked a key era in the introduction of technology in softball. The IOC funded a landmark bio-mechanical study on pitching during the games.
In 2002, sixteen-inch slow pitch was written out of the ISF official rules, although it is still played extensively in the United States under The Amateur Softball Association of America, or ASA rules.
Other sanctioning bodies of softball are AAU, NSA, PONY, ASA, ISC, USSSA, Tripple Crown and ISA.
Softball is played between two teams on a large field, with 9 players from one team on the field at a time. The field is usually composed of a dirt or brick-dust infield that contains the quadrilateral shape and running areas, and a grass outfield. However, the field can consist of other solid and dry surfaces such as artificial turf or asphalt. There are 4 bases on the infield (first base, second base, third base, and home plate); the bases are arranged in a square and are typically 45 to 65 feet (13,7 to 19,8 meters) apart. Near the center of this square is the pitcher's circle, and within the circle is the "rubber", a small flat rectangular piece of rubber about a foot and a half in length. The rubber can be 40 or 43 feet away from home plate, depending on age level and the league one is playing in. The object of the game is to score more runs (points) than the other team by batting (hitting) a ball into play and running around the bases, touching each one in succession. The ball is a sphere of light material, covered with leather or synthetic material. It is 10 to 12 inches (or rarely, 16 inches) (28 to 30.5 centimeters) in circumference. The game is officiated by one or more neutral umpires. Players and umpires are generally free to ask for a brief stoppage at any time when the ball is not in play, or immediately following a play once its outcome is clear.
The game is played in usually 7 innings. Each inning is divided into a top half, in which the visiting team bats and tries to score runs, while the home team occupies the field and tries to record 3 outs; then a bottom half, when the teams' roles are reversed. Youth leagues may play 6-inning games; most ASA and middle school rules specify 5 innings and a maximum time of 1.5 hours.
To start play, the offense sends a batter to home plate. The batting order must be fixed at the start of the game, and players may not bat out of turn. The defense's pitcher stands atop the rubber and throws "(pitches") the ball towards home plate using an underhanded motion. If the pitcher is playing in a fast pitch league, they must have both feet in contact with the pitching rubber at all times. If the pitcher is playing in a slow pitch league, the pitcher is allowed to take one step back prior to releasing the ball during the forward movement. The batter attempts to hit the pitched ball with a bat, a long, round, smooth stick made of wood, metal or composite. A pitch must fly over the home plate within an area known as the strike zone: it must cross over home plate, and as it crosses it must be above the knees and slightly below the shoulders (roughly the armpit or the shirt logo). The strike zone therefore varies from batter to batter, and the umpire behind home plate is the sole arbiter of what is or is not a valid pitch. A pitch outside the strike zone is a ball, and if the batter reaches 4 balls, the batter is awarded the first base. A pitch that crosses the strike zone is a strike, and a batter who reaches 3 strikes is out (a strikeout), and the next batter in the order comes to bat. A strike is also recorded on any pitch that the batter swings at and misses entirely, and also on a pitch that is hit foul (out of play). A foul ball may or may not result in a strikeout dependent upon what association and local league rules. However, bunting a foul ball does result in a strikeout. In some associations and leagues, bunting is not allowed and results in an out.
The batter attempts to swing the bat and hit the ball fair (into the field of play). After a successful hit the batter becomes a baserunner (or runner) and must run to first base. The defense attempts to field the ball and may throw the ball freely between players, so one player can field the ball while another moves to a position to put out the runner. The defense can tag the runner, by touching the runner with the ball while the runner is not on a base. The defense can also touch first base while in possession of the ball; in this case it is sufficient to beat the batter to first base and an actual tag of the batter is unnecessary. A runner is said to be "thrown out" when the play involves two or more defensive players. Runners generally cannot be put out when touching a base, but only one runner may occupy a base at any time and runners may not pass each other. When a ball is batted into play, runners generally must attempt to advance if there are no open bases behind them; for example, a runner on first base must run to second base if the batter puts the ball in play. In such a situation, the defense can throw to the base that the lead runner is attempting to take (a force out), and the defense can then also throw to the previous base. This can result in a multiple-out play: a double play is two outs, while a triple play, a very rare occurrence, is three outs. Runners with an open base behind them are not forced to advance and do so at their own risk; the defense must tag such runners directly to put them out rather than tagging the base.
A ball hit in the air and caught before hitting the ground, in fair or foul territory, puts the batter out. A fly ball is a ball hit high and deep, a pop fly is a ball hit high but short, and a line drive is a ball hit close to the horizontal. After the catch, runners must return to their original bases; if the defense throws the ball to that base before the runner returns, the runner is out as well, resulting in a double play. A runner who remains on the base until the ball is touched, or returns to the base (tags up) after the catch, may try to advance to the next base, at the risk of being tagged out between bases. As in baseball, the infield fly rule applies in some game situations to prevent the defense from recording multiple force outs by deliberately dropping an easy catch.
Offensive strategy is mostly just to hit the ball skillfully to let the batter reach base and advance other runners around the bases to score runs. The count of balls and strikes indicates how aggressive the batter should be. The offense may try to sacrifice, with the batter deliberately making an out in order to advance runners. Defensive strategy is more complex, as particular situations (number of outs and positions of baserunners) and particular batters call for different positioning of fielders and different tactical decisions. The defense may decide to allow a run if it can achieve one or multiple outs.
The playing field is divided into 'fair territory' and 'foul territory'. Fair territory is further divided into the 'infield', and the 'outfield', and the territory beyond the outfield fence.
