A softball game scoreboard with a sky background indicating 'how many innings in softball'. A softball game scoreboard with a sky background indicating 'how many innings in softball'.

Playing the Numbers: Understanding the Innings in Softball

One can’t deny that football is the most popular sport in the United States with around 112.3 million audiences and is claimed to be liked by 37% of the population.

However, statistics showed that up to 1.81 million participants increased in fast-pitch softball in the United States during the 10 years from 2011, including young kids.

Also, 6.35 million participants increased in slow-pitch softball during the same period. Let us look at what softball is.

All About Softball

These are two different types of softball games which alone let you see that though softball has less participation and thus a lesser audience count (as it only started as a replacement for baseball and is deemed as a recreational play), it has not failed to surprise the world by its slow but steady growth.

It had around 1.2 million audiences on ESPN for the 2021 Women’s College World Series.

1. Can We Talk About Softball?

yellow softball infield dirt
Image Source: depositphotos

The World Baseball Softball Confederation claims it’s played by more than 65 million people globally, along with baseball in Canada, Japan, and Australia.

If you’re familiar with baseball, you can play softball too. But if you don’t, you’ll need a bat, ball, and glove to start as a beginner and a field specially designed to play softball. It’s a game that can’t be mentioned without baseball, the latter being an ancient counterpart.

The four important figures in playing the game are; the batter, pitcher, catcher, and fielder. You need to take part in seven innings (sometimes cut short to 3-5 to wind up early) and outscore to be qualified as a winner or strikeout player of the opposite team before they succeed in scoring high. let us try to get all the information needed to play.

2. How Did Softball Reach Where It Is Today?

How did softball turn into a world-class sport from being only a pleasure game? History is evident in its evolution from an accidental game to one reaching new heights.

History of Softball

Once upon a time, George Hancock was spending time with his friends in the Farragut Boat Club in winter, waiting for a football game’s result to be announced between Harvard and Yale in 1887.

This story of a softball game started in Chicago, Illinois, when one of the alumni of Yale, on winning the game, threw a glove (like a ball) toward a Harvard fan, and he attempted to hit the glove with a broomstick.

This short allowed Hancock to create a mini version (at that specific point) of baseball, though it wasn’t linked to baseball then. They all played the game with an end score of 41-40, now known as softball.

In the following spring, Hancock launched the game outdoors, but in a limited space, and 1889, he helped establish rules for the game to reach far and wide.

He had Lewis Rober, a Fire Department lieutenant, help him reach the game to more people in Minneapolis. In 1895, Rober formed a Kittens team, which later changed to ‘Kitten Ball.’

3. How Did Softball Get Its Identity?

Until 1925, the name Kitten Ball ruled among the people when the Minneapolis Park Board gave it a new name Diamond Ball.

A few more names were given to it, like Mushball, Recreation Ball, Night Ball, and Indoor Ball, before it became Softball in 1926.

A Denver YMCA official, Walter Hakanson, proposed the name ‘softball,’ but it couldn’t be included in the International Joint Rules Committee before 1934 because of its less outreach.

With the efforts of Leo Fischer and Michael J. Pauley, a Chicago Sporting goods salesman, a tournament was organized in 1933 with the World’s Flair of Chicago to promote the game nationally, which brought several local teams together and 70,000 spectators.

This act made it possible for the Joint Rules Committee to include the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) in it in 1934. So, the formation of the ASA gave new heights to softball and assisted in making it a global team sport.

softball pitcher action game
Image Source: depositphotos

4. Why Is Softball Called ‘Softball’?

Before finding the answer do we even know why it is called Softball? Erica Westly, a journalist for The New York Times and Slate, among others, shares in an interview about its history.

It dates back to its early history when the game first started playing with a glove, which was soft. These days, softballs are smaller and more complicated, keeping the original name softball.

