Softball

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Megan Gibson pitching the ball in the "windmill" motion

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Softball is a team sport popular especially in the United States. It is a direct descendant of baseball and the rules of both sports are substantially similar; baseball is sometimes referred to as hardball to distinguish the two.[1] Softball was invented by George Hancock in Chicago, Illinois. The first softball game was played using a rolled up boxing glove as a ball and a broomstick as a bat.[2] Women's softball made its first Olympic appearance in 1996 and is expected to make its final Olympic appearance in the 2008 games[3]. At the Olympics, it is exclusively reserved for women (see Women in Sports).

Overview

Softball is played between 2 teams on a large field, composed of a dirt infield which contains the diamond and running areas, and a grass outfield. There are 4 bases on the infield (first base, second base, third base, and home plate); the bases are arranged in a square and are typically 45 to 65 feet apart. Near the center of this square is the pitcher's circle, and within the circle is the "rubber", a small flat rectangular area. The object of the game is to score more runs (points) than the other team by batting (hitting) a ball into play and running around the bases, touching each one in succession. The ball is a sphere of light material, covered with leather or synthetic. It is 10 to 12 inches (or rarely, 16 inches[4], 28 to 30.5 centimeters) in circumference. The game is officiated by one or more neutral umpires. Players and umpires are generally free to ask for a brief stoppage at any time when the ball is not in play, or immediately following a play once its outcome is clear.

Rules of the Game

The game is played in a series of innings, usually seven. Youth leagues sometimes have 6 innings. An inning is one series of both teams playing offense and defense. Each inning is divided into a top half and a bottom half indicating which team is playing which role. The offense bats and attempts to score runs, while the defense occupies the field and attempts to record outs in a variety of ways. After the defense records 3 outs, the half inning is over and the teams switch roles.

To start play, the offense sends a batter to home plate. The batting order must be fixed at the start of the game, and players may not bat out of turn. The defense's pitcher stands atop the rubber and throws the ball towards home plate using an underhanded motion. The batter attempts to hit the pitched ball with a bat, a long, round, smooth stick made of wood, metal or composite. A pitch must cross within a small area known as the strike zone, which is determined by the umpire behind home plate, and primarily ranges from the knees to the elbows the ball must cross over the plate, and it must be within a certain height restriction. A pitch which does not cross the strike zone is a ball, and if the batter reaches 4 balls, the batter is awarded first base. A pitch which crosses the strike zone is a strike, and a batter who reaches 3 strikes is out (a strikeout), and the next batter in the order comes to bat. A strike is also recorded on any pitch that the batter swings at and misses entirely, and also on a pitch that is hit foul (out of play), except that a foul ball does not result in a strikeout.

The batter attempts to swing the bat and hit the ball fair (into the field of play). After a successful hit the batter becomes a baserunner (or runner) and must run to first base. The defense attempts to field the ball and may throw the ball freely between players, so one player can field the ball while another moves to a position to put out the runner. The defense can tag the runner, by touching the runner with the ball while the runner is not on a base. The defense can also touch first base while in possession of the ball; in this case it is sufficient to beat the batter to first base and an actual tag of the batter is unnecessary. A runner is said to be thrown out when the play involves two or more defensive players. Runners generally cannot be put out when touching a base, but only one runner may occupy a base at any time and runners may not pass each other. When a ball is batted into play, runners generally must attempt to advance if there are no open bases behind them; for example, a runner on first base must run to second base if the batter puts the ball in play. In such a situation, the defense can throw to the base that the lead runner is attempting to take (a force out), and the defense can then also throw to the previous base. This can result in a multiple-out play: a double play is two outs, while a triple play, a very rare occurence, is three outs. Runners with an open base behind them are not forced to advance but may do so at their own risk; the defense must tag such runners directly to put them out rather than tagging the base.

A ball which is hit in the air and caught before hitting the ground is an immediate out, regardless of whether the ball would have landed fair or foul. A fly ball is a ball hit high and deep, a pop fly is a ball hit high but short, and a line drive is a ball hit close to the horizontal. In any such situation, runners must remain on their bases until the ball is caught or hits the ground. If a runner leaves the base before the catch, the defense can throw the ball to that base, and if the base is tagged before the runner returns, the runner is out as well, resulting in a double play. If the runner remains on the base until the ball is caught, or returns to the base after the catch but before the defense can put him out, he is said to tag up and may attempt to advance to the next base at his own risk.

Offensive strategy is fairly straightforward, revolving around hitting the ball to enable the batter to reach base safely and to advance the base runners towards home plate. Defensive strategy can be more complex, with particular situations calling for different positioning and tactical decision making. For both sides, there can be a trade-off between outs and runs: the offense can sacrifice a batter to advance runners, while the defense may allow a runner to score if the remaining runners can be put out in a double play.

