The Rules of Slow & Fast Pitch Softball

Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

Softball is a lot like baseball, but there are some key differences. For example, softball is played with a larger ball on a smaller diamond. Read on for more differences and similarities between baseball, slow-pitch and fast-pitch softball.

The Origins of Softball

One Thanksgiving Day in Chicago, a bunch of men were at a boat club for a football game. After the game ended, one man grabbed a boxing glove and threw it at another man, who swung a stick at it and sent it flying. A reporter named George Hancock saw the glove soaring and realized it might make a good game. He used the boxing glove's strings to tie it up in a ball. For a bat, he used a broomstick handle. He marked some baselines on the floor in chalk and pretty soon they were playing a sort of indoor baseball - the first softball game. Mr. Hancock eventually wrote the first softball rule book in 1889. In this lesson, we'll look at the rules and regulations for a softball game.

How Is Softball Played?

As its origins would suggest, softball is much like baseball. A lot of the equipment is similar, with four bases (including a home plate), a bat and a ball - but the ball is bigger (more on that below).

Softballs and baseballs - the softballs are the bigger of the two.
Softballs and baseballs

A coin toss is used to decide which team will bat first. The offensive team bats while the defensive team pitches and takes the field.

The pitcher throws the ball. As in baseball, a pitch can be fair, foul or a ball. A pitch is called fair if it is pitched within the strike zone or if the batter hits it and it does not go foul. A foul ball is one that the batter has hit but which lands outside the foul lines. Usually, lines are drawn from the tip of home plate to the outside of first base and from the tip of home plate to the outside of third base - anything outside those lines will be called foul. A ball is called if the pitch goes outside the strike zone or hits home plate (as long as the batter doesn't swing at it or hit it). If four foul balls are called on the same batter, that batter gets to walk, or take the first base without hitting the ball. If the batter does not swing at a fair pitch, or if the batter swings at the pitch but does not hit it, the umpire calls a strike. After a batter has three strikes, that batter is out. Once an offensive team has three outs, the inning is over and the teams switch positions.

If the batter hits the ball, he/she becomes a baserunner. The baserunner must then touch all four bases in order to score a run. When a batter hits a fair ball, the defensive team may catch and throw the ball in an attempt to tag the runner - touch the ball to the baserunner when he or she is not on a base. If they successfully tag the runner, the baserunner is declared out. Catching a fly ball is also an out for the batter. The defensive team may also catch the ball at first base before the baserunner reaches it, which also results in the runner being out. The team with the most runs at the end of all innings wins the game.

How Is Softball Different than Baseball?

Softball must be pitched underhand - the pitcher must release the ball when his or her hand is below the hip.

A man pitching in a softball game. Notice the underhand pitching motion.
A softball pitcher

There are only seven innings instead of nine. A softball is up to three inches larger in circumference than a baseball. In slow-pitch softball, the ball can be either 11 or 12 inches in circumference (usually depending on the gender of the players). Similarly, in fast-pitch softball, the ball can be 11 or 12 inches in circumference, generally 11 inches for ages 10 and under and 12 inches for all other ages. Softball uses a pitching plate or circle, which is flat, instead of a mound. The plate is much closer to home plate (a pitcher's mound is 60.5 feet from home plate; a plate is 46 feet from home plate for men, 43 feet for women). Another difference in the two fields is the spacing of the bases - they are 90 feet apart in baseball, but between 60 and 70 feet apart in softball. There may also be double base, or safety base at first base - a second base next to (or connected to) first base. An offensive team member can tag regular first base while the runner uses the safety base. This prevents collisions at first base.

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