Questions about the sport of softball.

Softball is a stick-and-ball game in the same family as cricket and baseball. The game originally branched off from baseball in 1887 (baseball itself having been standardized in 1845 from regional and historical variants dating to the 14th Century) as a more casual version of the game that could be played indoors or in smaller outdoor spaces.

The game is played with the eponymous ball, similar in construction but larger than a baseball. Softballs were originally up to 16" in circumference but in current play an 11" circumference is standard. Modern softball leagues tend to use hollow metal bats for weight and durability reasons, though wooden baseball bats are often allowed in recreational leagues.

The overall objective and form of the game is similar to its parent sport, but various rules have been changed to make the game slower and less physically demanding on the players, thus allowing for the game to be played at virtually all age levels. The major rule differences from baseball include:

  • A smaller field. Softball fields typically have a rear fence no further than 300' from home plate, while baseball fields have home run fence distances in excess of 400'. The "rubber" the pitcher stands on is only 40 feet in softball, as opposed to 60 feet, 6 inches in baseball.
  • A larger ball; softballs are up to 11" in circumference, while major-league and most other baseballs are about 9".
  • Hollow aluminum bats, though regulation wooden baseball bats are allowed in many recreational leagues.
  • An extra player on each team, typically used as an extra outfielder, though some leagues allow the tenth player to be used as an infielder mirroring the shortstop between first and second bases.
  • An underhanded pitching motion. Overhand throws are allowed at all other times except for the delivery of the ball by the pitcher to the batter. Two major variants exist, fast-pitch (a full overhead "windmill" is allowed to be made with the pitching arm, increasing the time the pitcher can accelerate the ball; fastball speeds of 60mph are common) and slow-pitch (the pitcher cannot make a full circle with their arm and cannot raise the ball above his head during the windup or delivery). Fast pitch is common in women's leagues, slow-pitch in men's.
  • A reduced number of innings (5 or 7 innings is typical for most college and adult leagues).

Additional rules vary between leagues, but a common addition at all levels is a home-run limit. Because it is typically easier to hit the ball out of the park and thus games tend to be longer even with the reduced number of innings, many adult leagues specify a maximum number of home runs that may be hit by each team (10 is common), after which each additional out-of-park hit is an out. This requires teams to plan their home runs to maximize the number of additional runs each of their allowed homers will score.

Softball in the United States and most other participating countries is primarily a women's game, with baseball being the preferred form of the game for boys and young men up through to the professional level. The game is played by girls as young as 5 or 6 (younger players being introduced to the idea of the sport in co-ed tee-ball leagues) and continuing up through interscholastic leagues, into college, and from there to international and Olympic competition. A U.S. professional women's softball league, the National Fast Pitch league, currently exists with five teams (Akron, Chicago, Dallas, Florida and Pennsylvania), but the sport is not nearly as popular among spectators as Major League Baseball. Men's softball leagues are also common, primarily in recreational leagues for older casual players, with a few semi-professional teams including the U.S. Men's Slow Pitch national team.