<Stacey Nuveman>
<Stacey Nuveman>

Softball 101


Softball was invented inside the Farragut Boat Club on a blustery, winter day in November, 1887, in Chicago, IL. A bunch of Yale and Harvard alumni anxiously awaited the results of the Harvard-Yale football game, and when the news came that Yale had defeated Harvard, 17-8, one Yale supporter, overcome with enthusiasm, picked up an old boxing glove and threw it at a nearby Harvard alumni, who promptly tried to hit it back with a stick. This gave George Hancock, a reporter for the Chicago Board of Trade, an idea. He suggested a game of indoor baseball. Naturally, Hancock's friends thought he was talking about playing a game outdoors, not indoors.

Hancock wasn't kidding, however. Using what was available, he tied together the laces of the boxing glove for a ball. Using a piece of chalk, Hancock marked off a home plate, bases and a pitcher's box inside the Farragut Boat Club gym, with the two groups divided into teams. The final score of the game was 41-40, but what was significant was that Hancock and his friends had invented a sport that would continue to grow in popularity to where today more than 40 million people enjoy playing it each summer, making softball the No. 1 team participant sport in the United States. Hancock's invention eventually caught on in Chicago with the Farragut team challenging other gyms to games. In the spring, Hancock took his game outdoors and played it on fields not large enough for baseball. It was called indoor-outdoor and Hancock emerged as the recognized authority in the 19th century.

Hancock appended 19 special rules to adapt the outdoor game to the indoor game, and the rules were officially adopted by the Mid Winter Indoor Baseball League of Chicago in 1889. Hancock's game gradually spread throughout the country and ultimately flourished in Minneapolis, thanks to the efforts and ingenuity of Lewis Rober, a Minneapolis Fire Department lieutenant, who wanted a game to keep his firemen fit during their idle time. Using a vacant lot adjacent to the firehouse, Rober laid out bases with a pitching distance of 35 feet. His ball was a small sized medicine ball with the bat two inches in diameter. The game became popular overnight and other fire companies began to play. In 1895, Rober transferred to another fire company and organized a team he called the Kittens. George Kehoe, captain of Truck Company No. 1, named Rober's version of softball "Kitten League Ball" in the summer of 1900. It was later shortened to "Kitten Ball."

Rober's game was known as Kitten Ball until 1925, when the Minneapolis Park Board changed it to Diamond Ball, one of a half dozen names used during this time for softball. The name softball didn't come about until 1926 when Walter Hakanson, a Denver YMCA official suggested it to the International Joint Rules Committee. Hakanson had come up with the name in 1926. Efforts to organize softball on a national basis didn't materialize until 1933, when Leo Fischer and Michael J. Pauley, a Chicago Sporting goods salesman, conceived the idea of organizing thousands of local softball teams in America into cohesive state organizations, and state organizations into a national organization.

To bring the teams together, Fischer and Pauley invited them to participate in a tournament in conjunction with the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago. With the backing of the Chicago American newspaper, Pauley and Fischer invited 55 teams to participate in the tournament. Teams were divided into three classes - fastballers, slow pitch and women. A 14-inch ball was used during the single-elimination event.

During the 1934 National Recreation Congress, membership on the Joint Rules Committee was expanded to add the Amateur Softball Association (ASA). Until the formation of the ASA, softball was in a state of confusion, especially in the rules area where the length of the bases and pitcher's box were constantly being changed.

The formation of the ASA gave softball the solidarity and foundation it needed to grow and develop throughout the U.S. under the network of associations proposed by Fischer and Pauley. Pauley and Fischer visited many of the states, inviting teams to participate in the tournament. Fischer and his sports promotion director, Harry Wilson, sold the Century of Progress Exposition on the idea of sponsoring the tournament and providing a field inside the Fair Grounds. The American's sports pages promoted the tournament daily and Chicago businessmen raised $500 to finance the event.

On the opening day of the 1933 tournament, the Chicago American said, "it is the largest and most comprehensive tournament ever held in the sport which has swept the country like wildfire." With admission free, 70,000 people saw the first round of play. Chicago teams won the three divisions of play with Softball Hall of Famer Harry (Coon) Rosen leading the J.L. Friedman Boosters to the men's title, one-hitting Briggs Beautyware of Detroit, MI, in the finals. It was the first loss of the season for Briggs after 41 consecutive wins.

It was evident that softball finally had a foundation from which to grow, and, in 1935, the Playground Association Softball Guide, wrote: "the years of persistent effort, constant promotion and unchanging faith of believers in softball proved to have not been in vain, for in 1934 softball came into its own.

The International Softball World Championships in 1965 developed women's softball by making it an international game, a step towards the Pan-American Games and the Olympics. Eleven years later, women softball players were given the closest equivalent to Major League Baseball with the 1976 formation of the International Women's Professional Softball League. Player contracts ranged from $1,000 to $3,000 per year, but the league disbanded in 1980 because of financial ruin.

