Differences between playing baseball and fast pitch softball
by Rod Moore
“It’s basically the same as baseball.” There are probably many softball players in Denmark that say this when they have to explain what sport they practice in their spare time. Very few people have not heard of baseball, the American national sport, and most know that it is something to do with a bat, ball and glove. (Very few baseball players need therefore to compare with softball …) The comparison between baseball and softball usually gets most novices to say “aha!”. But what do you say when your new friend then asks “What is the actual difference between the two?” Most of you may already know, but if you are new or only have played one of the two, you can use this article to become a little wiser about the difference between softball and baseball. First there is a table below on the objective differences.
The Facts – A Table of Differences
Size: 22.9 cm. (9 inches) circumference
Weight: 141.7 gm.
Size: 30,5 cm (12 inches) circumference.
Weight : 178 gm.
Length: max 106.7 cm (42 inches)
Length: max. 86.,4 cm
Weight: max. 1007 gm.
Distance between bases: 27.5 m.
Distance to outfield fence.
Distance between bases: 18,29 m.
Distance to outfield fence:
Played primarily by men.
Played by both men and women.
Standard game duration
Pick offs / stealing
Pitcher may throw to the bases when ready to pitch in and thereby “pick off” runners who are permitted a “lead” (edge). Runners may steal at any time after the umpire has said “play ball”.
Pitcher must not throw to the bases when he / she is ready to pitch home. Runners must be in contact with the base and then can first steal when the pitcher releases the ball toward home plate.
Other rule differences
No tie breaker rule
Tie breaker rule – in the extra inning, the last batter from the inning before is put on second base and the game continues until there is a winner
As seen in the table, the main objective differences between baseball and softball are that softball is played with a bigger ball, smaller diameter bat and a smaller playing field than baseball. A softball is as hard as a baseball and thus is a confusing misnomer. Pitchers in softball pitch underhand as opposed to overhand in baseball. There are 7 innings in a standard softball game and 9 in baseball. Fastpitch softball was added as an Olympic medal event in 1996 until 2008, but only for women. Baseball has been an Olympic demonstration sport since 1912, but only with medal honors from 1992-2008. Baseball and softball have now gained reentry into the 2020 games in Tokyo. In this article, I have confined the discussion to fastpitch softball vs. baseball, choosing not to compare with slow pitch softball, since it has even greater differences. But now here comes the fun part and the main purpose of this article – the subjective differences in the games of baseball and fastpitch softball as they are played. Having played baseball in my early years and fastpitch softball for the last two years for Århus and then recently playing baseball again in games in Florida at a fantasy camp, these subjective differences became more apparent.
Fielding Playing infield on a baseball diamond you can get a false sense of security because of the greater distances. But the ball, when hit hard, also travels faster than a softball, so the defensive physical distance may not help. Psychologically however, when I have played infield in fastpitch softball, the distances seem all too short, since the ball seems to ”sizzle” and move just like in baseball when hit hard. There just seems to be less reaction time as compared to when I played infield in baseball. The biggest difference to me was the increased ”psychological distance” that I could feel in getting to the ball in baseball, as compared with similar hit ball speeds in fastpitch softball. Playing outfield doesn’t have the same psychological barriers since the softball is larger and easier to spot at a distance.
Batting Batting is something altogether different in the subjective experience. Since baseballs are pitched overhand and the pitchers have a ”mound” that can be raised as much as 25-30 cm, the ball is coming down toward you as a batter as compared with a fastpitch softball pitch, which is pitched underhand and usually from a flat or only slightly raised pitcher’s area. The view of a baseball as it comes to you as a batter on a normal summer day with partly cloudy or sunny skies is that you see mostly the illuminated top half of the ball. If you as a batter do not swing slightly up at the ball and try to hit it just below the more prominently illuminated top half, you would tend to ground the ball a lot. Whereas in softball, it is also important to swing through the middle of the ball, but since the target is larger than a baseball, swinging at the softball in a slightly upward path is not as critical. If a baseball player changes to fastpitch softball they tend to ”get under” the ball too much, tending to pop the softball up, until they adjust the swing angle to a flatter stroke with little upward angle. The bat itself is different in that there is a shorter length for the ”sweet spot” for contact on a baseball bat than on a softball bat, even though the contact area on baseball bats is wider than on softball bats. Many softball bats are the bottle type, where the bat doesn’t taper until it gets much closer to the hands on the handle compared with the baseball bat, which is thicker further away from the hands and tapers uniformly from one end to the other. So, it is often physical more difficult to ”get all of the ball” with a baseball bat than it is with most fastpitch softball bats.
Pitching The fastpitch softball pitcher tends to have a throwing velocity lower than a baseball pitcher, although this varies considerably from pitcher to pitcher. But the main difference is that the distance to the plate is shorter in softball and thus there is less time for a batter to decide to swing given that a pitcher has a velocity similar to baseball pitching. (Rules for Olympic Softball is that it is 2 m shorter to home plate from the pitchers rubber than in standard American or European softball, making for pitcher dominated low scoring games.) The activity or movement of the softball vs. the baseball in its flight is also different. Softball and baseball differ in breaking pitches. The riseball is a standard pitch for many softball pitchers because of the angle of the underhand motion. It is not possible for overhand or ¾ sidearm baseball pitchers to use such a pitch standardly and only the ”submarine” or ”drop down” baseball pitcher can get the correct angle to throw something like a riser. The breaking ball does however, tend to break more intensely in baseball than it does in softball, in large part due to larger pitching length of baseball compared to softball.
Baserunning The art of baserunning is very different in baseball vs. softball and affects them sometimes dramatically as a spectator sport. Taking a ”lead” off base with intentions to steal only happens in baseball. When one thinks of the thrilling baserunning skills of Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Rickey Henderson and Ty Cobb many game outcomes have been determined by stolen bases. Take, for example, the ”manufactured ” runs of Jackie Robinson in the late 40’s early 50’s Brooklyn Dodgers. The scenario was that Jackie, who had just received a walk, took a big lead, big enough to get the attention of the pitcher. Then after stealing second and third and because he was also known to have stolen home, the pitcher became so rattled that he threw a wild pitch. Jackie had manufactured a run! Exciting baseball.. something to watch! Softball lacks aspects of this game since one cannot lead off the base until after the pitcher releases the ball toward home plate.
All in all, the differences between baseball and softball are palpable, but the basic strategies other than in baserunning are the same with e.g. hit and run plays, bunt sacrifices or squeeze plays and sacrifice flies. One thing they both have in common however is the excitement at the beginning of a new season where it must be just about equal for players of both games as the umpire yells out ”Play ball!” for that first time!