Sports for Dummies: Softball and baseball differ more than you think

Ashley Potts

Believe it or not, it’s about time for spring sports. Despite the cold weather hanging around, many teams have announced their spring schedules and matchups, and Major

Believe it or not, it’s about time for spring sports. Despite the cold weather hanging around, many teams have announced their spring schedules and matchups, and Major League Baseball fans know that this time of year brings about Spring Training.

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This weekend serves as the first home games for Colorado State University’s Division I softball team and club baseball team. 

The Rams softball team is already off to a really strong start — having already played three tournaments in warmer weather — kicking off their season with a record of 9-4. They’ll host two Colorado State Classics on campus in the next two weeks before starting Mountain West play.

The baseball team has won one of the four games they’ve played so far, with four of their eight February matches being canceled. They will also kick off a significant homestand this weekend. 

So with the season seemingly in full swing, you sports dummies might be wondering what the difference in the two sports is. This is not a silly question.

The basics are the same: someone pitches a ball, the other team swings the bat, if they hit the ball they run as many bases as they can while the opposition tries to tag them out or catch the ball, with making it to home plate earning a point (or a run), three strikes and they’re out, etc. 

The differences are more subtle. First and foremost is the ball. A softball is much larger than a baseball and therefore softer since its insides aren’t packed as tightly — hence it being called softball. Softballs are also usually bright yellow, while baseballs are classically white.

Since softballs are bigger and heavier, softball gloves are a bit bigger as well.

The other most noticeable difference comes in the pitching. Softball is pitched underhand and baseball overhand. I think there is some physics to this — something about the larger ball and the way it’s thrown, I’m not about to calculate it though — but it also largely has to do with the way someone’s arm is used. Underhand pitching is “better for your arm,” though pitchers across both sports are often subject to overuse injuries and the same kinds of soreness in their biceps, shoulders and elbows. 

Baseball pitchers also throw from a raised mound that is further from the batter. Softball pitchers pitch from level ground closer to the plate, with the rubber falling in “the circle.” The close distance actually makes the softball harder to hit. All pitchers stride forward to gain momentum in their throws — the closer plate plus the farther stride needed to gain momentum to throw underhanded means there is less time for hitters to react in softball.

In fact, all of softball is closer together. The bases are 60 feet apart as opposed to 90 feet apart in baseball. The fence marking the end of the outfield is also closer to the plate in softball. 

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If you keep up with this column, you probably know what I’m going to say next: This all seems a little bit sexist. When we think about these two incredibly similar sports, we often consider softball to be the female equivalent to men’s baseball. So the bigger, brightly colored ball seems to me to be making the target easier for women to hit, the bases being closer together is so women don’t have to run as far, and the underhand pitching seems to protect women’s delicate arms.

Maybe that’s just me. 

Even if that is the case, women have proved they can hang with the boys. If you’ve never seen “A League of Their Own,” I highly recommend it. And, in case you missed it, this week a softball player at the University of Arkansas made headlines after hitting a home run cycle in four innings. 

https://twitter.com/espnW/status/1099672582138314752?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1099672582138314752&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.sbnation.com%2Flookit%2F2019%2F2%2F24%2F18238703%2Farkansas-softball-danielle-gibson-home-run-cycle-video

A home run cycle is basically when a player hits a home run with all the possible base combinations. Danielle Gibson hit a solo home run — a home run with one runner already on the bases —  a  triple home run with two others already on the bases and a home run with the bases loaded — a grand slam. This is something that has never been achieved in MLB history. 

Granted, it’s a little bit up to luck. The hitter can’t really control who gets tagged out and what not before stepping up to the plate. But four home runs in four innings is still quite an achievement. 

Regardless of the rules or the gender of players, I think we can all agree that it’s officially ballpark season. After months of being confined to indoor arenas, some sunshine is much needed. Hopefully, Colorado will cooperate.

Ashley Potts can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ashleypotts09.