5. Women’s Part in Softball

Euroleague Softball Zagreb Competition April 2017
Image Source: depositphotos

Although softball is equally played by people of all ages both females and males, only men continued to play till the tournament of 1934, in which both joined in.

However, women weren’t supposed to take it seriously as they were considered less fit to continue to the field game. In high schools and college levels, fewer women from the 1940s – to 1960s were allowed to play. Even the purpose of those games wasn’t to excel in the play but to have a fun get-together.

1969 was the year to hold the first Women’s College World Series in Omaha. Still, softball had a long way to go. After extended discrimination, a law ‘Title IX’ was passed in 1972 to restrict bias against women in academia, and the result was an increased number of women participants in schools.

USA softball represented its first softball team of women (Raybestos Brakettes) in the first-ever 1965 Women’s World Championship and gained silver.

6. Race to the Olympics

USA Softball had its first share in the 1996 Olympic Games and secured Gold by 3-0 against China, and the winning game continued in the next two (2000 & 2004) Olympics, but it had to manage with Silver in 2008.

Unluckily, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced to removal of both softball and baseball from the following two Olympic Games (2012 & 2016) on no account. However, they re-entered the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and would hopefully rejoin the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

When we’re talking about softball and baseball jointly, knowing a little about baseball would be helpful.

7. Baseball

A baseball play in a stadium.
By: Daiji Umemoto on Unsplash. Copyright 2019

Baseball is the father of the earlier indoor game softball, involving two teams of nine players each and the same strategy of hitting and pitching the ball.

It’s considered harder in comparison to softball, so the name hardball. Though anyone can play baseball, most players are men, whereas women mostly perform in fast-pitch softball.

8. Softball vs. Baseball

Softball has been passed down to us from baseball, so clearly, both the games must be similar. Well, that’s true as well because both the games –

  • They are played using a bat and ball.
  • They are playing outside.
  • Use a diamond-shaped field.
  • Are international.
  • Allow both men and women.

Apart from similarities, softball has its distinct identity. Major differences are:

  • The yellow ball is used mainly in softball, while whites are used in baseball.
  • Softball uses a giant ball, up to 12 inches than 9 inches in baseball.
  • Metal bats are used in softball, whereas wooden bats are the norm in baseball.
  • There’s also a difference in the distance from the home plate to the pitching circle. It’s 43 feet in softball and 60 feet in baseball.
  • The distance between the bases in softball and baseball is 60 and 90 feet, respectively.
  • Baseball games are played for nine innings in contrast to the seven innings in softball. However, international fastpitch softball allows nine innings too.
  • Softball pitches are delivered with an underhand motion, while baseball pitches are delivered overhand.
  • Softball has two main variations; fast-pitch and slow-pitch. However, baseball has only one.
  • Stealing is permitted in baseball but can’t be done in a fast-pitch game before the strike is made.

Now, let’s dive deeper into the game.

9. Equipment Used in The Game

Softball equipment.
By: pictureback on Pixabay. Copyright 2016

9.1. Ball

A 16-inch ball in circumference is preferred in Chicago, where the game has its fame due.

For fast-pitch games and adults, it’s generally 12 inches in circumference and weighs between 6.25 and 7.0 oz. At the same time, it’s 11 inches in circumference for slow-pitch games and younger kids and weighs between 5.875 and 6.125 oz.

A yellow or sometimes white color ball (stitched with red thread) is used, which is made by the cork and rubber mixture and is usually more significant than the baseball.

9.2. Bat

A softball bat should be 86.4cm (34 in) long or less and 5.7cm (2 ¼ in) or less in diameter at its larger end. It should be 1077.0 g (38 ounces) or less in weight.

The material for bats can be aluminum, bamboo, or wood. Moreover, metal and curved bats from the end are preferred in softball.

Other equipment includes gloves worn by the defensive players (which can be different in size as per the position of the players), a uniform (shirt, cap, shoes, and pants/shorts), and other safety equipment like a helmet, face mask, and chest protector.