The popularity of women's fastpitch softball has grown steadily since the professional league's end in 1980. In fact, once again, there is another professional fastpitch league called the NPF (National Pro Fastpitch League). The Amateur Softball Association reports that it "annually registers over 260,000 teams combining to form a membership of more than 4.5 million" (About the ASA). These numbers do not all apply to fastpitch, yet it is consistently growing along with slowpitch. All over America hundreds of leagues and thousands of players enthusiastically accepted this major team game and Softball became one of America's favorite sports."

Rules and Play
Softball is a team sport for two teams in which the object is to score runs by advancing around a circuit of four bases. It is a direct descendant of baseball, (sometimes referred to as "hardball" to differentiate the two) but differs from it in several ways, of which the chief three are:

the ball is always pitched (thrown to the batter) underarm – that is, it is released when the hand is below the hip and no further from the body than the elbow – while in baseball the ball may be released in any position and is usually thrown overarm or sidearm
the ball is larger, softer, and less dense than a baseball
the playing field is normally smaller.
Softball is the most popular participant sport in the United States. An estimated 56 million Americans will play at least one game of softball during a year.

It is played by both genders socially as well as competitively, and is an Olympic sport for women. The International Softball Federation holds world championships in several categories. The championships are held every four years, but in different years for each category.

Types of Softball
There are two general forms of softball–slow pitch and fast pitch.

In slow pitch softball, a pitched ball must describe an arc with an apogee at least above the batter's head. In order for a strike to be called, the ball still must cross the plate between the batter's shoulder and knees, or land in a small area directly behind home plate. The strike zone can vary from league to league and umpire to umpire. Because of the requirement for an arc, the pitcher must throw the ball relatively slowly. There is no such restriction in fast pitch softball.

A regulation game of slow pitch softball requires one more player than a game of fast pitch – usually an additional outfielder.

The Field
The playing field is divided into fair territory and foul territory. Fair territory is further divided into the infield, the outfield, and the territory beyond the outfield fence.

The field is similar to a baseball field, but smaller. It is defined by two baselines or foul lines which meet at a right angle at home plate. The minimum length of the baselines ranges from 220 to 300 feet (67 to 91 m), depending on the classification of play. A fence running between the baselines defines the limits of the field; this fence is equidistant from home plate at all points, unlike the outfield fence in baseball, which is usually farther from home plate in centre field, and which may be at different distances from home plate at the right and left field foul lines.

Softball 101

Home plate is made of rubber. It is a five-sided figure, a combination of a rectangle and triangle) 17 in (43 cm) wide. The sides are 8.5 in (22 cm) long. The triangle fits into the right angle formed by the baselines.

Home plate is one corner of a 60 foot square (sometimes 65 foot) or diamond with bases at each corner. The bases other than home plate are 15 in (38 cm) square, of canvas or a similar material, and not more than 5 in (13 cm) thick. The bases are securely fastened in position. The bases are numbered counterclockwise as first base, second base, and third base. Outside first base (that is, in foul territory) is a safety base; to prevent collisions between the first baseman and the runner. The runner runs for the safety base after hitting the ball while the fielding team tries to throw the ball to the regular first base before the runner reaches the safety base. However, not all softball diamonds have these safety bases.

The infield consists of the diamond and the adjacent space in which the infielders (see below) normally play. The outfield is the remaining space between the baselines and between the outfield fence and the infield. The infield is usually skinned (dirt), while the outfield has grass in regulation competitions.

In fast pitch softball the fielding team fields nine players – the left, centre, and right fielder play in the outfield, while the pitcher, catcher, first baseman, second baseman, third baseman, and shortstop play in the infield. The basemen play in the vicinity of their bases, while the shortstop plays between the second and third baseman (normally the second baseman plays on the first base side of second base and the shortstop on the second base side). The pitcher stands at the pitching point in the centre of the diamond; for men the pitching point is 46 ft (14 m) from home plate, while for women it is 40 ft (12 m) from home plate. There is no pitcher's mound as in baseball. The catcher plays behind home plate, squatting to receive the pitch.

A slow pitch softball team fields an additional outfielder; the centre fielder is replaced by a left centre fielder and a right centre fielder.

Another form of softball instead adds a rover who plays between the centre fielder and second base.

The batting team sends one batter at a time to home plate to try to hit a ball thrown by the pitcher forward into fair territory. Once the ball is hit into fair territory the runner may try to advance to first base or beyond (see below). Once on base the batter becomes a baserunner.

The size of the ball varies according to the classification of play; the permitted circumferences in international play are 12 in (30 cm) and 11 in ( 28 cm). The ball is most often covered in white leather in two pieces roughly the shape of a figure 8 and sewn together with red thread, although other coverings are permitted. The core of the ball may be made of long fibre kapok, or a mixture of cork and rubber, or a polyurethane mixture, or another approved material.

All players may wear fielding gloves, made of leather or similar material, but only the catcher and first baseman may wear mitts; gloves have fingers, while mitts do not. Gloves have webbing between the thumb and forefinger.

