Baseball and softball are similar games, with the main difference between them being the size of the field and equipment. Most of the rules are similar, although in softball, the pitcher must pitch underhand. Baseball traditionally has been considered a sport for only boys and men, although this has changed to some degree, and softball is a sport that can be played by anyone of almost any age. Other differences between these sports typically depend on the age group and which specific set of rules is being followed.
Size of the Field
One of the most easily noticeable differences between these sports is the size of the field. Although the exact sizes can vary based on the players' age group, softball fields are smaller than baseball fields for players of the same age. On a full-size softball field, the bases are 60 feet (18.29 m) apart for fastpitch games or 65 feet (19.81 m) apart for slowpitch games, compared with 90 feet (27.43 m) apart on a full-size baseball field. The distance to the outfield fence also is less in softball — usually less than 250 feet (76.2 m), compared with usually more than 300 feet (91.44 m) in baseball.
Size of the Ball
Another difference is that a baseball is smaller than a softball. A standard baseball for all ages of players is about 9 inches (22.86 cm) in circumference and weighs about 5 ounces (141.75 g). Softballs can vary depending on the age group and the type of softball being played, with standard fastpitch softballs being about 12 inches (30.48 g) in circumference and weighing about 6.5 ounces (184.27 g). A standard slowpitch softball is about 11 inches (27.94 cm) in circumference and weighs about 6 ounces (170.1 g). In addition, many softball organizations use a bright yellow ball, but baseball organizations almost always use white balls.
The way that a pitch can be thrown is different in baseball and softball. In softball, the pitch must be thrown underhand, but there is no such restriction in baseball. Although it would be legal for a baseball pitcher to throw underhand, it is virtually never done, because throwing overhand or sidearm allows the pitcher to throw with much more velocity. A "submarine-style" pitcher releases the ball from below his or her belt, but this is not a true underhand pitch and would not be legal in softball because the hand is farther away from the body than the elbow is.
The distance from home plate to the pitching rubber varies by age in both sports, but on a full-size baseball field, the rubber is 60 feet, 6 inches (18.44 m) from the plate, compared with a distance of no more than 46 feet (14.02 m) in softball. In baseball, the pitcher throws from a mound that, on a standard field, rises 10 inches (25.4 cm) above the level of the field. A softball pitcher throws from flat ground, inside what is called the pitcher's circle.
The specific rules that the pitcher must follow while on the mound or inside the circle, as well as before and during each pitch, are not the same in the two sports. For example, a softball pitcher must face directly toward home plate, with the shoulders square, before each pitch. Baseball pitchers, however, are not required to face home plate and can start in what is commonly called the stretch position. A right-handed pitcher faces third base from the stretch, and a left-hander faces first base.
Each sport has its own rules for the size of bats that can be used. These rules limit the length, diameter and weights of the bats. In general, baseball players use bats that are longer, heavier and larger in diameter than the bats used by softball players of the same age group. The bats in both sports can be made of wood, metal or other material, such as fiberglass or ceramic, although professional baseball players must use wood bats.
There are other differences between the sports, many of which can vary depending on the rules that are being followed. For example, some baseball leagues play nine-inning games, but regulation softball games typically are no more than seven innings long. In both sports, there usually are nine defensive players on the field, but some softball leagues use 10. Some of the other rules that might be different include those regarding base stealing, leading off base, the number of players who can bat and what happens when the batter is hit by a pitch.