Baseball and softball are nearly identical in many respects, but you'll notice a few major differences between the two sports when you begin to compare. You need to know the differences if you're planning to coach beginning-level softball if all your experience has been in baseball — and vice versa. The following list gives you a glimpse at some of the more glaring distinctions:
- Pitching area: Youth baseball programs, particularly at the advanced levels, feature a pitching mound that the pitcher throws from (the younger levels may call for hitters to hit off a tee or from a ball pitched from their coach). That isn't the case in softball — at any level. The pitcher delivers balls on level ground with the batter. The other major pitching difference is that softball pitchers deliver the ball in an underhand motion; baseball pitchers can throw overhand or even sidearm if they choose.
- Distance from the pitcher's area to home plate: The game of fast-pitch softball puts a greater emphasis on pitching, because the pitcher throws from a distance much closer to home plate than in baseball. At the beginning levels of youth softball, pitchers generally deliver pitches about 35 feet from home plate. At the higher levels of play, pitchers throw balls from 40 feet.
- Base paths: The base paths in softball are several feet shorter than those in baseball. When pitchers throw from 35 feet, the bases typically are 55 feet apart; when pitchers deliver balls from 40 feet, the bases usually are 60 feet apart. The smaller base paths in turn create a smaller infield area, which affects the defense of the infielders.
- Field size: Outfield measurements vary greatly. A common distance from home plate to the outfield fence in softball is 150 feet for the younger kids, while for the older kids it extends to 225 to 250 feet.
- Size of the ball: A regulation softball is significantly larger than a regulation baseball. A softball measures between 11.88 and 12.13 inches in circumference and weighs between 6.25 and 7.00 ounces; a baseball measures between 9.00 and 9.25 inches in circumference and weighs between 5.00 and 5.25 ounces.
- Sometimes, leagues for the youngest softball players use smaller and softer softballs, because a girl's hand at the beginning levels of play isn't big enough to grip and throw a regulation softball.
- Bats: At the youth level, bats used for baseball and softball are interchangeable. At the advanced levels of play, players use softball-specific bats, which come in a variety of different materials, such as graphite, carbon, Kevlar, and liquid metal, to name a few. Many softball programs only allow specific types of bats to be used.