The bat used by the batter is made of hardwood, metal, or any of several other approved materials. It may be no more than 34 in (86 cm) long, 2.25 in (6 cm) in diameter, or 38 oz. (1kg) in weight

Each team wears distinctive uniforms. The uniform varies more than baseball uniforms, in that short pants are allowed as well as britches. It includes a peaked cap, a shirt, an undershirt, and pants; these are the components for which standards are set.

The players' shoes may have cleats or spikes. Many recreational leagues prohibit the use of metal cleats or spikes in order to reduce the possible severity of injuries when a runner slides feet-first into a fielder.

The catcher wears protective equipment, consisting of at least a mask with a grille protecting the face, a throat protector, and a hard safety helmet.

The teams take turns batting. Each team bats until three players have been put out, as described below. An inning consists of a turn at bat by each team, with the home team batting second. Seven innings constitute a game, unless extra innings are required to break a tie.

Play begins with the pitcher attempting to throw the ball to the catcher past the batter at home plate. The throw, or pitch, must be made with an underarm motion &#8211 the ball must be released below the hip when the hand is no farther from the hip than the elbow.

A strike is called if the pitch crosses home plate between the batters' armpits and the top of his or her knees without being hit by the batter. A strike is also called if the batter hits the pitch but it falls to the ground anywhere in foul territory (unless two strikes have already been called) or if the batter swings at any pitch and misses. A batted ball hit into foul territory is called a foul ball.

A pitch which is not a strike and which the batter does not swing at is a ball (an uncaught foul ball with two strikes on the batter is neither a strike nor a ball). The number of balls and strikes is called the count. The number of balls is always given first, as 2 and 1, 2 and 2, and so on. A count of 3 and 2 is a full count, since the next ball or strike will end the batter's turn at the plate (see next). If the catcher drops the ball on the 3rd strike, the batter may try to advance to 1st base.

If four balls are called the batter advances to first base. The batter may also advance after hitting the ball into fair territory without being put out.

After hitting the ball into fair territory, the batter must run to first base.

The batter is out if: • three strikes are called • a ball hit by the batter is caught before touching the ground • the batter is touched by the ball or by a glove holding the ball while the batter is away from a base (off base) • a fielder holding the ball touches a base which is the only base towards which the batter may run before the batter arrives there (a force out or force play) • in certain other circumstances.

The most common type of force play is made at first base. A batter that drives a ball forward into fair territory must run to first base. If the ball is thrown to first base (that is, to a fielder standing on first base) before the batter can reach it, the batter is out. If the batter reaches first base without being put out, then that player can then be forced to run towards second base the next time a ball is driven into fair territory. That is because the player must vacate first base to allow the next batter to reach it, and consequently can only go to second base, where a force out may be recorded.

If the player hits the ball and advances to a base without a fielding error or an out being recorded, then that is called a 'base hit'. The bases must be reached in order counterclockwise, starting with first base. After hitting the ball the batter may advance as many bases as possible. An advance to first base on a hit is a single, to second base is a double, to third base is a triple, and to home plate is a home run. Home runs are usually scored by hitting the ball over the outfield fence, but may be scored on a hit which does not go over the fence.

The batter stands facing the pitcher inside a batter's box (there is one on each side of the plate). The bat is held with both hands, over the shoulder away from the pitcher. The ball is usually hit with a full swinging motion in which the bat may move through more than 360 degrees. The batter usually steps forward with the front foot and swings the bat. However, a bunt is made by holding the bat stationary over the plate and stabbing at the ball so it strikes the ground in front of home plate.

A batted ball hit high in the air is a fly ball. A fly ball hit upward at an angle greater than 45 degrees is a pop fly. A batted ball driven in the air through the infield at a height at which an infielder could play it if in the right position is a line drive. A batted ball which hits the ground within the diamond is a ground ball.

A player on base is called a runner. When on first, second, or third base the runner may be retired by being forced out, by being touched with the ball while away from a base, and in certain other circumstances (being hit by a batted ball, for example).

A run is scored when a player has touched all four bases in order, proceeding counterclockwise around them. They need not be touched on the same play; a batter may remain safely on a base while play proceeds and attempt to advance. The runner must be on base until the pitcher releases the ball. The runner may advance as many bases as possible.

A runner may advance:

on a hit by another player
automatically, when a base on balls advances another player to the runner's current base
by stealing a base (running to the next base on the pitch and reaching it before being tagged with the ball)
after a fly ball has been caught, provided the player was touching a base at the time the ball was caught or after
automatically, on a balk (illegal delivery or non-delivery of a pitch which could deceive the baserunner)
on an error by a fielder
The team with the most runs after seven innings wins the game. The last (bottom) half of the seventh inning or any remaining part of the seventh inning is not played if the home team is leading. If the game is tied, play continues until a decision is reached. In some games, to avoid embarrassing weaker teams, mercy rules award the contest to a team which has taken a lead of a specified size before seven innings have been played.

Decisions about play are made by umpires. There must be at least one umpire. If there is only one umpire, he or she stands behind home plate to call balls and strikes, or behind the pitcher facing home plate if there is a runner on base. Additional umpires are stationed at other bases; when there is more than one umpire the home plate umpire remains behind home plate.

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