Baseball has long been known as America's pastime, but its sister sport has a strong following of its own. By 1995, in fact, softball had become the fourth most-popular sport in high school and college athletics, according to the National Amateur Softball Association. In addition to those who play competitive, fast-pitch softball, many Americans enjoy playing the slow-pitch version of the sport for recreation; in fact, more people play softball than any other recreational sport.
Softball was invented in 1887 at the Farragut Boat Club in Chicago. Chicago Board of Trade reporter George Hancock initially envisioned it as an indoor version of baseball, using boxing glove laces as a ball. He later moved the game outdoors, calling it "inside-outside." Softball initially had just 19 rules, first used in 1889 by the Mid Winter Indoor Baseball League of Chicago. The game's popularity spread quickly, especially at fire stations, whose workers played in parking lots to stay in shape. Temporarily called both "kitten ball" and "diamond ball," it found its permanent name of softball in 1926.
Much like baseball, softball is played on a field featuring a diamond-shaped infield and four bases. When a batter swings and hits the ball in the field of play, she must head down the right base path and try to reach first base before a fielder fields and throws it to the first baseman. When a struck ball is caught in the air, the runner also is out. Like baseball, a half-inning ends when a team records three outs, a player walks after taking four balls and strikes out after the third strike. When players successfully round the bases and cross home plate, a run is scored. The goal, of course, is to score more runs than your opponent.
There are two varieties of softball: slow-pitch and fast-pitch. Slow-pitch softball, which is usually played by preteens and in recreational leagues, is the easier of the two because a pitcher must loft the ball high into the air, usually between 6 and 12 feet. Any pitch that reaches any point outside those parameters is declared an illegal pitch. In fast-pitch there's no such rule. Pitchers use a windmill motion to gain power and then sling the ball underhanded at high speeds. Because of this delivery, they're also able to throw breaking pitches like rise balls, screwballs and sliders.
Other Tips and Rules
In some fast-pitch leagues, base runners are allowed to steal bases. This isn't allowed in soft-pitch because with the lofty pitches, it would be impossible to keep runners from advancing. One unique part of fast-pitch strategy is the slap bunt, in which a batter tries to slap the ball between infielders while taking off for first base at the same time. Bunting isn't allowed in slow-pitch. Fast-pitch games tend to breeze by because of the difficulty of hitting, where as slow-pitch games often last several hours. To prevent games from taking all night, some leagues stipulate that a half-inning ends when every player on a team has come to bat.