If you search the term ‘softball’ online, a comparison to baseball is never far behind.
Two teams, a large field, batters, pitchers, it is difficult to explain softball without some sort of reference to the other popular American sport.
But what is the difference between baseball and softball? Well, as the name suggests, the latter is a more gentler and slow-paced sport as Elaine Barr of Softball Ulster explains.
“Baseball has nine players and softball has 10, there’s one extra outfield player. Generally, in most countries, baseball will be a bit more serious. It’s a bit more for people who are really focused on playing sports whereas in softball there is a lot more of a social element.
“The other big difference is in baseball whenever they are throwing the pitch at you, it’s a really hard, over the arm pitch and it’s coming in at 90 miles an hour, whereas in Softball, it’s a nice loopy underarm throw so the ball is easier to hit.
“And of course, it’s co-ed so you get to play with boys and girls.”
However, within that is an exception. Two different forms of softball are played in Ireland, slowpitch and fastpitch and the country is represented internationally in both codes.
Julie Trundle has been involved in the sport for almost 18 years and previously chaired the Leinster branch, so she is more than qualified to explain the difference between the two versions.
“They are very similar but fastpitch is girls only while slowpitch is co-ed.
“The ball is still pitched underarm, you have to get it up in an arc and then back down, but in fastpitch, it is much faster, much, much faster. You have to wear a lot more protective gear in the fastpitch and there is also one less player, just nine. And you also have a chance to ‘steal’ each other’s bases. If a ball gets hit or bunted or overthrown from the base to where it needs to go, someone can actually steal a base which is similar to baseball.
“But they still have the same rules around batting, fielding. If you hit the ball and I caught it without it hitting the ground, you’re out. The team that I’m on gets three outs and then we switch over and we get to bat and try and score.
“Normally in slowpitch, we try and hit the ball as hard as we can or try and place it to different parts of the field. In fastpitch, you can do the bunt which is normally to try and either advance a runner home or push a runner who is on first base onto second, little things like that.”
All this week in our #ShowcaseYourSport series, we are delving into the world of Softball.
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So if it’s not quite like baseball, what can we compare it to? For Irish people, the closest equivalent is rounders, a staple game in most schools around the country. Therefore picture a slightly more grown-up version of the game, that houses the same amount of enjoyment, and you have softball.
While there is a competitive edge to softball in Ireland with various tournaments, for the players, it’s mainly a social outlet. A chance to meet new people and enjoy the lighter side to sport. It’s a community for life, especially in the cases of both of these women who met their husbands through softball.
“My friend, her sister, and her brother all played for three different teams and it looked like super fun”, says Barr of her beginnings in the sport.
“I rocked up to one of their nights and it was fancy dress. I had never met anyone before and I was dressed as Supergirl. It’s not a super-serious sport but it’s more serious than rocking up on your first night dressed as Supergirl!
“I started playing 10 years ago when I was 34 and that was the first time I had gone near Softball and there are still people joining who are much older. We know people who are still playing in their 70s. A lot of it is more about technique rather than fitness. So you can be super fit or you might never have picked up a ball in your life.
“It’s the reason a lot of people like it because none of us are experts in here. Everyone starts at a similar level so it’s easier for people to slot in. You don’t need to be playing since childhood to enjoy it and get the most out of it. It’s not always super competitive but it is always super fun.”
“It doesn’t matter what job you’re in, on the field we’re all the same and that’s what I love about softball”, Trundle adds.
“It’s a brilliant sport for just meeting people, having fun, it’s such good craic. You could hit a howler and you’d be laughing at yourself and people would be laughing with you and saying ‘Don’t worry, it was a good try!’ Everyone is always really encouraging, that’s what I’ve found.
— Pundit Arena (@PunditArena) June 29, 2021
“I had a camogie background so I had the hand-eye coordination and I always was into sport but I just loved softball because it really was so relaxed and the craic was always mighty.”
With branches in Ulster and Leinster and an ever-growing presence in Galway, softball is on the rise in Ireland. And it’s not hard to see why. So if you are looking to pick up a new sport or simply to make new friends in a safe and socially distanced manner, head to http://www.softball.ie/ to find out how you can get involved.