What’s the Difference Between Baseball and Softball?

The similarities are striking (pun intended)

Sue Pierce

| 4 min read

Boys play baseball. Girls play softball. That’s it, right?

Wrong. 

Softball is not an easier version of baseball, and baseball is not just for boys. While the two games have their differences, they also have a lot in common. 

Here’s the rundown.  

What’s different

The size. A softball is bigger than a baseball and the field of play is smaller. A softball diamond maxes out at 60 feet between bases, while a baseball diamond goes to 90 feet.     

The pitch. The most obvious difference between softball and baseball is how the ball is pitched to the hitter. In baseball, the pitcher throws overhand, releasing the ball above the shoulder. A softball pitch is thrown underhand, and the ball is released at the pitcher’s hip. 

The pace. The ball and diamond sizes also affect how baseball and softball are played. 

“In recent years, baseball has turned into a long ball game – meaning more hitting for the fences, hitting home runs,” explains Koely Kempisty, a former collegiate softball player who now works at Major League Baseball. A small ball can really fly. 

Softball uses more strategies to keep the ball on the ground, like bunts. “Especially at a higher level, the pace of a softball game is much quicker than that of a high level baseball game,” says Bennett Shields, a senior manager of baseball and softball development at MLB. 

The game speed. Because the game moves faster, softball players “need a faster reaction time than baseball players,” says Kempisty. The pitcher’s rubber is closer to the hitter in softball so contact is made quicker. “Once the ball comes off the bat, the time that that fielder needs to field the ball and get the runner out (especially from 3rd base) needs to be much faster than that of a baseball infielder.” Strong, fast throws are a must on the smaller diamond.  

The end goal. Generally-speaking, college is the end of the line for softball. Many girls switch from baseball to softball because they have a better chance of getting college scholarships. 

Traditionally, only boys could dream of playing professionally in “the big leagues.” Though Shields says things are changing. “There are commitments from Major League Baseball and countless organizations throughout the country to ensure that there are more opportunities for girls who want to continue playing baseball.”

What’s the same

The core concept. When it comes down to how the game is played, these two bat, ball and glove sports are identical. “The elements of both games are the same,” says Shields. Both are played on a diamond. Both have a pitcher aiming for a strike zone and a hitter trying to make contact with the ball. The field positioning is the same. Defensive players field the ball in the same way to make an out. 

The athleticism.  Solid hand-eye coordination is key in both sports, and catching and throwing are the elemental skills. Players need quick feet and plenty of agility. 

Practices. Baseball and softball players practice in the same way to improve their skills. Drills help players correctly throw overhand and exercises improve footwork for fielding. Players learn how to quickly get an out. “The muscle memory for both sports is very similar, especially for young athletes, whether they’re playing baseball or softball,” says Shields. “That practice is going to help them grow their skills in whichever sport they decide to pursue in the long run.”

Opportunities for all. “The misconception out there is that just because a player is female, she should be playing softball,” says Kempisty. That is no longer the case. The development of similar skills allows athletes to play either sport. It’s the player’s choice. “Young women should pursue the game they want to pursue,” says Shields, “and rest assured that there are opportunities on both sides.” 

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