Equipment

Equipment required in softball includes a ball, a bat, gloves, uniforms and protective gear, including helmets for the offensive team and a helmet, shin guards, and chest protector for the defensive catcher.

Ball

Despite the sport's name, softballs are not especially soft. The size of the ball varies according to the classification of play; the permitted circumferences in international play are 12±0.125; in(30.5±0.3 cm), weight between 6.25 oz 178 g and 7.0 oz (198.4 g)in fast pitch; 11±0.125; in(29.7±0.3 cm), weight between 5.875 oz (166.5 g) and 6.125 oz (173.6 g) in slow pitch. Some balls have a raised seam, and others do not. 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 fiber kapok, or a mixture of cork and rubber, or a polyurethane mixture, or another approved material.[5]

In 2002, high-visibility yellow "optic" covering, long-used for restricted flight balls in co-ed recreational leagues, became standard for competitive play. Yellow is the color of official NCAA and NAIA softballs. Yellow softballs are fast becoming the standard for all levels of play for girls' and women's play in particular. White balls are also allowed, but are much more common in slow pitch than in fast pitch.

In Chicago, where softball was invented, it remains traditional to play with a ball 16 inches in circumference. This larger ball is generally softer (sometimes called a mush ball). When using a 16-inch ball, the fielders do not wear gloves or mitts.[6] A 16-inch ball is also used for wheelchair softball.

Bat

The bat used by the batter is made of metal or composite materials (carbon fiber etc). It may be no more than 34 in (86.4 cm) long, 2.25 in (5.7 cm) in diameter, or 38 oz (1.08 kg) in weight.[6] Also, in fastpitch a "drop" of no more than 12 is allowed. The drop is calculated by taking the length of the bat in inches and subtracting the weight in ounces.

Gloves

All defensive players wear fielding gloves, made of leather or similar material. Gloves have webbing between the thumb and forefinger, known as the "pocket". The first baseman and the catcher may wear mitts; mitts are distinguished from gloves in that they have extra padding, and no fingers. In 2007, ASA and other organizations revised their rules regarding gloves and mitts, allowing any player to use a glove or mitt. No part of the glove is allowed to be the same color as that of the ball, including that of its seams.[6] Gloves used in softball are generally larger than the ones used in baseball.

In 16-inch softball, it may be determined by each league whether gloves are permissible or not, though in many such leagues gloves are not worn.

Uniform

Each team wears distinctive uniforms. The uniform includes a cap, visor, a shirt, an undershirt, tight sliding undershorts, and shorts or pants; these are the components for which standards are set.[6]

Caps must be alike and are mandatory for male players. Caps, visors, and headbands are optional for female players, and doesn't have to be the same color. A fielder who chooses to wear a helmet (see below) is not required to wear a cap.[6]

Including for softball players, most players use "sliding shorts" otherwise known as compression short for other sports like soccer, football etc. These shorts help to protect the upper thigh when sliding into a base. Another additional sliding equipment used are "sliders". These are somewhat padded shinguards that extend usually from the ankle to the knee of the wearer and wrap all the way around the leg(s). They protect the shin, calf, etc. from getting bruised or damaged while sliding into homeplate and make it easier to slide into the plate.

At the back of the uniform an Arabic numeral from 1-99 must be visible. Numbers such as 02 and 2 are considered identical. Players' names are optional.[6]

Jewelry, excepting medic-alert-style bracelets and necklaces, cannot be worn during a game. Those must be taped to players wearing them.[6]

All players are required to wear shoes. They may have cleats or spikes. The spikes must extend less than 0.75 inch (19 mm) away from the sole. Rounded metal spikes are illegal, as are ones made from hard plastic or other synthetic materials. Detachable metal cleats are forbidden at any level of play.[6]

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. At all youth (under 15) levels, in co-ed (the official terminology for mixed teams) slow pitch, and in modified pitch, metal spikes are not allowed.

Protective equipment

All batters in fast pitch are required to wear batting helmets. In slow pitch, helmets are optional for adult batters and mandatory for youth batters. Batting helmets must have two ear flaps, one on each side. Helmets and cages that are damaged or altered are forbidden.</ref name="rules"> In fast pitch, the catcher must wear a protective helmet with a facemask and throat protector. A female catcher may optionally wear a body protector in slow pitch. In fast pitch, at the youth level, shin guards are required. Shin guards also protect the kneecap. In slow pitch, the catcher must wear a helmet and mask at youth levels. At adult levels, there is no formal requirement for the catcher to wear a mask, although the official rules recommend it. In slow pitch, there is no formal requirement to wear a helmet. In any form of softball, any player (other than fast pitch catchers on defence) can wear a protective face mask or face guard. As usual, it must be in proper condition and not damaged, altered, or the like. This is intended to prevent facial injuries.[7]

When people slide into the bases, their legs can get cut up very easily, so the players wear sliding pants under their shorts. This protects the upper part of the leg. Not all players have to wear them, but it is recommended if you slide feet first.