The field is defined by 'foul lines' that meet at a right angle at 'home plate'. The minimum length of the baselines varies classification of play (see below for official measurements). A fence running between the baselines defines the limits of the field; distance from home plate to the fence varies by field.
Behind home plate is a 'backstop'. It must be between 25 and 30 feet (7.62 and 9.14 meters) behind home plate depending on the type of division that is playing.
'Home Plate' is one corner of a diamond with 'bases' at each corner. The bases other than home plate are 15 in (38 cm) square, of canvas or a similar material, and not more than 5 in (13 cm) thick. The bases are usually securely fastened to the ground. The bases are numbered counter clockwise as first base, second base, and third base. Often, but not always, outside first base (that is, in foul territory) and adjacent and connected to it, there is a contrast-colored "double base" or "safety base". It is intended to prevent collisions between the first baseman and the runner. The runner runs for the foul portion of the double base after hitting the ball while the fielding team tries to throw the ball to the regular first base before the runner reaches the safety base. However, not all softball diamonds have these safety bases and they are much more common in women's softball than in men's. The double base is required in ISF championships.
The infield consists of the diamond and the adjacent space in which the infielders (see below) normally play. The outfield is the remaining space between the baselines and between the outfield fence and the infield. The infield is usually "skinned" (dirt), while the outfield has grass in regulation competitions.
Near the center of the diamond is the pitching plate. In fast pitch, a skinned circle 16 feet (4.88 meters) in diameter known as the pitching circle is around the pitching plate.
A field is officially required to have a warning track between 15 and 12 feet (5 and 4 meters) from the outfield fence. However, if the game is being played on a field larger than required, no warning track is required before the temporary outfield fencing.
Located in foul territory outside both baselines are two 'Coach's Boxes'. Each box is behind a line 15 feet (5 meters) long located 12 feet (3 meters) from each baseline.
Official baseline dimensions
|Fast Pitch Baselines||Slow Pitch Baselines||Wheelchair Baselines|
|60 feet (18.29 m)||70 feet (21.34 m) or 65 feet (19.81 m) or more depending on the association and level of play||50 feet (15.24 m)|
Fast pitch pitching distances
|College and Adult||Under 18 Girls / 8 and under is coach pitch.
10 and under is 35' kid pitch distance. 12 and under is 40' kid pitch distance. 14 and older is 43' kid pitch distance.
|43 feet (13.11 m)||46 feet (14.02 m)||43 feet (13.11 m)||43 feet (13.11 m)||43 feet (13.11 m) or 30 feet (9.14 m)||43 feet (13.11 m)
There is a little league distance also; 35 feet for minors, 38 feet for majors, 43 feet for middle school.
|14–19 years||15-16 yrs (Female)||12–14 years||<12 years|
|50 feet (15.24 m)||50 feet (15.24 m)||46 feet (14.02 m)||40 feet (12.19 m)||35 feet (10.67 m)||28 feet (8.53 m)|
Equipment required in softball includes a ball, a bat (metal or wooden), gloves, uniforms and protective gear: for example, helmets for the offensive team and a helmet, shin guards and chest protector for the defensive catcher. Also cleats, sliding shorts, face masks and knee sliders may be worn for softball. This is the most important part of the game, because if you do not have the right equipment then you are not going to be very successful.
Despite the sport's name, softballs are not especially soft. The size of the ball varies according to the classification of play; the permitted circumferences in international play are 12±0.125 in (30.5±0.3 cm), in weight between 6.25 oz (178 g) and 7.0 oz (198.4 g) in fast pitch; 11±0.125 in (29.7±0.3 cm), weight between 5.875 oz (166.5 g) and 6.125 oz (173.6 g) in slow pitch. For comparison, under the current rules of Major League Baseball, a baseball weighs between 5 and 5 1⁄4 ounces (142 and 149 g), and is 9 to 9 1⁄4 inches (229–235 mm) in circumference (2 7⁄8–3 in or 73–76 mm in diameter). A 12-inch circumference ball is generally used in slow pitch, although in rare cases some leagues (especially recreational leagues) do use a 14-inch circumference ball. Some balls have a raised seam, and others do not. The ball is most often covered in white or yellow leather in two pieces roughly the shape of a figure-8 and sewn together with red thread, although other coverings are permitted. The core of the ball may be made of long fiber kapok, or a mixture of cork and rubber, or a polyurethane mixture, or another approved material.
In 2004, high-visibility yellow "optic" covering, long-used for restricted flight balls in co-ed recreational leagues, became standard for competitive play. Yellow is the color of official NCAA and NAIA softballs. Yellow softballs are fast becoming the standard for all levels of play for girls' and women's play in particular. White balls are also allowed, but are much more common in slow pitch than in fast pitch.
In Chicago, where softball was invented, it remains traditional to play with a ball 16 inches (41 centimeters) in circumference. The fielders do not wear gloves or mitts. A 16" softball when new is rough and hard, with hand and finger injuries to fielders frequent if they do not "give" when receiving a ball, but the ball "breaks in" slightly during a game and continues to soften over time with continued play. A well-broken-in ball is called a mush ball and is favoured for informal "pick-up" games and when playing in limited space, such as a city street (because the ball does not go as far). A 16-inch ball is also used for wheelchair softball.
