True or false-the only difference between softball and baseball is the size of the ball? False! Although the two sports are very similar in nature, there are several key differences. Here they are:
- Equipment: Balls. Baseballs are 9 inches in circumference. Softballs are 12 inches in circumference. Softballs are also less dense than baseballs. Additionally, baseballs are white, while softballs can be white or neon yellow.
- Equipment: Bat. Baseball bats are a maximum of 42 inches long, where as softball bats cannot be any longer than 34 inches.
- Length of Game. A baseball game lasts 9 innings. A softball game lasts 7 innings. Both have extra innings in the event of a tie at the bottom of the last inning. Softball games are often decided by an "International Tie-Breaker". In this model the last person who got out in the previous inning (usually the last batter) is placed on second base to start the inning. The rules vary from league to league, but this model has been largely adapted by the softball community.
- Field Dimensions. A baseball field has 90 foot baselines. A softball field has 60 foot baselines. The outfield fence distances vary from field to field. A fence is not a requirement for either sport, however.
- Pitching Distance. The baseball mound is 60 feet and 6 inches from home plate. The softball "mound" is 40-43 feet from home plate (depending on if it is high school, college, or professional). In softball the "mound" is not elevated, in baseball, it is.
- Pitching Style. Baseball pitching is overhand-softball pitching is underhand, or "windmill". With the windmill technique the pitcher must start with both feet on the rubber, and avoid jumping and/or leaping as she pitches. The pitch starts and ends at the hip. An illegal pitch in softball, where the player leaps, from the mound is a "crow hop". Softball and baseball pitchers can utilize the same pitches for the most part. The knuckle ball can be slightly more challenging to achieve for the softball pitcher due to the relative size of the ball, but it can be done. A softball pitcher has the option to throw a rise ball based on the motion of the pitch. This pitch is not possible in baseball.
- Hit by Pitch. In baseball a player is awarded first base unless he/she swings or does not make an attempt to avoid the pitch. In softball a player is awarded first base unless he/she swings or intentionally moves to be hit. This rule has some ambiguity and is largely based on the individual umpire's interpretation of the batter's "intent".
- DH vs DP. A designated hitter may bat in place of a defensive player in baseball. This player can strictly bat, or he/she can replace the player on defense as well. Once the DH plays the field, however, the player he/she substitutes is no longer in the game. In softball this player is called the "designated player" (or DP) and is subject to the same rules.
- Base Stealing. In baseball you can steal any time the ball is live. In softball you can only steal once the ball leaves the pitcher's hand and when the ball is live. If the pitcher is in the "pitching circle" the runner may not move unless the pitcher "makes a play", or makes a motion that may be interpreted as "making a move". What defines a "move" is left up to the individual umpire. Once a "move" is made the runner may try to advance, as the ball is now considered "live".
- Leading Off. In baseball, runners are allowed to lead off of any base. This means that the runner does not have to be touching the base while the pitcher has the ball. After each pitch, however, the baseball runner must return to the base to tag up. In softball, the runner must be touching the base until the ball leaves the pitcher's hand. If she leaves the base early, she's out.
As you can see, there are more than a few differences between the two games. Both men and women can enjoy both sports. In some cases the rules are modified to cater to the group that is playing, for instance, in slow-pitch softball some leagues add an extra outfielder or place rules against stealing. Whatever the game, go out, have fun and play ball!