Softball is a game played with a bat and a ball and, for the most part, its rules are the same as those played with baseball. However, it is different from baseball with respect to several significant factors such as the ball size, pitched ball speed, equipment, and field size. One of its most noticeable differences is that the ball is pitched underhand in softball, as opposed to overhand in baseball. Because softball is a physically active sport, it helps to provide good fitness to its participants.
Both men and boys and women and girls regularly play softball. Youth softball is played separately from adult-played softball. Softball is considered the most popular sport in the United States, with an estimated 40 million Americans playing at least one softball game during the year. In addition, Senior Softball USA states that over 1.5 million seniors play softball annually. Over the world, softball is played in well over 100 countries.
Three main types of softball occur. They differ in reference to the speed of the pitched ball. The three types of softball are fast-pitch, slow-pitch, and modified pitch (a combination of fast- and slow-pitch). In slow-pitch, the ball is released at a moderate speed and delivered with a very noticeable arc, reaching regulated heights from 6 to 12 ft. (1.8 to 3.6 m). The umpire can call a pitch illegal if it is too high or low. However, in fast-pitch, the pitcher throws the ball as fast as possible, so little arc is visible. In modified-pitch, there are no regulations for the ball's arc. Slow-pitch is considered the most popular type of softball. However, fast-pitch softball, which is most similar to baseball, is popular with some groups such as girls.
Umpires are in charge of the rules of softball and control how the game proceeds. The number of umpires can range from one to seven. A plate umpire calls balls and strikes at home plate. Base umpires can be positioned at each of the three other bases, and another three umpires can be scattered about in the outfield. However, most games of softball use only two or three umpires.
Softball is played on a large field, sometimes called a diamond, which is smaller than a baseball field, though in the same arrangement. The field is divided into an infield and outfield. The infield, which is square shaped (and tilted to look like a diamond), includes the four bases (home plate, first base, second base, and third base) with home plate furthest away from the outfield, followed by first base to the right, second base at the top, and third base on the left. The infield is usually composed of dirt, or a combination of dirt and brick dust, paralleling the bases, with grass sometimes in the center (except for the pitching area). However, the infield can also be composed entirely of one substance, such as dirt, grass, artificial turf, asphalt, or other materials. The outfield is usually composed of grass but it, too, can be other materials. The bases are usually 40 to 65 ft. (12.2 to 19.8 m) apart. Near the center of the square is a pitcher's circle or mound, and inside is a small, flat rectangular area called the “rubber,” which is used by the pitcher when pitching the ball toward the plate.
The average distances from home plate to the center, left, and right field fences of a softball field is around 220 to 250 ft. (67 to 75 m). The infield played in fast-pitch softball usually measures 60 ft. (18.3 m) apart between all of the three bases and home plate. Similarly, the bases for modified-pitch softball are usually 65 ft. (19.8 m) apart, while the bases for slowpitch can vary between 60 and 65 ft. (18.3 and 19.8 m). The distance between the pitcher's mound and home plate also depends on how the game is played. In men's fast-pitch and modified-pitch the distance is 46 ft. (14 m), while in women's fast-pitch and modified-pitch, this distance is 40 ft. (12.2 m). In both men's and women's slow-pitch, the distance is 50 ft. (15.2 m).
Usually 9 or 10 players play on each team, depending on the softball type. The team at bat— those players hitting the ball—are on offense. The other team is in the field (defensive), and its players are positioned at its various positions. Ten players per team is used in slow-pitch softball, but fast-pitch and modified-pitch play use nine-player teams. In a nineplayer team, the infielders consist of the pitcher, catcher, first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, and third baseman, while the outfielders are made of the left fielder, center fielder, and right fielder. In slowpitch softball there is an extra outfielder (tenth player) called a roamer because this player moves around (“roams”) the entire outfield.
The game is played for a specific number of innings, usually six or seven, but sometimes up to nine. Each team gets to play offense and defense, once each inning. One team will play offense (batting) in the top half of the inning, while the other team plays defense (in the field). During the bottom half of the inning the teams reverse positions. The game is usually begun by tossing a coin to see who begins first on offense and defense. Sometimes this arrangement is determined by whom is the home and visiting teams.
The offensive team attempts to score runs when its players, one at a time, try to hit the ball, while standing next to home plate inside the batter's box, as it is thrown by the opposing team's pitcher while on the pitching mound. When the ball is hit by a member of the offensive team, the defensive team tries to make “outs” in numerous ways. Conversely, the offensive team keeps on trying to make “runs” until three outs occur. Three outs mean the offensive team has ended its time at bat and that half of the inning is over. It is now time for the teams to switch their offensive and defensive roles.
