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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

This Friday (and all remaining Fridays of the regular season), I will preview the upcoming weekend's games. Before doing so, I wanted to do an entry, primarily for sports fans who have not watched much softball, on differences they could expect to see between softball and baseball.

The Sandy Plains Softball Association of Marietta, Georgia has produced a document entitled Fastpitch 101, which details the similarities and differences in the rules of the two sports. Here are some of my own observations from over the years:

1. Because the bases are considerably closer together in softball (60 feet) than in baseball (90 feet), softball infielders consistently must pick up ground balls and make their throws to first base quickly, in order to get the runner. In other words, many (if not most) softball grounders result in "bang-bang" plays at first base, necessitating a lot of close calls by first-base umpires, who must detect whether the thrown ball (to the first-baseperson's mitt) or the runner's foot reached the bag before the other. In contrast, if a baseball infielder snatches up a grounder cleanly, he can usually take the time to set up his foot positioning, glide forward a couple times, and unhurriedly deliver the ball to first base.

2. Softball games are seven innings, instead of baseball's nine. To me, here's the biggest implication of this difference: If the team I'm pulling for is losing by a run or two in the fourth or fifth inning, I would feel little or no sense of panic in baseball, whereas I would definitely feel some in softball.

3. The underhand delivery of softball pitchers does not appear to greatly tax their arms, at least nowhere near as much as baseball's overhand pitching motion. Not only do softball pitchers often throw in both games of a double-header; sometimes, they will pitch every inning of their teams' appearances in softball's Women's College World Series or other tournaments.

In the 2003 WCWS, UCLA's Keira Goerl pitched all 47 innings played by the Bruins. Was she worn out toward the end? Hardly. She finished things off victoriously, with an extra-inning no-hitter in the championship game against Cal.

A year later, LSU's Kristin Schmidt pitched 20 and 2/3 innings in one day during the World Series! I don't believe teams are typically called upon to play three times in a single day, but rain storms are a not-infrequent occurrence at the permanent Oklahoma City site of the WCWS, so extreme reshuffling of schedules can occur.

4. In softball, baserunners must stay on the bag until the pitcher releases the ball towards home plate. Thus, one does not see lead-offs or pick-off attempts characteristic of baseball. Steals are possible in softball, but I suspect they're much more rare than in baseball.

5. According to this overview of softball in the Wikipedia (a free online encyclopedia), "A player may be withdrawn from the game and then re-enter once." In baseball, of course, once someone is replaced (e.g., by being pinch-hit or pinch-run for), he cannot come back into the game.

Concluding Note

For those of you who really want to delve into the regulations of NCAA softball, the official NCAA rulebook can be accessed by clicking here. A warning though: It is a 242-page PDF document, which could take a lot of time to come in on your computer!