The flight attendant’s sweet southern drawl came over the loud speaker as she cheerfully announced, “A special welcome to our baseball team that’s with us today!”
Baseball team? I wondered. I didn’t see a baseball team boarding the flight. Immediately my eyes scoured the plane in search for the alleged boys, but I only saw my Hillsdale softball teammates and coaches.
Suddenly, it was obvious that there were no baseballers on board, but that the good-intentioned flight attendant had made the most obnoxious mistake. And this was only the beginning. Over the course of our spring training trip in Florida, we were incorrectly titled as a baseball team time and time again.
While the game of softball and the game of baseball have similarities such as diamond-shaped fields and the objective to run around said diamond-shaped field, they are different sports.
In 1887 when George Hancock invented softball, or “indoor baseball” as it was named at the time, he probably never imagined how the game would evolve. Fastpitch softball is a distinctive sport that is widely played and should be widely recognized as a separate game.
We owe our game’s existence to baseball and enjoy the parallels we share. So I don’t mean to disparage our brother sport. I just want people to stop treating us like baseball’s kid sister.
Nevertheless, the differences between the two are significant. Baseball fences range from 300 feet to 435 feet while softball fences max out at 250 feet. Softball infields are half the size of baseball infields: only 7,200 square feet. With 60-foot base paths and a 43-foot distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate, all dimensions in softball are shorter than those in baseball, and this increases the speed of the game.
Major League baseball pitches can reach 100 miles per hour while softball pitches max out around 70 miles per hour. However, according to an ESPN Sports Science video titled “The Speed of Softball”, a pitched softball reaches the plate in only .35 seconds while a pitched baseball reaches the plate in .38 seconds. That means a softball hitter only has 25 milliseconds to decide whether or not to swing while baseball hitters have 55 milliseconds.
Speedy hand-eye coordination is also required as an infielder, as line drives can come off the bat at speeds reaching 100 miles per hour. With the smaller infield dimensions, this means the batted ball can reach the shortstop in only .61 seconds. From there, the shortstop must throw the ball to first base beating the runner who averages in a 3.2 second home-to-first time. These quick plays only get quicker when the batter has extra speed, the ball takes a bad hop on the dirt, or the runner is a slap-hitter.
Under these conditions, it’s a good thing softball players throw like girls.
This leads me to a small detail that, to me, completely exemplifies the gap between the games. Softball players are females. We wear ponytails, ribbons and various accessories. Although our uniforms are not the most flattering, feminine figures can usually be detected under the dirty and oversized jerseys.
Fastpitch softball is a growing sport that busies the schedules of girls all over the world. According to the Amateur Softball Association’s website, the ASA registers over 245,000 softball teams annually. That means over 3.5 million girls suit up to play in ASA tournaments over the course of each year. In addition, the ASA registers over 83,000 youth softball teams, meaning 1.2 million youths participate yearly. According to a study by ESPN, 17 percent of six to 17-year-old girls who play a competitive sport play softball.
In 2014, 371,891 of these softball youngsters furthered their careers and joined a high school team. From there, 30,874 girls went on to play collegiate softball at 1,679 colleges across the country. Though the number of players dwindles as ages increase, there are still millions of girls at all ages who participate in softball programs every year.
For a softball player, the dream almost always ends at college graduation. There are only five professional softball teams in the National Pro Fastpitch league and only one olympic USA team. This lack of professional play contrasts with the popularity of the MLB that airs games on TV almost year-round.
Softball’s status will never touch that of America’s favorite pastime. But I still request one simple thing. I just ask that you learn to appreciate softball for its unique importance, and please, get the name right.