The game starts with one player (first in the batting order) going to the batter's box next to home plate. The pitcher throws the ball toward home plate with an underhanded motion. The batter may attempt to hit the ball with a softball bat as it crosses the plate. If the batter swings but does not hit the ball, then the throw is classified a strike. If the batter does not swing, then two things can happen: (1) if the ball is outside the strike zone (predetermined by the plate's width and the height of the armpits and knees of the batter), then it is classified as a “ball” or (2) if it is inside the strike zone, then it is a “strike.” Three strikes means the batter is out (a strikeout), and four balls means the batter is permitted to go to first base (a walk).
If the batter, instead, hits the ball within the boundaries of the playing field, then the defensive players attempt to catch the ball either in the air (a fly ball) or while it bounces over the ground (a ground ball). If one of the players catches the ball in the air (whether it is in bounds or not), the batter is out. If the ball is caught while traveling on the ground, then the player catching the ball must throw the ball to first base before the batter can reach it while running. The player can touch (tag) the runner or touch the first base bag before the runner gets there—in both cases for an out. However, if the runner gets to first base before being tagged or before the first-baseman gets the ball, then the runner is safe and remains on first base.
After the first player is finished being a batter, the next player in the batting order (predetermined before the game, but may change with substitute players) comes to the plate. The same sequence occurs for this new batter, and each player in his/her assigned order will come to the plate as a batter. Any given half inning will continue until the defensive team gets three outs. During this time, the offensive team tries to score as many points (runs) as possible. This is done by advancing players on the bases, going (counterclockwise) from home plate to first, second, third, and finally back to home plate in order to score one run. Players are advanced on the bases by hitting the ball while as a batter and not being called out, walking to first base as a batter after being pitched to and receiving four balls (pitched balls outside the strike zone), or being hit by a pitched ball. While running around the bases, the player is called a base runner or runner.
Generally, only one runner may occupy any base at any one time, and the runners cannot pass each other. When a ball is batted into fair play, the runners on base must attempt to advance if there are no unoccupied bases behind them. As such, a runner on first base must run to second base if the batter hits the ball into the playing field. The defensive players can throw to second base and force the lead runner out. The defensive team can also throw to first base. If they do both successfully, then a double play occurs (that is, two outs occur).
Many other rules also are applied to softball. The official rules of softball, as provided by the International Softball Federation, are found at http://www.baseball-softball.de/wp-content/uploads/Softball-Rules-2014-2017-English.pdf
The ball used in softball is called the “softball.” It is larger than the size of the ball used in baseball. It can be made from various regulated materials, including silky fiber, rubber, cork, and a polyurethane mixture. It is wound with a twisted yarn. The inside of the ball is then covered with latex or rubber cement. The exterior of the ball is finally covered with white or yellow leather in two pieces, which is in an approximate shape of a figure-8. These two pieces are sewn together with thread.
Two sizes of balls are used. A 12-inch ball, which is used in all games except slow-pitch, measures between 11.88 and 12.13 in. (30.2 and 30.8 cm) in circumference and has a weight of between 6.25 and 7 oz (177.2 and 198.4 g). In fast-pitch and modifiedpitch a 16 in. (40.6 cm) ball in circumference is used.
The softball bat is made of wood or composite materials such as carbon fiber. It is restricted to being no more than 34 in. (86.4 cm) in length and no more than 38 oz (1,077.3 g) in weight. Other regulated performance standards are also applied to the softball bat.
Warming up before playing softball is critical so muscles can be best prepared for all of the activities involved in the game. Five or so minutes of light exercise will prepare the body for the physical actions found within softball. Stretching exercises are also recommended. However, stretching should be done after other exercises so muscles are not injured. After playing softball, spend another five minutes to cool down. Light exercises or walking helps to return the body to its resting state. Stretching afterward is also recommended.
Pitchers are more likely to sustain an injury to their pitching arm, wrist, or forearm, along with their shoulder, neck, or back, because of the repetitious and forceful nature of the arm's motion while pitching. One of the most common injuries to pitchers is shoulder tendinitis (an inflammation of the tendon within the shoulder).
For catchers, the back and knee are common problems caused by their position crouching behind the plate. However, all players of softball are at risk of sustaining injuries while playing their chosen position and while being a batter and runner. The more physically fit one is, the less likely one will sustain a serious injury. However, some injuries are not avoidable and are not dependent on one's degree of fitness
Playing softball helps to increase strength to the upper and lower parts of the body, especially the lower body. It also improves cardiovascular fitness. One's speed and agility also is increased from the playing of softball. Overall, softball is a good way to stay fit and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
See also Baseball .
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Amateur Softball Association of America, 7185 SE Seagate Lane, Oklahoma City, OK, 73111, (405) 424-5266, http://www.asasoftball.com/ .
National Softball Association, PO Box 7, Nicholasville, KY, 40304, (859) 887-4114, Fax: (859) 887-4874, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.playnsa.com .
U.S. Sports Specialty Association, 611 Line Dr., Kissimmee, FL, 34744, (800) 741-3014, http://www.usssa.com .
William A. Atkins, BB, BS, MBA