The bat used by the batter can be made of wood, aluminum, or composite materials such as carbon fiber. Sizes may vary but they may be no more than 34 inches (86 cm) long, 2.25 inches (6 cm) in diameter, or 38 oz. (1.2 kilograms) in weight. The standard bat barrel diameter for both slowpitch and fastpitch softball is 21⁄4 inches. Many players prefer a smaller barrel, which reduces weight and allows higher swing speed.
All defensive players wear fielding gloves, made of leather or similar material. Gloves have webbing between the thumb and forefinger, known as the "pocket". The first baseman and the catcher may wear mitts; mitts are distinguished from gloves in that they have extra padding, and no fingers. No part of the glove is allowed to be the same color as that of the ball, including that of its seams. Gloves used in softball are usually larger than the ones used in baseball. No glove larger than 14" (36 cm) can be used in ASA sanctioned play.
Each team wears a distinctive uniform. The uniform includes a cap or visor, a shirt (usually sleeveless), tight sliding undershorts (these are optional), socks, and pants; these are the components for which standards are set.
Caps, visors, and headbands are optional for female players, and sometimes have to be the same color. Caps are mandatory for male players. A fielder who chooses to wear a helmet (see below) is not required to wear a cap.
Many female players use "sliding shorts", otherwise known as compression shorts in other sports. These shorts help to protect the upper thigh when sliding into a base. "Sliders" may also be worn for similar protection. These are somewhat padded shinguards that extend usually from the ankle to the knee of the wearer and wrap all the way around the leg(s). They protect the shin, calf, etc. from getting bruised or damaged while sliding into homeplate and make it much more comfortable to slide into the plate. Most male players use long, baseball-style pants.
At the back of the uniform, an Arabic numeral from numbers 0 through 99 must be visible. Numbers such as 02 and 2 are considered identical. Also, on the back of the uniforms players' names are optional.
All players are required to wear shoes. They may have cleats or spikes. The spikes must extend less than 0.75 inch (19 mm) away from the sole. Rounded metal spikes are illegal, as are ones made from hard plastic or other synthetic materials. High school athletes are sometimes permitted to wear metal cleats, such as in Ohio.
Many recreational leagues prohibit the use of metal cleats or spikes to reduce the possible severity of injuries when a runner slides feet-first into a fielder. At all youth (under 15) levels, in co-ed (the official terminology for mixed teams) slow pitch, and in modified pitch, metal spikes are usually not allowed.
A helmet must have two ear flaps, one on each side. Helmets and cages that are damaged or altered are forbidden. Helmets must be worn by batters and runners in fastpitch. Helmets are optional in slowpitch. In NCAA fastpitch softball you have the option to wear a helmet with or without a face mask. Most female travel ball teams for fast pitch softball require the batter to wear a helmet with a face mask. In male fastpitch masks are generally only used for medical reasons. In fast pitch, the catcher must wear a protective helmet with a face-mask and throat protector, shin guards and body protector. Shin guards also protect the kneecap.
In slow pitch, the catcher must wear a helmet and mask at youth levels. At adult levels, there is no formal requirement for the catcher to wear a mask, although the official rules recommend it. A female catcher may optionally wear a body protector in slow pitch.
There is an option to wear a face mask on the field. It is recommended in lower age groups.
In any form of softball, any player (other than fast pitch catchers on defense) can wear a protective face mask or face guard. As usual, it must be in proper condition and not damaged, altered, or the like. This is intended to prevent facial injuries.
Decisions about plays are made by umpires, similar to a referee in American football. The number of umpires on a given game can range from a minimum of one to a maximum of seven. There is never more than one "plate umpire"; there can be up to three "base umpires", and up to a further three umpires positioned in the outfield. Most fast pitch games use a crew of two umpires (one plate umpire, one base umpire).
Official umpires are often nicknamed "blue", because of their uniforms – in many jurisdictions, most significantly ISF, NCAA and ASA games, umpires wear navy blue slacks, a light powder blue shirt, and a navy baseball cap. Some umpires wear a variant of the uniform: some umpires in ASA wear heather gray slacks and may also wear a navy blue shirt; umpires from the USSSA wear red shirts with black shorts; National Softball Association (NSA) umpires wear an official NSA white-colored umpire shirt with black pants or black shorts; NSA Fast-Pitch umpires wear the white NSA umpires shirt and heather gray slacks.
Decisions are usually indicated by both the use of hand signals, and by vocalizing the call. Safe calls are made by signaling with flat hands facing down moving away from each other, and a verbal call of "safe". Out calls are made by raising the right hand in a clenched fist, with a verbal call of "out". Strikes are called by the plate umpire, who uses the same motion as the out call with a verbal call of "strike". Balls are only called verbally, with no hand gesture. The umpire also has the option of not saying anything on a ball. It is understood that when he stands up, the pitch was not a strike. Foul balls are called by extending both arms up in the air with a verbal call of "foul ball", while fair balls are indicated only by pointing towards fair territory with no verbal call. No signal is given for balls that are obviously foul and for closer calls that are not borderline; a mere acknowledgement signal is given.
All decisions made by the umpire(s) are considered to be final. Only decisions where a rule might have been misinterpreted are considered to be protestable. At some tournaments there might be a rules interpreter or Tournament Chief Umpire (TCU) (also known as the Umpire In Chief, or UIC) available to pass judgment on such protests, but it is usually up to the league or association involved to decide if the protest would be upheld. Protests are never allowed on what are considered "judgment calls" – balls, strikes, and fouls.
