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Softball

A team sport in which a ball is thrown by a player called a pitcher and hit by an offensive player called a batter with a round, smooth stick called a bat.

Scoring is accomplished by the batter running and touching a series of four markers on the ground called bases. Softball is a direct descendant of baseball, which is sometimes referred to as "hardball" to distinguish the two, but differs from it in several ways. This article assumes no knowledge of baseball.

The sport's governing body, the International Softball Federation holds world championships, held every four years, in several categories.

Types of softball
There are three general forms of softball: "slow pitch", "fast pitch", and "modified pitch".

*Fast Pitch softball is a very defensive, pitcher-oriented game. The pitcher delivers the ball at maximum speed with a flat arc, making the ball difficult to hit. There are many strikeouts and ground balls, and scores are low. Good pitchers are premium players.

*Slow Pitch softball gives batters more dominance by making it easier for them to hit the ball. There are two types of slow pitch softball, which use different-sized balls. A form using a larger ball, sometimes called "Super-slow Pitch" was written out of the official rules in 2002 but is still played informally.

*Modified Pitch softball places no restrictions on the speed of pitching; however, the technique must meet certain criteria.

In this article, unless stated otherwise, references to fast pitch include modified pitch, and references to slow pitch include the sixteen-inch form.

The field
Diagram of a softball diamond.

The playing field is divided into fair territory and foul territory. Fair territory is further divided into the infield, the outfield, and the territory beyond the outfield fence.

The field is defined by two baselines or foul lines that meet at a right angle at home plate. The minimum length of the baselines varies classification of play (see below for official measurements). A fence running between the baselines defines the limits of the field; this fence is equidistant from home plate at all points.

Behind home plate is a backstop. It must be between 25 and 30 feet (7.62 and 9.14 meters) behind home plate.

Home plate is made of rubber. It is a five-sided figure, a combination of a rectangle and triangle, 17 in (43 cm) wide. The sides are 8.5 in (22 cm) long. The triangle fits into the right angle formed by the baselines.

Home plate is one corner of a diamond with bases at each corner. The bases other than home plate are 15 in (38 cm) square, of canvas or a similar material, and not more than 5 in (13 cm) thick. The bases are usually securely fastened in position. The bases are numbered counter clockwise as first base, second base, and third base. Outside first base (that is, in foul territory) and adjacent and connected to it is a contrast-coloured "double base" or "safety base". It is intended to prevent collisions between the first baseman and the runner. The runner runs for the foul portion of the double base after hitting the ball while the fielding team tries to throw the ball to the regular first base before the runner reaches the safety base. However, not all softball diamonds have these safety bases and they are much more common in women's softball than in men's. The double base is required in ISF championships.

The infield consists of the diamond and the adjacent space in which the infielders (see below) normally play. The outfield is the remaining space between the baselines and between the outfield fence and the infield. The infield is usually "skinned" (dirt), while the outfield has grass in regulation competitions.

Near the centre of the diamond is the pitching plate. In fast pitch, a skinned circle 8 feet (2.44 meters) in diameter known as the pitching circle is around the pitching plate.

A field is officially supposed to have a warning track between 15 and 12 feet (5 and 4 meters) from the outfield fence. However, if the game is being played on a field larger than required, no warning track is required before the temporary outfield fencing.

Located in foul territory outside both baselines are two Coach's Boxes. Each box is behind a line 15 feet (5 meters) long located 12 feet (3 meters) from each baseline.


Protective Equipment
All batters are required to wear batting helmets. Batting helmets must have two ear flaps, one on each side, and a protective plastic facemask. Helmets and facemasks that are damaged or altered are forbidden.

In fast pitch, the catcher must wear a protective helmet with as facemask and throat protector. A female catcher must wear a body protector at any level of play. At the youth level, shin guards are required. Shin guards also protect the kneecap.

In slow pitch, the catcher must wear a helmet and mask at youth levels. At adult levels, there is no formal requirement for the catcher to wear a mask, although the official rules recommend it.

Players

Depending on the level of play, a team may have nine, ten, eleven, or twelve players, plus substitutes and replacements.

Fast Pitch and Modified Pitch
In fast pitch softball the fielding team fields nine players: the left fielder, center fielder, right fielder, the pitcher, catcher, first basemansecond baseman, third baseman, and shortstop. (The term "baseman" is used for both male and female persons).

The basemen, the shortstop, the pitcher and the catcher play in the infield. The first and third basemen play in the vicinity of their bases. The second baseman normally plays between first and second base. The shortstop plays between second and third base. The pitcher stands at the pitching point in the centre of the diamond. The catcher plays behind home plate, squatting to receive the pitch.

The right, center, and left fielders play in the outfield.

A team may also have a tenth player, officially known as a designated player who only bats. The DP bats in place of any fielder, who is known as the designated fielder (DF).

Slow Pitch
In slow pitch, the fielding team field the same players as in fast pitch, except for the center fielder may be replaced by a left center fielder and a right center fielder.

In co-ed, male and female players must be distributed throughout the field as follows: The catcher and pitcher must be of opposite sex; there must be two male and two female outfielders; and two male and two female infielders.

A team may also have one (two in co-ed) Extra Players (EP). They are not compatible with designated players, as they do not bat in place of anyone. In co-ed, one EP must be female, and one EP must be male.

Formerly, sixteen-inch slow pitch fielded the same players as fast pitch as well as an Extra Fielder, who was sometimes known as a Rover or Shortfielder. The rover usually played behind second base before the center fielder.

Substitutes and Replacements
A team will usually have several possible substitutes and replacement players. A player may be withdrawn from the game and then re-enter once. Any player can be substituted.

