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Last Updated: Friday, 4 June 2004, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Beginner's guide to softball
Unlike baseball, softball is played on a dirt infield
Softball developed out of baseball and as a result the sports have more than a passing resemblance to each other.

The aims of the games are identical, and in terms of technique, they share innumerable skills.

Softball is often portrayed as a social game, but at Olympic level, where it is played by women only, it is far from genteel.

The Olympic competition involves eight teams competing in a round-robin format with the top four advancing to the semi-finals.

Australia, Canada, China, USA, Taiwan, Greece, Italy & Japan
The top team will play the second-placed side with the winners going through to the grand final.

The loser of that match plays the winner of the match between the third and fourth placed teams.

The loser of that match gets the bronze medal, while the winners go through to contest the final.

There are three forms of the game - fast-pitch, slow-pitch and 16-inch slow-pitch - and the most obvious change frombaseball is that the pitcher releases the ball underarm.

At the Olympics fast-pitch is the chosen format and pitches are clocked at close on 70mph.

Fast-pitch: Arm makes windmill rotation before straight trajectory delivery
Slow-pitch: Umpire judges on pitch's speed and height - 3.66m max./1.83m min.
16-inch slow-pitch: One-step pitch thrown with a straight arm
Although that will be around 20mph slower than the speeds of baseball's pitchers on duty in Athens, softball pitchers throw from a distance of 20ft closer to the batter (40ft) which means the batters have less time to react than their baseball counterparts.

There are however, crucial differences between the sports.

In softball, both the ball and the bat are larger and the pitch smaller, with bases 60ft apart as opposed to the 90ft in baseball.

Runners are not allowed to steal in softball and must keep one foot on the base until the pitcher has released the ball.

Another change is at first base, which is a designated safety or double plate.

All the other bases are the regulation white blocks, but the first is half orange and in an effort to cut out collisions the runner must touch the orange part and first baseman the white.

The game consists of seven innings, as opposed to the nine played in baseball, and is played on a dirt infield, while baseball is played on grass.

Links to more Sport Guide stories


Beginner's guide to baseball
01 Apr 04 |  Sport Guide

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