A softball game can last anywhere from 3 to 9 innings, depending on the league, rules, and type of softball; however 7 innings is the most common. In each inning, each team bats until three batters have been put out (see below). The teams take turns batting. Officially, which team bats first is decided by a coin toss, although a league may decide otherwise at its discretion. The most common rule is that the home team bats second. Batting second is also called "last at-bat". Many softball players prefer to bat second because they feel they have more control in the last inning, since they have the last at-bat.
In the event of a tie, extra innings are usually played until the tie is broken except in certain tournaments and championships. If the home team is leading and the road team has just finished its half of the seventh inning, the game ends because it is not necessary for the home team to bat again. In all forms of softball, the defensive team is the fielding team; the offensive team is at bat or batting and is trying to score runs.
Play begins with the umpire saying "Play Ball". After the batter is ready and all fielders (except the catcher) are in fair territory, the pitcher stands at the pitching plate and attempts to throw the ball past the batter to the catcher behind home plate. The throw, or pitch, must be made with an underarm motion often called the "windmill" motion: the ball must be released below the hip when the hand is no farther from the hip than the elbow to get it in the strike zone.
A windmill motion is done by extending the throwing hand around the body and releasing the ball at about hip level at maximum speeds. Strength acquired in the underhand windmill motion is based from the open to close hip motion. Without correct form and hip movement, pitches can be inaccurate and can lose strength and speed. In girls' fastpitch, 12u up to 18u level can throw between 30 mph and 60 mph, or more. Girls who can pitch at the faster speeds are mainly recruited to play Division 1 college softball. However, speed is not always the most important factor in fastpitch softball. Pitchers can throw balls that curve inwards (screwball) and outwards (curveball) on right-handed batters. There are also riseballs that move upwards and out of the strikezone (as an attempt to force the batter to swing or cause them to hit a weak pop-up), drop balls and drop curves (to cause the batter to hit groundballs; this is important at the higher levels where strikeouts occur less often). The other common pitches are change-up and fastballs. A change of pace (off-speed) is also very important, good pitchers will be able to throw all their pitches at varying speeds and possibly even different pitching motions. Pitchers use deception as a primary tactic for getting batters out as the reaction times are approximately half a second or less.
The pitcher tries to throw the ball so that it passes through the "strike zone". However, in advanced play a highly skilled pitcher may deliberately pitch a ball outside the strike zone if she believes the batter is likely to swing. In other instances, such as when an extremely powerful hitter comes up to bat and they are followed by a weaker hitter, a pitcher may deliberately walk the first batter based on the calculation that the next batter will be an easy out. The strike zone is slightly different in different forms of softball. A pitch that passes through that zone is a "strike". A pitch that the batter swings at is also a strike, as is any hit ball that lands in foul territory.
A pitch which is not a strike and which the batter does not swing at what is a "ball". The number of balls and strikes is called the "count". The number of balls is always given first, as 2 and 1, 2 and 2, and so on. A count of 3 and 2 is a "full count", since the next ball or strike will end the batter's turn at the plate, unless the ball goes foul.
Various illegal acts done by the pitcher, such as "crow-hopping" are called an illegal pitch. A "crow hop" occurs when the pitcher pushes with the pivot foot from somewhere other than the pitching plate. This often involves jumping from the pitching plate and replanting somewhere in front of the pitching plate. The umpire sticks his left arm out straight to the side and clenches his fist. This results in a ball being awarded to the batter, and any runners on base advancing to the next base. The batter has the option to swing at the pitch that is deemed illegal, the defense is given the option of result of the play or the penalty listed previously. Image to the right demonstrates a legal pitch as the push-off foot has not left the ground. The ball must be released simultaneously with the lead leg step.
In 16-inch softball, the pitch is lobbed. Umpires will make calls based on where the ball lands behind the plate. A pitch in "the well" is considered a perfect pitch.
In fast pitch softball, there are various types of pitches. Some are: the fastball, changeup, dropball, riseball, screwball, curveball, dropcurve, dropchange.
At higher levels of play, pitchers aim for the inner and outer corners of the plate when throwing fastballs. Pitchers also vary throwing fastballs at different heights to make hitting the ball even harder for the individual up at bat. Similarly, both the dropball and the riseball are pitches that change heights. To the batter, the dropball appears to be coming in level but then as the ball reaches the plate, the pitch drops, trying to force the batter to hit the top of the ball. This should result in the batter hitting a groundball. When pitchers throw riseballs, batters see the ball coming in straight, but when the ball reaches the plate, it rises. The purpose of the riseball is to have the batter hit an easy pop-fly or strike out. Another pitch that breaks at the last minute is the curveball. When pitchers throw curveballs they snap their wrist and follow their arm across their body, making the ball curve to the outside of the plate. Pitchers can also make the ball curve to the inside of the plate by snapping their wrist the opposite direction (away from their body).The one pitch that drastically changes speed is the changeup, disrupting the batter’s timing.
Fast pitch pitches may reach high speeds; At the 1996 Summer Olympics one pitch reached 73.3 miles per hour (118 kilometers per hour). Male pitching can reach speeds around 85 miles per hour (137 kilometers per hour).
The offensive team sends one "batter" at a time to home plate to use the bat to try to hit the pitch forward into fair territory. The order the players bat in, known as the "batting order", must stay the same throughout the game. Substitutes and replacements must bat in the same position as the player they are replacing. In co-ed, male and female batters must alternate.