Gameplay
A softball game consists of at least 7 innings. In each inning, each team bats until three batters have been put out (see below). The teams take turns batting. Officially, which team bats first is decided by a coin toss, although a league may decide otherwise at its discretion. The most common rule is that the home team bats second. Batting second is advantageous.

In the event of a tie, extra innings are usually played until the tie is broken. If the home team is leading and the road team has just finished its half of the seventh inning, the game ends because it is not necessary for the home team to bat again.

In all forms of softball, the defensive team is the fielding team; the offensive team is at bat or batting and is trying to score runs.

Pitching
Play begins with the umpire saying "Play ball". After the batter is ready and all fielders (except the catcher) are in fair territory, the pitcher stands at the pitching plate and attempts to throw the ball past the batter to the catcher behind home plate. The throw, or pitch, must be made with an underarm motion: the ball must be released below the hip when the hand is no farther from the hip than the elbow.

The pitcher tries to throw the ball so that it passes through the strike zone. The strike zone is slightly different in different forms of softball. A pitch that passes through that zone is a strike. A pitch that the batter swings at is also a strike, as is any hit ball that lands in foul territory (unless two strikes have already been called).

A pitch which is not a strike and which the batter does not swing at is a ball. The number of balls and strikes is called the count. The number of balls is always given first, as 2 and 1, 2 and 2, and so on. A count of 3 and 2 is a full count, since the next ball or strike will end the batter's turn at the plate, unless the ball goes foul.

If the ball lands foul, it is a dead ball and no plays may be made until the pitcher receives the ball again, and the home plate umpire says, "Play ball."

Various illegal acts done by the pitcher, such as leaping or crow-hopping result in a ball being awarded to the batter.

Batting

The offensive team sends one batter at a time to home plate to use the bat to try to hit the pitch forward into fair territory. The order the players bat in, known as the batting order, must stay the same throughout the game. Substitutes and replacements must bat in the same position as the player they are replacing. In co-ed, male and female batters must alternate.

The batter stands facing the pitcher inside a batter's box (there is one on each side of the plate). The bat is held with both hands, over the shoulder away from the pitcher. The ball is usually hit with a full swinging motion in which the bat may move through more than 360 degrees. The batter usually steps forward with the front foot and swings the bat.

Once the ball is hit into fair territory the runner must try to advance to first base or beyond. While running to first base, the batter is a batter-runner. When she safely reached first (see below) she becomes a baserunner or runner.

If four balls are called (a base on balls or walk) the batter advances to first base. In neither case does she have any liability to be put out.

A batted ball hit high in the air is a fly ball. A fly ball hit upward at an angle greater than 45 degrees is a pop fly. A batted ball driven in the air through the infield at a height at which an infielder could play it if in the right position is a line drive. A batted ball which hits the ground within the diamond is a ground ball. If a batted ball hits a player or a base is considered to have hit the ground.

Getting the Batter Out
The batter is out if: three strikes are called (a strikeout); a ball hit by the batter is caught before touching the ground (a flyout); the batter is touched by the ball or by a glove holding the ball while the batter is away from a base (tagged); a fielder holding the ball touches a base which is the only base towards which the batter may run before the batter arrives there (a force out or force play); or in certain special circumstances.

The most common type of force play is made at first base. A batter that drives a ball forward into fair territory must run to first base. If the ball is thrown to first base (that is, to a fielder standing on first base and is holding the ball) before the batter can reach it, the batter is out. A double play is when two runners are put out during a single continuous action; a triple play is when three runners are put out.

Ending the Game
The team with the most runs after seven innings wins the game. The last (bottom) half of the seventh inning or any remaining part of the seventh inning is not played if the team batting second is leading.

If the game is tied, play usually continues until a decision is reached. Starting in the top of the eighth inning, the batting team starts with the person scheduled to bat last starts out as a runner on second base. If that player was scheduled to bat, the player scheduled to bat next (i.e. first) bats instead.

In games where one team leads by a large margin, the mercy rule may come into play in order to avoid embarrassing weaker teams. In fast pitch and modified pitch, a margin of 20 runs after three innings, 15 after four, or 10 after five is sufficient for a win to be declared for the leading team. In slow pitch, the margin is 20 runs after four innings or 15 after five innings. In the NCAA, the required margin after 5 innings is 8 runs. The mercy rule takes effect at the end of an inning. Thus, if the team batting first is ahead by enough runs for the rule to come into effect, the team batting second is given their half of the inning to try and narrow the margin.

A game may be lost due to a forfeit. A score of 7-0 for the team not at fault is recorded. A forfeit may be called due to any of these circumstances: if a team does not show up to play; if one side refuses to continue play; if a team fails to resume play after a suspension of play ends; if a team uses tactics intended to unfairly delay or hasten the game; if a player removed from the game does not leave within one minute of being instructed to do so; if a player that cannot play enters the game and one pitch has been thrown; if a team does not have, for whatever reason, enough players to continue; or if after warning by the umpire, a player continues to intentionally break the rules of the game. This last rule is rarely enforced as players who break rules after being warned are usually removed.

Games that are not regulation or are regulation ties are replayed from the point of suspension. If it is a championship game, it is replayed from the beginning. Team rosters may be changed.

Popularity and Participation
Softball is the most popular participant sport in the United States. An estimated 56 million Americans will play at least one game of softball during a year. It is played by both genders socially as well as competitively, and was an Olympic sport for women from 1996 until the IOC removed baseball and softball from their list of Olympic sports in 2005. Softball is also popular in Japan, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.


Source: Wikipedia


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