9.3. Pitch

A softball field.
By: jcoop585 on Pixabay. Copyright 2013

The softball field has two parts, fair and foul territory. The infield and outfield (green area) consist of fair territory. The diamond-shaped infield is a dirt area with four bases: first, second, and third base, and home plate.

There were two foul lines extended to the outfield. One from home plate to first base and the other to third base. At the back of the home, the plate is a backstop.

The pitching rubber is at the center of the field within a pitching circle. This is a flat surface from where the pitching is initiated.

The distance between the bases is 60 feet in fast-pitch and 65 feet in slow-pitch games, and the distance between the home plate and pitching rubber is 50 feet in slow-pitch games and 43 feet in fast-pitch.

10. Players and Their Positions

The softball field is set with nine players on the defensive team. Slow-pitch softball involves an extra outfielder, and a designated player can play in fast-pitch.

In the fair territory, players can be placed anywhere except the pitcher (must pitch from the circle) and catcher (must be placed in the catcher’s box).

10.1. Positions on The Fielding Team

  1. Pitcher – The one who throws the bowl toward the batter through an underarm strike from the pitching circle.
  2. Designated player – An optional player used in the defensive team to bat in place of a pitcher or any other player.
  3. Catchers – Are responsible for striking a batter out and standing behind the home plate in a catcher’s box.
  4. First baseman – A defense fielding position to the left of the home plate.
  5. Second baseman – A position before second base.
  6. Shortstop – A position between the second and third base.
  7. Third baseman – A position to the right of home plate.
  8. Right fielder – A position to the left of the home plate between first and second bases.
  9. Center fielder – A middle outfield position behind the second.
  10. Left fielder – A position to the right of the home plate behind third base.
  11. Short fielder – A different fielder position behind the second base adjusting with the center fielder’s position.

11. Softball Rules

SOFTBALL Rules : How to Play Softball : The Rules of Softball EXPLAINED!
  1. Each team consists of nine players and an extra in slow-pitch games.
  2. The game is played till the nine innings or seven or fewer innings in slow-pitch softball. Innings can be extended in case of a tie and reduced in recreational leagues when the home team (which bats in the bottom innings) is already winning before taking their turn at-bat in the seventh inning.
  3. The batting team aims to score more runs to take the lead, while the fielding team has to try to secure outs by throwing pitches and rigorous fielding.
  4. The pitcher shouldn’t bowl till all the fielders are in fair territory except the catcher, who should be in the catcher’s box, and the pitcher’s feet should be on the pitcher’s rubber before a strike.
  5. A batter becomes a batter-runner when they hit the ball and attempt to run to the base.
  6. A runner must touch the bases in order (first, second, third, and then return to home plate).

12. Innings in Softball?

Generally, there are seven innings in a professional game, though less than seven can be the case in leagues for recreational purposes and senior citizens or children.

Being divided into two halves, the visiting team bats in the top half of the inning in the decided batting order, and the bottom half goes to the home team. Each team gets their chance to bat and pitch one by one.

The goal for the offensive team is to score runs, and the other team has to strike them out. One inning comprises each team batting and fielding in one round. Then the second inning starts, and it continues until the game ends.

Also, as per the official softball rules, innings can vary in a game for the following reasons:

  • When a match is tied after seven innings, an extra inning is played.
  • The home team is winning in the last inning before its batting after the turn of the visitor team. The umpire himself ends the game due to exceptional reasons such as weather or foul play.
  • Due to the mercy rule, which ends the game before the seventh innings in five or more when one team is ahead by eight or more runs.
How to Play Softball

12. How To Play Softball?

Now let us learn further. So, the field is set with all the fielders, pitchers, catchers, and batters. The guest team gets a chance to bat first, and the home team bats after them in two halves of an inning, or a toss can decide it.

After the umpire calls for ‘play ball,’ play starts when all the players assume their positions. So, at that time, a pitcher must be in his pitching circle with the ball ready, the batter must be in the batter’s box, and all other fielders in the fair territory.