The batter stands facing the pitcher inside a "batter's box" (there is one on each side of the plate to compensate for either right or left handed batters). The bat is held with both hands, over the shoulder, and away from the pitcher (90 degree angle). The ball is usually hit with a full swinging motion in which the bat may move through more than 360 degrees. The batter usually steps forward with the front foot, the body weight shifts forward, as the batter simultaneously swings the bat. A bunt (baseball) is another form of batting. There are different types, including a [sacrifice bunt], or [slap bunt]. There is also regular slapping in which a batter takes position on the left side of the plate and usually stands in the back of the box, but it is possible form anywhere. The batter takes a step back with their leading foot as the pitcher is in the middle of the windup, crosses over with their back foot and runs toward first base while they swing. There are many different types of slapping and they all vary depending on the batter and their strengths. There are half swing slaps, fake slaps, and full swing slaps. Each type of slap has a different purpose or goal. No matter what way the batter hits the ball, they must be inside the batter's box when the bat makes contact with the ball. If the batter steps out of the box while swinging, the batter is out.
Once the ball is hit into fair territory the runner must try to advance to first base or beyond. While running to first base, the batter is a "batter-runner". When she safely reaches first (see below) she becomes a "base-runner" or "runner".
A batted ball hit high in the air is a "fly ball". A fly ball hit upward at an angle greater than 45 degrees is a "pop fly". A batted ball driven in the air through the infield at a height at which an infielder could play it if in the right position is a "line drive". A batted ball which hits the ground within the diamond is a "ground ball". If a batted ball hits a player or a base, it is considered to have hit the ground.
A batter can also advance to first if hit by the pitch. If a batter is hit by the pitch it is a dead ball and she is rewarded first base. She must make an attempt to get out of the way and it is the umpire's judgmental call whether the batter attempted to move. If he feels the batter could have moved and avoided getting hit he or she will not reward the batter first base and the pitch will be recorded as a ball.
Getting the batter out
The batter is out if: three strikes are called (a "strikeout"); a ball hit by the batter is caught before touching the ground (a "flyout"); the batter goes to a base that is already tagged ("tagged" or "tag play"); a fielder holding the ball touches a base which is the only base towards which the batter may run before the batter arrives there (a "force out" or "force play"); or in certain special circumstances. There is also a not so common occurrence when the batter has 2 strikes and swings at strike three. If the catcher doesn't catch the ball, the batter has the chance to run to first base and the catcher can throw the batter out at first base.
Advancing around the bases
If the player hits the ball and advances to a base without a fielding error or an out being recorded, then that is called a "base hit". The bases must be reached in order counterclockwise, starting with first base. After hitting the ball the batter may advance as many bases as possible. An advance to first base on the one hit is a "single", to second base is a "double", to third base is a "triple", and to home plate is a "home run". Home runs are usually scored by hitting the ball over the outfield fence, but may be scored on a hit which does not go over the fence. A home run includes any ball that bounces off a fielder and goes over the fence in fair-territory (depending upon association and local league rules) or that hits the foul pole. If a batted ball bounces off a fielder (in fair territory) and goes over the fence in foul territory, or if it goes over the fence at a location that is closer than the official distance, the batter is awarded a double instead.
If a runner becomes entitled to the base where another runner is standing, the latter runner must advance to the next base. For example, if a player hits the ball and there is a runner on first, the runner on first must try to advance to second because the batter-runner is entitled to first base. If the batter reaches first base without being put out, then that player can then be forced to run towards second base the next time a ball is driven into fair territory. That is because the player must vacate first base to allow the next batter to reach it, and consequently can only go to second base, where a force out may be recorded.
Runners may advance at risk to be put out: on a hit by another player; after a fly ball has been caught, provided the player was touching a base at the time the ball was first touched or after; or (in fast pitch) automatically, when a pitch is delivered illegally.
Runners advance without liability to be put out: when a walk advances another player to the runner's current base; or automatically in certain special circumstances described below.
If there is a "wild throw" (or "overthrow") in which the ball goes out of the designated play area, each runner is awarded two (2) bases from the last base touched at the time of the throw. Retreating past a made base, negates the advance to that base. If a fielder intentionally carries a ball out of play, two (2) bases are awarded from the time the ball leaves the field of play. If this is unintentional (fielder's momentum), the award is one (1) base. If on a tag play, the fielder loses control (after establishing control) of the ball and it leaves the field of play, one (1) base is awarded.
If there is a "wild pitch" in which the ball goes out of the designated play area, each runner is awarded one (1) base from the base occupied at the time of the pitch.
In fast pitch, runners may try to get a "stolen base" by running to the next base on the pitch and reaching it before being tagged with the ball. The point at which a runner can steal a base varies. In fast pitch, the runner is allowed to begin stealing a base when the ball is released from the "windmill" pitching motion, but until recently, stealing was forbidden in slow pitch because a runner has the opportunity to get a larger head start while the slow pitch is making its way to the batter. As a result of rule changes initiated by the Independent Softball Association which later made its way to the Amateur Softball Association and the International Softball Federation in the 21st century, most levels of slow pitch permit stealing bases, provided the runner starts when the ball either touches the ground or crosses the plate. This rule encourages pitchers to be more responsible with the pitch and catchers to play defense, as balls which miss the catcher are now grounds to have stolen bases.
No matter what level of play, all baserunners must keep one foot on a base until the pitcher throws the ball or until the ball crosses the front edge of home plate (depends on association).
In fast pitch, if the catcher drops strike three (a "passed ball") with less than two outs, the batter can attempt to run to first base if first base is unoccupied. The catcher must then attempt to throw the ball to first base ahead of the runner. If he or she cannot, the runner is safe. With two outs, the batter can attempt to run to first whether or not it is already occupied.
