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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, fastpitch softball is as hard as baseball. Slow pitch softballs can be a little softer.
Because of softball’s original location indoors, the original dimensions of its playing area were smaller than a baseball field. The size has remained constant: the bases, at the corners of the diamond, are 60′ apart compared to baseball’s 90′. As a result, the distance from the pitcher’s rubber to home plate is also shorter: 46″ for men and 43″ for women compared to 60″ 6″ in baseball. Regulation fastpitch baseball games are 7 innings long compared to baseball’s 9.
Fastpitch softballs 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 fielders did not use gloves. That tradition continues today in Chicago. Fastpitch softballs weigh 6.5 ounces while baseballs weigh 5 ounces. Although softballs can be white like baseballs, since 2002, the official color of fastpitch softball has been “optic yellow,” similar to tennis balls.
Unlike baseball, fastpitch softball bats may not be made of wood. Regulations require the bats to be made of aluminium. Softball gloves (Fastpitch) are slightly larger than baseball gloves to accommodate the larger softballs.
One of the obvious differences between softball and baseball is the way the ball is pitched to the batter. In fastpitch softball, the pitcher delivers the ball in a downward, or windmilling motion. But the speed of the ball and the challenge it presents to the batter is surprisingly similar to baseball! It is common for fastpitch softball pitchers to reach speeds of 60 mph or more with their throws. In the 1996 Summer Olympics, a field was recorded at 73 mph and, at the college level, speeds of 65-70 mph are common. Fastpitch pitchers can also make the ball move in many different ways like a baseball pitcher; pitchers at the high school level and above can throw curveballs and sliders without a hand. Because the pitching distance of a fastpitch softball is 14″ or 17″ shorter than that of a baseball, a softball traveling at 60-70 mph allows the batter about the same reaction time as in baseball. By the way, in both sports, the batter has about a half a second or less to decide whether to swing or not!
Slow pitch softball is played more widely than the fastpitch variety. The pitches are thrown slowly to the batter in a high arc which makes contact easier. The game requires less skill to play than fastpitch softball. Furthermore, rules can be modified to make the game more accessible to people of all abilities and age groups.
At the collegiate level, the NCAA governs intercollegiate play. Between July 11-14, 2013, players from all over the world competed in the 2013 Softball World Cup, which is a fastpitch tournament that includes 5 countries: Japan, Canada, USA, Puerto Rico and Australia. This was the eighth World Cup and the games were played in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Although softball is slightly larger than baseball, fastpitch softball is not necessarily easier to hit. The shorter pitching distance, similar ball speed and variety of pitches mean that the contest between pitcher and batter in both sports is very similar. There is a world of difference between slow pitch softball and baseball but the gap between fastpitch softball and baseball in terms of pitcher/batter pairing is very small.
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