Softball is a game similar to baseball played with a larger ball (11 to 12 in. circumference) on a field that has base lengths of 60 feet, a pitcher's mound that ranges from 35–43 feet away from home plate, and a homerun fence that is 220 feet away from home plate. It was invented in 1887 in Chicago, Illinois, United States as an indoor game. The game moves at a faster pace than traditional baseball. 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. The name softball was given to the game in 1926, because the ball used to be soft, however in modern day usage, the balls are hard.|
George Hancock is credited as the game's inventor for his development of a 17" ball and an undersized bat in the next week. The Farragut Club soon set rules for the game, which spread quickly to outsiders. Envisioned as a way for baseball players to maintain their skills during the winter, the sport was called "Indoor Baseball". Under the name of "Indoor-Outdoor", the game moved outside in the next year, and the first rules were published in 1889.
The game is played in usually seven innings. Each inning is divided into a top half, in which the away team bats and tries to score runs, while the home team occupies the field and tries to record three outs; then a bottom half, when the teams' roles are reversed. Some leagues play with a reduced number of innings or with a time limit, rather than the traditional seven innings.
A ball hit in the air and caught before hitting the ground, in fair or foul territory, puts the batter out. A fly ball is a ball hit high and deep, a pop fly is a ball hit high but short, and a line drive is a ball hit close to the horizontal. After the catch, runners must return to their original bases; if the defense throws the ball to that base before the runner returns, the runner is out as well, resulting in a double play. A runner who remains on the base until the ball is touched, or returns to the base (tags up) after the catch, may try to advance to the next base, at the risk of being tagged out between bases. As in baseball, the infield fly rule applies in some game situations to prevent the defense from recording multiple force outs by deliberately dropping an easy catch.
In Chicago, where softball was invented, it remains traditional to play with a ball 16 inches (41 centimeters) in circumference. The fielders do not wear gloves or mitts. A 16" softball when new is rough and hard, with hand and finger injuries to fielders frequent if they do not "give" when receiving a ball, but the ball "breaks in" slightly during a game and continues to soften over time with continued play. A well-broken-in ball is called a mush ball and is favoured for informal "pick-up" games and when playing in limited space, such as a city street (because the ball does not go as far). A 16-inch ball is also used for wheelchair softball.
Many female players use "sliding shorts", otherwise known as compression shorts in other sports. These shorts help to protect the upper thigh when sliding into a base. "Sliders" may also be worn for similar protection. These are somewhat padded shinguards that extend usually from the ankle to the knee of the wearer and wrap all the way around the leg(s). They protect the shin, calf, etc. from getting bruised or damaged while sliding into homeplate and make it much more comfortable to slide into the plate. Most male players use long, baseball-style pants. However, some female players now wear a shorter version of baseball pants.
Official umpires are often nicknamed "blue", because of their uniforms – in many jurisdictions, most significantly ISF, NCAA and ASA games, umpires wear navy blue slacks, a light powder blue shirt, and a navy baseball cap. Some umpires wear a variant of the uniform: some umpires in ASA wear heather gray slacks and may also wear a navy blue shirt; umpires from the USSSA wear red shirts with grey slacks; National Softball Association (NSA) umpires wear an official NSA white-colored umpire shirt with black pants or black shorts; NSA fastpitch umpires wear the white NSA umpires shirt and heather gray slacks.
The pitcher throws the ball in or around the "strike zone". However, in advanced play pitcher and catcher play a psychological game trying to get the batter to guess where the next pitch is going and if it will be a strike. In other instances, such as when an extremely powerful hitter comes up to bat and they are followed by a weaker hitter, a pitcher may deliberately walk the first batter based on the calculation that the next batter will be an easy out. 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.
A batter can also advance to first if hit by the pitch. If a batter is hit by the pitch it is a dead ball and she is rewarded first base. She must make an attempt to get out of the way and it is the umpire's judgmental call whether the batter attempted to move. If he feels the batter could have moved and avoided getting hit he or she will not reward the batter first base and the pitch will be recorded as a ball.
A run is not scored if the last out is a force out or occurs during the same play that the runner crosses home plate. For instance, if a runner is on third base prior to a hit, and he or she crosses home plate after an out is made, either on the batter or another runner, the run is not counted.