Depending on the league in slow pitch only a foul ball with two strikes on the batter means the batter is out. Stealing in 16-inch softball is severely restricted, as a runner may only steal the base in front of them if it is open, and if they are thrown at, "à la" pickoff move or snap throw. This results in many inexperienced players being thrown or doubled off when they attempt to advance on a wild pickoff at another baserunner.
A "run" is scored when a player has touched all four bases in order, proceeding counterclockwise around them. They need not be touched on the same play; a batter may remain safely on a base while play proceeds and attempt to advance on a later play.
A run is not scored if the last out is a force out or occurs during the same play that the runner crosses home plate. For instance, if a runner is on third base prior to a hit, and he or she crosses home plate after an out is made, either on the batter or another runner, the run is not counted.
Ending the game
The team with the most runs after seven innings wins the game. The last (bottom) half of the seventh inning or any remaining part of the seventh inning is not played if the team batting second is leading.
If the game is tied, play usually continues until a decision is reached, by using the international tie-breaker rule. Starting in the top of the eighth inning, the batting team starts with a base-runner on second base, which is the player who is the last available to bat (in other words, the batter who last took their position in the batter's box; regardless whether they were the last out or another runner was put out).
In games where one team leads by a large margin, the run ahead rule may come into play in order to avoid embarrassing weaker teams. In fast pitch and modified pitch, a margin of 15 runs after three innings, 10 after four, or 7 after five is sufficient for a win to be declared for the leading team. In slow pitch, the margin is 20 runs after four innings or 15 after five innings. In the NCAA, the required margin after 5 innings is 8 runs. The mercy rule takes effect at the end of an inning. Thus, if the team batting first is ahead by enough runs for the rule to come into effect, the team batting second is given their half of the inning to try to narrow the margin.
A game may be lost due to a "forfeit". A score of 7–0 for the team not at fault is recorded (generally one run is awarded for each inning that would have been played). A forfeit may be called due to any of these circumstances: if a team does not show up to play; if one side refuses to continue play; if a team fails to resume play after a suspension of play ends; if a team uses tactics intended to unfairly delay or hasten the game; if a player removed from the game does not leave within one minute of being instructed to do so; if a player that cannot play enters the game and one pitch has been thrown; if a team does not have, for whatever reason, enough players to continue; or if after warning by the umpire, a player continues to intentionally break the rules of the game. This last rule is rarely enforced as players who break rules after being warned are usually removed.
The plate umpire may suspend play because of darkness or anything that puts players or spectators in danger. If five innings have been played, the game is recorded as it stands. This includes ties. If fewer than four innings have been played, the game is not considered a "regulation" game.
Games that are not regulation or are regulation ties are resumed from the point of suspension. If it is a championship game, it is replayed from the beginning. Team rosters may be changed.
There are nine players out on the field at one time. Although the pitcher and catcher have the ball the most, each person has a specific job. In the infield there is the pitcher, catcher, first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, and third baseman. In the outfield there is left fielder, center fielder, and right fielder. In slow pitch softball there is an extra outfielder in the out field, who is specified as a roamer. Normally, the defensive team will play with four outfielders, meaning there is a left fielder, left-center fielder, right-center fielder, and right fielder.
The pitcher is the individual who throws the ball from the middle of the diamond. As in baseball, fastpitch softball has a rubber used to control the pitchers delivery. A pitcher must have both feet on the rubber at the start of their delivery but neither foot is on the rubber when the ball is released. In baseball the rubber is on a mound of dirt as gravity is used to generate speed. In softball the pitchers throw from within a circle and the rubber in the circle is not elevated. The circle is also used to control base runners. When the pitcher is in possession of the ball in the circle, a runner who has passed a base must either advance or return to the base. They cannot "bait" the pitcher to throw or they will be called out. The pitcher usually throws the ball in the strike zone. In softball, the pitcher uses an underarm motion to pitch the ball towards the strike zone. As soon as the pitcher makes a throw, the fielders are ready to field balls that are hit in the middle of the diamond. Pitchers usually tend to be tall, very flexible and have good upper body strength. Pitchers can be righthanded or lefthanded. The softball pitcher makes a windmill motion while throwing under hand, unlike baseball pitchers who throw over hand.
The catcher is normally behind home plate in a squatted position (some plays may require the catcher to stand at an angle for intentional walks). At the plate the catcher is responsible for catching pitches, keeping mispitched balls in front of the plate, calling pitches that are normally done through hand signals, and they are considered the leaders of the field. Catchers must know how many outs there are, the number of strikes and balls on the batter so they can relay that to their team-mates. They must also know how many runners are on base and where the ball should be thrown next in the following play. Catchers are strong, need to be smart and quick on their feet, and have accurate throws so they can pick runners off at each base.
The first baseman is the position to the right side of the diamond when facing the field. The major role of the first baseman is to receive throws from other defensive players in order to get a force play at first base. Another role they play is to make fielding plays on all balls hit towards first base. The first baseman is usually involved in every play that occurs on the field. Individuals at first base have quick hands, a good reach and are always on the lookout to catch the player off base. They are also generally taller and left-handed throwing, which gives them an extended reach. First basemen however, can be both left and right handed. Just like the catcher, first basemen may wear mitts.
