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While many people love the game of baseball, fewer understand the difference between baseball and softball. As a matter of fact, if you ask any casual fan what the differences are you might get something like “They use a bigger ball in softball” or “Softball is an easier game, geared toward kids and beer leagues” or “Isn’t softball just for girls?” and “I thought softball was an Olympic sport only” even “It’s the same thing.”
While those answers are partially right, it’s like saying 5 pin and 10 pin bowling is the same sport, or crossbow hunting and rifle hunting are the same. They have some similarities, but they are a completely different sport.
One of the first things you notice when watching softball is that pitching area.
Unlike baseball, where the pitcher pitches from on top of a mound, softball pitches on a level from the batter. This might not seem like a big difference, but as the softball pitcher uses underhand techniques to throw, it makes a huge difference in the quality of delivery.
Where in baseball, the pitcher can pitch overhand or sidearm, and pitching at a downward angle gives them a much better control of the final destination of the ball, and better view of the strike zone.
With the amount of power baseball pitchers manage to put into a pitch, the playing field is leveled somewhat but bringing the softball pitchers in five feet closer to the plate. Not only does this bring a faster speed across the plate, but emphasizes the overall control and ability of the fast-pitch softball pitcher by shortening the distance and forcing more physical restriction on the pitch.
While starting out in a younger league the average softball pitcher starts pitching at 35 feet, this gives even less reaction time available over their older divisions which usually give about 40 feet. Compare that to pitching from 55 feet in baseball and you’ll see how softball focuses a lot more of the game on the pitchers skills.
Softball players who are pitching in levels that allow for a 35 foot distance also have smaller base lines, and at 40 feet per base, are considerably shorter than their 60 foot counterpart in a 40 foot pitch league. This shrinks the size of the infield by a third and increases the need for quality defense immensely.
The infield isn’t the only size difference either. There is a substantial size different in field size between the games, and even within the games and between the age groups. While starting out in softball, generally the outfield is kept to a maximum of 150 feet. This helps gear it more to the children and gives them great strength and field defense development which will carry over to when they are a little older and the field is spread out to up to 250 feet.
Bat and Ball size
The other major differences between the two are the size of bats and balls. While it’s obvious to even the most casual observation that there is a difference, the surprise is how big a difference there actually is. It is almost like comparing a grapefruit and a large apple.
While a baseball is a compact 9 to 9 ¼ inches and weighs up to 5 ¼ ounces, the softball is 11.88 inches up to a whopping 12.13 inches, and a weight between 6 ¼ and 7 ounces. Some of the younger leagues do however allow for a softer, smaller ball for the younger players who don’t have hands big enough to handle the massive size of a softball. If this doesn’t make a huge difference in pitching styles, I don’t know what would.
While bats are the final key difference between the two, people don’t realize that in the earlier levels of play, the bats are interchangeable. While using a softball bat in a baseball game when a child is 5, really doesn’t have a lot of impact on the game, one does need to remember that muscle memory starts in children and using the appropriate equipment as early as possible makes it easier for children as they transition through their gaming career.
While they advance in there ball careers, there are allowable differences between the bats that include size, weight, content, and solid versus multi-piece. There are several different regulatory groups that decide what is legal in which league, it is in your best interests to check up and review what you can and cannot play with. On this website we feature opinions on both the best fastpitch bats, and the best slowpitch bats for your consideration.
One of the best groups to double check with and the largest is the ASA. Between the Youth program and the adult program the ASA includes more than 250,000 teams, 3.8 million players, 800,000 coaches involved on an annual basis alone. The ASA or Amateur Softball Association also covers fast, slow and modified pitch for men and women and a modified and 16 inch slow pitch as well. You can check out our list of the best ASA bats for more information.