The pitcher starts by making a delivery, and the batter swings at the ball over the outfield fence and reaches home plate by completing a whole round of the four bases to secure a run before getting out.

The batter can run one base at a time and advance others to reach the subsequent bases until they strike a home run which is possible when the ball crosses the outfield and the batter (then batter-runner) completes one round of the field.

At the same time, the opposing team tries to put them out by the following softball rules –

  • By catching a fly ball.
  • Tagging the batter-runner before they reach the base.
  • Causing them to miss three strikes.
  • Or by a force out or force play which happens when a fielder touches the exact base by holding the ball before a runner secures it.

The game is completed in seven innings where each inning is parted into two halves, for which both the teams take their rounds of batting and bowling. Extra innings are played in case of a tie match. The team that scores the highest runs wins.

13. Types of Softball Games

There are mainly two forms of softball that exist, namely fast-pitch and slow-pitch. Both genders can play both slow-pitch and fast-pitch games. However, fast-pitch games are played internationally, whereas local communities generally organize slow-pitch to spend leisurely time.

13.1. Fast-pitch softball

softball player catching ball action shot
Image Source: depositphotos

This form of softball requires nine players on the field, and bunting and stealing can be done only when the pitcher throws the ball. It requires the pitcher to use a fast windmill-like motion to throw the ball at 105 miles per hour for men and 77 miles per hour for women. It’s the form that’s played in the Olympics.

13.2. Slow-Pitch Softball

The pitcher uses a slow pitching motion to throw the ball in pitching. The field requires ten fielders, including an extra outfielder. Stealing and bunting aren’t allowed, and it’s only a seven-inning game in contrast to the nine innings in fast-pitch.

14. Terminology of A Softball Game

  • Offensive team – A team that bats.
  • Defensive team – An opposite team on the field.
  • Pitch – The act of throwing a ball or making a delivery.
  • Play ball – A phrase to begin or resume the match by an umpire when the pitcher is within the pitcher’s circle or near the pitcher’s plate.
  • Fly ball – A batted ball hit in the air.
  • Inning – When both teams complete their turn of playing, and each has three outs, it’s called an inning.
  • Bunt – A ball that’s not hit by the batter but only touched by their bat intentionally to advance it at the front of the home plate within the infield area to let the base-runner reach the next base.
  • Double play – When a fielding team successfully manages two strikes of the batting team in the same play, it’s called a double play.
  • Stealing – An act of advancing to the next unoccupied base before the ball reaches it, on the pitcher’s release of the ball. A runner, not a batter, can only make it.
  • Strikeout – When the bowler manages to get the batter out three times in an inning.
  • Force Out – An out is recorded by the defense team when the batter hits the ball, and one of the defense fielders catches it to tag the runner before the runner runs to reach the next base safely.
  • Tagging Up – Touching a base by base-runners before advancing to their next base after the ball is caught by a fielder holding the ball.
  • Ball – A pitched ball or delivery missed by the hitter and crosses the strike zone.
  • Walk – Four pitched balls by the pitcher lead to a walk where the batter is given the first base without striking any balls.
  • Strike Zone – An area above the home plate lies between the hitter’s shoulders and knees when he assumes his position for a strike.

15. FAQS

15.1. Who Are the Top Players in A Softball Game?

Top WCWS softball defensive plays since 2015

Lisa Fernandez, Jennie Finch, Dot Richardson, Jessica Mendoza, and Cat Osterman are the five top softball players.

15.2. Who Is the Fastest Female Pitcher?

From the Chicago Bandits, Monica Abbott achieved a speed of 77 mph in a National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) game against the Carolina Diamonds.

15.3. Who Is the Best Performing Softball Player in The Olympics?

With three Golds and silver, Laura Berg is the best softball performer in the Olympics.

15.4. What Is a Foul Ball?

A foul ball is a ball that lends itself to foul territory after being hit by the batter.

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