The second baseman plays in between the first baseman and the gap at second. If the ball is hit to the left side of the field, second covers second base. If the ball is hit on their side of the field, they back up the fielder, cover first, or field the ball depending on where it is hit.The second baseman also is the cut off on balls hit to the right side of the outfield. The second baseman also throws directly to the pitcher to prevent runners from scoring. Mostly, when the ball is hit to the left side of the field, the second basemen plays second for shortstop. Also, in the case of a bunt, the second baseman must cover first as the first baseman runs to get the ball from the bunt, then it is often thrown back to first base.
The shortstop fields all balls hit to the infield between the second and third bases. This individual also helps cover second base, third base and is frequently involved in force plays, double plays and frequently throws the ball to the catcher to throw out runners at home plate. On steals to second base (when the runner from first is advancing to second on the pitch) the shortstop usually covers. The shortstop only doesn't cover second base when a right handed batter is up. In this case, the second baseman covers the steal. Most short stops are very quick, agile and think fast. They are the captain of the infield as is the center fielder of the outfield. Shortstops may play in a restricted zone but are faced with many types of hits and interact closely with the 2nd base, 3rd base and home plate. Often double plays are due to quick thinking/reaction by the short stop. When a ball is hit up the middle the and the shortstop catches it, they will flip the ball to the second baseman for the best result. Short stop also takes the cut off for the left field when the play is at second base. When the ball is hit to the right side of the outfield, the short stop then covers second base. If there is a runner on first base and there is a hit down the line or in the gap to right field, the shortstop will then go for the cut to third. Meaning the runner that is going from first to second will most likely be advancing to third, and in that case, the shortstop will be the cut off for the throw from right field to third base. Shortstop is one of the most difficult positions to play due to the amount of balls being hit in that direction.
The third baseman covers all hits to the third base. The third base person also frequently throws the ball to the catcher trying to throw out the runner at home plate. The individual at third base usually thinks fast because of the types of hits that commonly occur in that zone. Quick thinking can often stop runners from scoring or can result in double plays.
The outfielders are players that cover the grassy area behind the infield. Outfielders are named for their positions in the field relative to home plate. Traditional outfield positions include a left fielder, a center fielder, and a right fielder. These players usually back up the plays made by the infielders and make plays when the ball is hit past or over the infield. Because their positions cover a greater range than those of infielders, outfielders tend to have strong throwing arms. Outfielders are responsible for throwing fielded balls to a player known as a cut-off person (usually a second baseman or short stop). In this way, the outfielders more efficiently return the ball to the infield with the goal of preventing baserunners from advancing to additional bases. In some leagues/ organizations, four outfield players are utilized by each team, with the center field position being shared between two players known as the left-center fielder and the right-center fielder (or, alternatively, the deep center fielder and the short fielder).
Modification of rules
One reason for the popularity of softball is the ease of modification of its rules, thereby allowing the game to be adapted to a variety of skill levels. For example, in some slow pitch softball leagues a batter starts at bat with a count of one ball one strike. In some leagues, the number of home runs that can be hit by a team are limited. In other leagues, stealing of bases is prohibited. Some groups allow for a more defensive game by making home plate a force out for first base. This reduces scoring evenly on both sides, and allows for some margin of error.
Co-recreational leagues, where men and women play on the same team, often adopt rules intended to reduce gender inequality, under the assumption that men will be generally more powerful and/or skilled. For example rules may stipulate that there must be an equal number of men and women on the team, or that batting order alternate male and female batters. One possible rule requires male batters to "switch hit". Some leagues even use different balls for male and female batters. While these modified rules are common, there are questions as to their place in modern adult sports.
Some leagues require teams to use limited flight softballs. These softballs, when hit, will not go as far as regular softballs. Other leagues limit the number of runs which can be scored in an inning. Five is a common limit.
By allowing these and other modifications, softball can be enjoyed by children, teenagers, and adults. Senior leagues with players over the age of 60 are not uncommon.
An example of a rule modification is the "offensive pitcher" (or "self pitch") often found in informal games where the emphasis is on the social rather than the competitive aspects of the game. The pitcher aids the batter by attempting to give the easiest pitch to hit. There are no walks, and a batter is normally given a fixed number of pitches to attempt to hit (usually 3 or 4). The batter is considered to strike out if the batter fails to hit the ball into fair territory after the given number of pitches. The pitcher does not act as a fielder, and a rule is often made that if a batted ball touches the pitcher, the batter is out.
In some leagues the number of pitches to walk or strikeout can be reduced. For instance, one strike is an out, and two balls is a walk. This is common in leagues where doubleheaders are played, or in late season leagues when reduced daylight is an issue. It results in shorter games, as players are more apt to swing, even at marginal pitches, rather than risk striking out on one pitch.
Many leagues also include a second first base immediately adjacent to the main one. This is usually orange and the batter running through first base is supposed to run straight through it. This minimizes the chances of a collision. By the same token some leagues have an alternate home plate and rule that plays at home are always force plays. In these cases there is typically a white line drawn approximately 1/3 of the way down the baseline that is considered a point of no return. This is designed to reduce the "Pickle" which can put a great strain on the ankles and knees of older baserunners.
Despite the fact that it was originally intended to be played indoors, softball is usually played outdoors. The indoor form is sometimes called Arena Softball. It is most similar to slow pitch. There are no "official" rules for the indoor form, but some general conventions are given below.
Only the wall behind the batter is considered foul territory. The other walls are considered fair. If a ball hits a wall and is caught before it lands, the batter flies out. Usually, there is a small area on one of the walls that results in a home run being awarded if the batted ball hits it.
Pitching is generally a little slower because of the indoor turf, or pitched through a pitching machine.
