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Women’s softball was a new event at the Olympic Summer Games at Atlanta in 1996 and was again an official medal sport at Sydney in 2000. However, hitting round objects with sticks or clubs (later named bats) has a history as a form of recreation that stretches back many centuries to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, as well to as the Aztec Indians of the fifteenth century. In the United States, softball began as an organized indoor sport late in the nineteenth century with rules, regulations, and a playing field that was designed to fit inside a gymnasium. That is why the distances between the bases and the pitcher’s rubber are shorter than those for baseball.

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The Playing Field
The softball playing field has the same outlines as those used in baseball, except the distance between the base paths for Olympic fast pitch softball is 60 feet rather than 90. This gives softball players much less distance than baseball players to work in, and they must react far more quickly. The distance from the pitcher to home plate is 40 feet (46 feet for the men’s game). Outfield fences have minimum and maximum distances of 200 and 250 feet for women, 225 and 250 feet for men. There is no pitcher’s mound or elevation. Instead, the pitcher works from a pitching rubber, or pitcher’s plate, within a circle with a radius of 8 feet. The distance from the rubber to home plate is 40 feet in women’s fast pitch softball.

The Game
Nine players comprise a fast pitch softball team: pitcher, catcher, first, second, and third basemen, shortstop, and left, center, and right fielders. (There are ten players on a slow pitch team, with the tenth covering the area behind second and third bases and the left and center outfields.) A regulation softball game is seven innings long and is scored the same as baseball—runners move around the bases from first base to home plate. Every time a runner crosses home plate, that’s one run for her team. Olympic rules require that the ball be thrown by the pitcher underhand, but with windmill-style delivery. Before the pitcher delivers the pitch, both feet must be on the ground and inside the length of the pitcher’s plate. For men, the pivot foot must contact the pitcher’s plate and the non-pivot foot can be on or behind the plate. For women, both feet must be in contact with the pitcher’s plate. The pitcher takes a signal from the catcher, holds the ball in both hands—but not for longer than ten seconds—and must make certain that the catcher is in position. As soon as one hand is taken off the ball, the pitch begins. Pitchers are not allowed to change their minds once the pitch begins. Fast pitch softball games usually feature strong pitchers, and as a result are often low-scoring pitching duels.

The International Joint Rules Committee of the International Softball Federation (ISF) sets the standards for softballs internationally. In fast pitch Olympic competitions, softballs must be white and of a flat-seam style, with at least 88 white stitches. Official bats are constructed from one piece of hardwood, with the grain of the wood running parallel. Bats made from metal, plastic, an aluminum alloy, or other man-made material are acceptable as well. All bats, whether wood or metal, require a safety grip (10 to 15 inches long) and carry an “Official Softball” label.

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Portions of the above text were excerpted from Share the Olympic Dream--Volume II.
© 2001 by Griffin Publishing Group/United States Olympic Committee.

For information on purchasing Griffin materials, please visit the Griffin Publishing Group Web site at http://www.griffinpublishing.com.


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