A Summertime Game

On fields all over the country, millions of men, women and children will be partaking in one of the most popular summer sports - softball. From casual pick-up games to intense elite competitions, athletes of all ages and abilities can enjoy the game.

Differences from Baseball: While softball is very similar to baseball, there are some major differences. The ball used in softball is larger, and doesn't travel as far. In baseball, the pitchers mound is 60 feet and six inches away from home plate and the bases are 90 feet apart. In softball, the mound is about 45 feet from the plate and the bases are 60 feet apart. Since the ball doesn't travel as far or as fast, softball players use a smaller field.

Pitching: In baseball, pitchers throw overhand. In softball, they throw underhand. Many high school, college and professional softball pitchers can pitch extremely fast. Because the mound is closer to the plate, it can be very difficult to hit a softball. At these high levels, quite a few games are extremely low scoring because the pitchers are so good. Also, pitching underhand doesn't strain the arm and shoulder as much as pitching overhand does. On high school and college teams, softball pitchers can pitch in just about every game of the season.

History: It is believed that the first softball game was played on Thanksgiving Day in 1887. A group of people were gathered in a gym in Chicago, waiting to hear the day's football scores. They started throwing a boxing glove around and eventually hit it with a baseball bat. They developed the game into a version of baseball that could be played indoors. Over the years, the sport moved outdoors and grew into the game it is today.

Competitive play: Throughout the summer, competitive softball tournaments take place all over the country. There are tournaments for men and women of all ages. Many of these tournaments can last a whole weekend or even longer. Teams can play several games in a day. The biggest softball tournament of the summer is the World Cup of Softball. It took place this past week in Oklahoma City, with teams from the United States, the Netherlands, Japan, Australia, Canada and Italy. This year's World Cup of Softball featured the best players in the world playing the highest level of the game.

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