The placement of the fielders is different. The pitcher also acts as the second baseman. There is sometimes a catcher.
There is no limit to the number of batters a team may have available, although only so many can bat in one inning.
The International Softball Federation holds world championships in several categories. The ISF is the international governing body. The Amateur Softball Association is the National Governing Body of Softball for the United States pursuant to the 1976 Amateur Sports Act. Due to the popularity of the sport, there are a multitude of governing bodies such as the United States Specialty Sports Association, International Softball Congress and the National Softball Association.
The ISF holds world championship tournaments in several categories. The tournament in each category is held every four years—two years from 2010. The most recent tournament was XII Women's World Championship in June, 2010. All World Championships use a Page playoff system and are in fastpitch. There are also several World Cups held at 4-year intervals in different categories.
New Zealand are the current Men's World Champions, having won the title in 2013. Prior to that, Australia won the World Championship in 2009 and New Zealand had won the previous three tournaments before that. The current Junior Men's World Champion is Argentina, having won the title in 2012. In the Women's World Championships the United States is the most dominant team, having won three of the past four Olympic tournaments and the past seven World Championships. The current Junior Women's World Champion is the United States.
Women's softball made its first Olympic appearance in 1996 and made its final Olympic appearance in the 2008 games. Softball and Baseball have both failed attempts to be reinstated to the Olympics for 2012 and 2016. In 2012 the heads of the International Softball and Baseball Federations announced they were uniting to increase their chances in playing in the 2020 games."The proposal calls for men's baseball and women's softball to be played at a single venue over seven to 10 days. Each tournament would feature eight teams. Baseball and softball would be two disciplines under a single sports banner. The merger still requires formal approval from the congress of both federations. Softball and baseball are competing with karate, roller sports, squash, sports climbing, wakeboard and wushu for inclusion in 2020. Only one spot on the Olympic program is open.The IOC executive board will decide next May which sport to recommend for inclusion. The final decision will be made in a vote of the full IOC in Buenos Aires in September 2013".
New Zealand is the most successful nation at men's world championship softball, having won their sixth title in 2013. The New Zealand women's team have also won a number of World Championship titles in the past. The game is widely-played in New Zealand and is the second most popular summer sport behind cricket.
Softball is played in all states and territories in Australia and at all levels of academic education. The game is widely promoted to maintain fitness, health, personal achievements and pleasure. Australia has excellent softball teams which are a reflection of its coaching, education and training system.
Japan has had a long tradition of softball which is played at all levels in the country. Almost every high school and college has a sports program which includes softball. Like baseball, softball in Japan is intensely competitive. Japan's win over the Americans at the 2008 olympics, reflects the advanced level of play in this East Asian country.
China is fast becoming the team to watch in softball. Since the silver medal in the Atlanta Olympics 14 years ago, the Chinese have now made softball a priority at all levels. The game is played in most schools and with a 1.3 billion population; the number of great players is turning out to be a boon for China. The Chinese have frequently toured the USA and have now similar caliber coaching and training programs.
Softball is played in almost every country in Europe, mainly fast pitch. Every two years an open women's European fast pitch championship is held with over twenty nationals teams. Italy and Netherlands are the best nations, and both have an almost professional championship where athletes from USA, Australia and China play. In the men's division eight to ten national teams compete for the European championship, with Czech Republic, Netherlands and Denmark leading the way.
Softball is the most popular participant sport in the United States, as it is estimated that 40 million Americans will play at least one game of softball during a year. It is played by men and women both recreationally and competitively.
In many US cities, adult softball teams are organized by bars and clubs, hence the popular term "beer-league softball". The teams can be men's, women's or co-ed, and skill levels can range from novice to elite, with league composition reflecting that. These leagues are almost exclusively slow-pitch.
Competitive fastpitch softball for girls is growing increasingly popular. All over the USA, there are thousands of teams that compete year-round at tournaments. During most of these tournaments the biggest goal is not winning the tournament, but attempting to get as many college coaches as possible to observe (a) particular player or players. Competitive teams are now beginning around eight years old, if not younger. Depending on the team they can travel all over the USA or even out of the country such as to Canada, the summer and fall for many weeks and days at a time.
There are many different sanctioning bodies of softball: USSSA, ASA, ISA, NSA, WSL, Tripple Crown and SASL just to name a few. One of the biggest is the Amateur Softball Association, also known as ASA. It is known as the National Governing Body of Softball, was established in 1933 and has over 240,000 teams. The USSSA, founded in 1968 as the United States Slo-Pitch Softball Association, but renamed in 1997 to the United States Specialty Sports Association, is the only association that still has a men's major slowpitch program alive. Currently, the program is run out of Oklahoma City. This is where the National Softball Hall of Fame and Complex is located. The United States of America also has a competitive girls softball team that competes in international tournaments. They represented USA each time at the Olympics until softball was removed from the Olympics.
- National Pro Fastpitch, the main professional women's softball league in the United States
- Softball Australia, the governing body of softball in Australia
- Comparison of baseball and softball
- 16-inch softball
- Rounders – a similar game from which baseball and softball are thought to have evolved
- Tee Ball – a reformed version of baseball
- Dartball – a game of darts that uses rules similar to softball and is played on a large dartboard that resembles a softball field
- Safe haven games
- Eddie Feigner
- Pekin Lettes, the oldest member-sanctioned ASA softball team in the United States
- Softball in Ireland
- European Softball Federation
- NCAA Division I Softball Championship
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