Protective gear of any kind is generally not worn in 16 inch softball.

Umpires

Decisions about plays are made by umpires. They make the decisions like a referee in football. The number of umpires on a given game can range from a minimum of one to a maximum of seven. There is never more than one "plate umpire"; there can be up to three "base umpires", and up to a further three umpires positioned in the outfield. Most fast pitch games use a crew of two umpires (one plate umpire, one base umpire).

The plate umpire often uses an indicator (sometimes called a clicker or counter) to keep track of the game. Official umpires are often nicknamed "blue", because of their uniforms – in many jurisdictions, most significantly ISF, NCAA and ASA games, umpires wear navy blue slacks, a light powder blue shirt, and a navy baseball cap. Some umpires wear a variant of the uniform: some umpires in ASA wear heather gray slacks and may also wear a navy blue shirt; umpires from the USSSA wear red shirts with black shorts; NSA umpires generally wear either a cream- or black-colored shirt. Canadian umpires can wear either a light blue or red shirt. Regardless of what uniform is worn, all umpires in the same game are required to have matching clothing.

Decisions are usually indicated by both the use of hand signals, and by vocalizing the call. Safe calls are made by signaling with flat hands facing down moving away from each other, and a verbal call of "safe". Out calls are made by raising the right hand in a clenched fist, with a verbal call of "out". Strikes are called by the plate umpire, who uses the same motion as the out call with a verbal call of "strike". Balls are only called verbally, with no hand gesture. The umpire also has the option of not saying anything on a ball. It is understood that when he stands up, the pitch was not a strike. Foul balls are called by extending both arms up in the air with a verbal call of "foul ball", while fair balls are indicated only by pointing towards fair territory with no verbal call. All decisions made by the umpire(s) are considered to be final. Only decisions where a rule might have been misinterpreted are considered to be protestable. At some tournaments there might be a rules interpreter or Tournament Chief Umpire (TCU) (also known as the Umpire In Chief, or UIC) available to pass judgment on such protests, but it is usually up to the league or association involved to decide if the protest would be upheld. Protests are never allowed on what are considered "judgment calls" – balls, strikes, safes, fair/foul and outs.

International competition

The International Softball Federation holds world championships, held every four years, in several categories. The ISF is the international governing body. The Amateur Softball Association is the National Governing Body of Softball for the United States pursuant to the 1976 Amateur Sports Act. Due to the popularity of the sport, there are a multitude of governing bodies such as the United States Specialty Sports Association and the National Softball Association.

The ISF holds world championship tournaments in several categories. The tournament in each category is held every four years. The most recent tournament was the XI Women's World Championship in late August and early September, 2006. All World Championships use a Page playoff system[8] and are in fastpitch. There are also several World Cups held at 4 year intervals in different categories.[9][10]

New Zealand is the current Men's World Champions, having won the last three tournaments.[11] The current Junior Men's World Champion is Australia, which has won the last three championships.[12] In the Women's World Championships the United States is the most dominant team, having won three of the past four Softball at the Olympic tournaments and the past six World Championships.[13][14] The [15]

References 

  1. World Book Online Reference Center (2008). "Softball".
  2. Historical Facts About Softball - The Origins and the Beginnings of the Game. AthleticScholarships.net. Retrieved on: March 30, 2008.
  3. http://www.infoplease.com/spot/summer-olympics-softball.html
  4. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1163.html
  5. http://www.internationalsoftball.com/english/rules_standards/Rulebook_2002.pdf%7CInternational Softball Federation Playing Rules Committee
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 http://www.sptimes.com/2005/07/27/Neighborhoodtimes/A_kinder__gentler_sof.shtml
  7. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_pwwi/is_200302/ai_mark11051522%7CAddressing Eye and Facial Injuries
  8. http://www.internationalsoftball.com/english/rules_standards/technical_venue_man.pdf
  9. http://www.internationalsoftball.com/english/events/past_results.asp
  10. http://www.internationalsoftball.com/english/events/calendar.asp
  11. http://www.internationalsoftball.com/english/events/04_02_09_mens_world.asp
  12. http://www.internationalsoftball.com/english/events/05_07_03_jr_mens_wc.asp
  13. http://www.internationalsoftball.com/english/events/06_09_05_wwc.asp
  14. http://www.internationalsoftball.com/english/events/02_08_04_womens_world.asp
  15. http://www.internationalsoftball.com/english/latest_news/2007_jwwc_result.asp

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