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Fastpitch Softball: Things You May Not Know
The game of softball was invented in 1887 in Chicago. Because it was originally played indoors, it was referred to as “indoor baseball” until 1926 when the game was officially called “softball.” The name suggests that the ball is soft, but, in reality, a soft fastball is as hard as a baseball. Slow pitch softballs could be a little softer.
Because of softball’s original indoor location, the original dimensions of its playing area were smaller than those of a baseball field. Size has remained constant: the bases, at the corners of a diamond, are 60′ apart compared to baseball’s 90′. Consequently, the distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate is also shorter: 46′ for men and 43′ for women compared to 60′ 6″ in baseball. Fast-pitch softball games are 7 innings long compared to 9 of baseball.
Softballs with quick release are slightly larger than baseballs and can be 11″ or 12″ in diameter. A baseball is about 9″. When softball was invented, a 16″ ball was used and players did not use gloves. That tradition continues today in Chicago. Quick release softballs weigh 6.5 ounces while baseballs weigh 5 ounces. While softballs can be white like baseballs, since 2002 the official softball color has been “optical yellow”, similar to tennis balls.
Unlike baseball, fastball bats may not be made of wood. The regulations require bats to be made of aluminum. Softball (Fastpitch) gloves are slightly larger than baseball gloves to accommodate larger balls.
One of the obvious differences between softball and baseball is the way the ball is pitched to the infield. In fast-pitch softball, the pitcher delivers the ball with a sneaky or windy motion. But the speed of the ball and the challenge it presents to the batter is remarkably similar to baseball! It is common for fastball pitchers to reach 60 mph or more with their pitches. At the 1996 Summer Olympics, one field was clocked at 73 mph and, at the college level, speeds of 65-70 mph are common. Pitchers with fast pitches can make the ball move in different ways like a baseball pitcher; pitchers at the high school level and above can throw handballs and sliders. Because the batting distance of the softball is 14″ or 17″ shorter than the distance for the baseball, a softball traveling at 60-70 mph allows the batter the same reaction time as a baseball. By the way, in both sports, the batter has about one half a second or less to decide whether to swing or not!
Slow-pitch softball is more widely played than the fast-pitch variety. The drops are slowly thrown into the batter in a high arc that makes contact easier. The game requires less skill to play than fast-pitch softball. Additionally, the rules can be modified to make the game more accessible to people of all abilities and ages.
At the collegiate level, the NCAA regulates intercollegiate play. From July 11-14, 2013, players from around the world competed in the 2013 Softball World Cup, which is a fast-paced tournament that spans 5 countries: Japan, Canada, USA, Puerto Rico, and Australia. This was the eighth World Cup and the matches were played in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
While a softball is slightly larger than a baseball, a fastpitch softball is not necessarily easier to hit. The shorter hitting distance, comparable ball speed and variety of pitches make the pitcher and hitter duels of the two sports very similar. There is a world of difference between slow-pitch softball and baseball, but the gap between fast-pitch softball and baseball in regards to the pitcher/batter matchup is negligible.
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