Softball is a game similar to baseball played with a larger ball (11 to 16 inches or 28 to 40 cm circumference) on a field that has base lengths of 60 feet, a pitcher's mound that ranges from 35 to 43 (professional is 43) feet away from home plate, and a home run fence that is 220–300 feet away from home plate, depending on the type of softball being played. It was invented in 1887 in Chicago, Illinois, United States as an indoor game. The game moves at a faster pace than traditional baseball due to the field being smaller and the bases and the fielders being closer to home plate. There is less time for the base runner to get to first while the opponent fields the ball; yet, the fielder has less time to field the ball while the opponent is running down to first base.
|Highest governing body||World Baseball Softball Confederation|
|First played||United States, 1887|
|Team members||2 teams of 9–10|
|World Games||1981, 1985|
A tournament held in 1933 at the Chicago World's Fair spurred interest in the game. The Amateur Softball Association (ASA) of America (founded 1933) is one of the largest governing bodies for the game in the United States and sponsors annual sectional and World Series championships. Other national and regional governing bodies also exist, including the USSSA. The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) regulates rules of play in more than 110 countries, including the United States and Canada; before the WBSC was formed in 2013, the International Softball Federation filled this role. Women's fast pitch softball became a Summer Olympic sport in 1996, but it and baseball were dropped from the 2012 program; they were to be reinstated in 2020 but the 2020 Olympics were delayed due to the COVID-19 international pandemic.
There are two rules codes for softball generally. In the most common type, slow-pitch softball, the ball, which can measure either 11 inches, for a women's league, or 12 inches, for a men's league, in circumference, must arch on its path to the batter, and there are 10 players on the field at once. Bunting and stealing bases are not permitted. In fast pitch softball, the pitch is fast, there are nine players on the field at one time, and while bunting and stealing bases are permitted, leading off is not. Fast pitch is the most common form of softball in some states, such as Virginia. Softball rules vary somewhat from those of baseball. Two major differences are that the ball must be pitched underhand—from 50 ft (15.2 m) in slow pitch, or 46/43 ft (14/13.1 m) for men/women in fast pitch as compared with 60.5 ft (18.4 m) in baseball—and that seven innings, or 1–2 hours depending on the league, constitute a regulation game compared with nine innings in baseball.
The name "softball" was given to the game in 1926. Despite the name, the ball used in modern softball is not soft, unless using a foam practice ball. It is about 12 in (about 30 cm) in circumference (11 or 12 in for slow-pitch), which is 3 in (8 cm) larger than a baseball. Softball recreational leagues for children use 11-inch balls until around age 13. The infield in softball is smaller than on an adult or high school baseball diamond but identical to that used by Little League Baseball; each base is 60 ft (18 m) from the next, as opposed to baseball's 90 ft (27 m). In fast pitch softball the entire infield is dirt, whereas the infield in baseball is grass except at the bases and on the pitcher's mound which are dirt. Softball mounds are also flat, while baseball mounds are a small hill. Softballs are pitched underhand, but baseballs are pitched overhand. This changes the arc of the ball when approaching the plate. For example, if the pitcher pitches a fastball, in softball the ball would most likely rise while in baseball because the pitcher is on a hill, the ball would drop.