Guest Post by Don McKay, Softball Editor for Bellaonline.
I was watching Game 2 of the UCLA/Florida game yesterday on ESPNU and was kind of blown away by some of the commentary by Michelle Smith and Pam Ward. Because the game had controversy (6 illegal pitches by Florida by the end of the 3rd inning) and was quickly out of hand (UCLA won 16-3), there was plenty of opportunity to discuss that game and the state of College Softball in general. It started with a discussion of the illegal pitches (here’s my article discussing how Smith and Ward got it all wrong on illegal pitches: http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art67136), but then moved to the amount of offense in the College Game today.
Understand from the start that Michelle Smith was one of the best pitchers in softball history, and so she has a certain pitching-centric perspective on the game. She stated during the telecast that, while Softball used to be too dominated by pitchers, in her opinion the pendulum has swung too far and now the batters have too much of an advantage. She postulates that all the illegal pitching rules and advancement of composite bat technology has distorted the game into something that isn’t really Softball. According to Smith, there are times when the batter is fooled and does not put a good swing on the ball, yet still hits one out of the park.
I think College Softball is more exciting than ever, and it is because of the offense in the game. I ask the reader this question: which is a more exciting end to the game? A walk-off home run, or a walk-off bunt where the runner started at 2nd base? It is not like all games have turned into beer-league softball games with scores of 17-12 (nothing against beer-league softball – I play on Monday nights). Probably the most exciting game so far in the College Softball World Series was Hawaii’s 3-2 come-from-behind walk-off homer win against Missouri.
I do agree with Michelle Smith regarding composite bats, at least partially. Where Smith would like to see composite bats outlawed, I would like to see them regulated better. It is well known that composite bats become hotter as they get used more. At the college level, I think it makes sense for composite bats older than, say, two years be illegal. At lower youth levels, I don’t think it is as big an issue because the girls don’t swing as hard (obviously), plus as girls outgrow bats and get new ones, the problem of old composite bats tends to take care of itself.
If the game needs to be tweaked (and I’m not so sure it does), then I’d like to see the outfield fences move back 20 feet or so to make outfield play more important to the game. Moving the fences back will keep the “cheap” home runs that Smith is worried about in the ballpark, and put a premium on outfield play as they have more ground to cover. If anything, this could make the game more balanced between pitching, offense and defense, and add a little more strategy to the game, as there would likely be more runners on base and still plenty of scoring opportunities. Such a change may make the best game on the planet even better!