Softball is a direct descendant of baseball (sometimes referred to as hardball to differentiate the two), but differs from it in several ways, of which the chief four are:
- The ball is always pitched (thrown to the opposing team’s batter) underarm – in other words, it is released when the hand is below the hip and no further away from the body than the elbow – while in baseball the ball may be released in any position and is usually thrown overarm or sidearm at greater speeds.
- The ball is larger, softer (hence the name), less dense, and heavier than a baseball.
- The fields used for softball are normally smaller.
- The game is seven innings long, as opposed to nine in baseball. Softball games tend to take between one and two hours to complete, as opposed to around three hours for most baseball games.
Softball is said to be the most popular participant sport in the United States. An estimated 56 million Americans will play at least one game of softball during a year and is played by both men and women.
Pretty Basic: Softball is played on a smaller diamond than baseball, with a ball that is larger and softer ( 11 to 12 inches in circumference) and a bat that is slightly different in size and weight and can also be made of aluminum.
The ball is thrown by a player (called a pitcher) towards an opposing team player called a batter who attempts to hit the ball with a round, smooth stick called a bat.
Scoring is accomplished by the batter hitting the ball as far away as she can and then running and touching a series of four markers on the ground called bases before the opposing team’s fielders return the ball. The batter can stop play at anytime by stopping on one of the bases if she feels that he cannot get ‘home’ safely. If the opposing team can throw the ball to the runners next base before he gets there she is ‘out’ and no run is scored.
Rules of Softball – Making Outs
In softball, a batter is out if:
- The batted ball is caught in the air.
- The batted ball is caught and thrown successfully to any base before a runner gets there.
- A baserunner is tagged by the ball (touched by the ball or the glove of a player in defense) while off of a base.
- Three strikes are called by the umpire.
Softball has been an Olympic sport for women since 1996 but has now been dropped although there are moves afoot to re-establish it. The International Softball Federation holds world championships every four years.
Some players to know:
Crystal Bustos: One of the best softball hitters in the world, she broke Olympics records with five home runs and 10 RBI for the gold-medal winning 2004 U.S. team
Lisa Fernandez: She was a part of three gold-medal winning United States softball teams as a pitcher.
Jennie Finch: Arguably the most famous softball player ever, Finch was a pitcher on the 2004 gold medal U.S. Team and 2008 silver medal team.
Jessica Mendoza: U.S. Olympic gold medalist and former President of the Women’s Sports Foundation.
Stacey Nuveman: A catcher, she had the only hit of the 2000 gold-medal game and a home run in the 2004 gold-medal game.
Cat Osterman: The 6-foot-3 lefty is the second all-time in NCAA history in strikeouts.
Natasha Watley: The first African-American athlete to play on the U.S. softball team in the Olympics.