Softball vs Baseball Fields – What are the Differences?
Softball and baseball may look like similar games, but there are several obvious differences. From the way the ball is pitched, the size of the ball, differences in gloves, and the pace of the game – softball is strikingly different from the baseball.
One thing you might not be thinking of in terms of differences is the field of play. There are actually quite a few differences between softball and baseball fields including:
- Centerfield distance
- Grass/Dirt infields
- Pitching Rubber
Let’s break these differences down in more detail.
How Far is Straight-up Centerfield?
Baseball, at the high school, college, minor league, and professional level, is played on a field that often has center field fences that are up to and over 400 feet.
Most high school and college fastpitch fields have centerfield fences that are between 200 and 220 feet from home plate. Slowpitch softball fields usually have centerfield fences that are between 250 and 300 feet from home plate.
Infield and Outfield
In baseball, the infields (with the exception of the basepaths, batters boxes, and raised pitching mounds) are covered in lush grass.
On the other hand, softball fields have infields that are all dirt with pitching circles, and do not have raised mounds.
While the infield is all dirt, the outfield in softball is primarily grass – with the exception of one area. Most higher-end softball fields have warning tracks that are about 10 feet from the fence. This gives the outfielders the ability to find the fence without having to look at the fence. When they’re following a fly ball, they watch the ball, not the fence behind them. The warning track lets them feel with their feet how far away the fence is.
Fastpitch softball fields rarely have the nooks and crannies that MLB parks have. They are usually perfect arc in the outfield. So, for most fastpitch players, a home run hit over any fence has to go at least 200 feet. The foul poles are usually the same distance or 20 feet shorter than the straight centerfield fence. But, in the world of the MLB, it is commonplace for left field and right field fences to have varying distances.
For example, a baseball player who can hit to right field will have a massive number of home runs at park like Fenway, because the right field foul pole is only 302 feet from home plate. Left field is 310 from home plate, but the Green Monster does add some challenge for right-handed hitters and lefties who pull the ball. Contrast Fenway with Wrigley, which has a right field foul pole that is 353 feet and a left-field foul pole that’s 355 feet.
In softball, the fields are consistent from one to the next. The biggest differences between fields are the distances from the back of home plate to the backstop behind it. Other discrepancies exist between where the dirt stops and the grass of the outfield begins and how much foul space exists between the baselines and the fences surrounding the diamond.
These differences might not seem significant, but a big backstop can make a difference on passed balls or wild pitches, especially with runners on third. And, a little bit of foul space makes it easy for infielders to catch foul pop ups.
Basepaths and Pitching Rubber
While the bases and positions of the players is the same in both baseball and softball, there are some other surprising differences.
On a mature player’s baseball field, the bases are all 90 feet away from each other. Baseball pitchers must start their pitch from the rubber, which is 60 feet, 6 inches away from home plate.
On a fastpitch softball field, the dimensions are shorter. The bases are 60 feet away and the rubber in the center of the circle is 43 feet from home plate. Even though softball is played on a smaller field, fastpitch is not considered an easier game than baseball.
Drawing the Infield Lines
If you were to draw out a softball field for a fastpitch game, there are a few things to consider.
The biggest consideration is where you begin measuring. Home to first should be measured from the back of home plate to the back corner of first base. Start at the back of first base, then to the middle of second base then to the back of third base. Then back to the backside of home plate. If you begin measuring in the wrong place, your baselines will be off.
By the time you are finished measuring, the point at the top of home plate should be 84 feet 10.25 inches from second base. As your baselines actually create a square (as well as a diamond), the same distance should be found from first to third, too.
After the bases are in place, the next step is to measure the mound. The rubber is 24 inches by six inches. And it should be placed 43 feet away from home plate and it should be perfectly level with the ground. Then, a perfect circle with an 8-foot radius and 16-foot diameter should be drawn around the rubber. Many teams also draw a pitching lane the width of the mound to the edge of the circle where it faces home plate.
The Importance of the Backstop
Catchers have one of most complicated positions in the game of softball. They are the only position that can see the entire field and they are tasked with calling and catching some incredibly fast balls. They also have to deal with varying backstop distances.
Catchers need enough room to make plays on popups, but they also need the backstop to be close enough that they can make plays on wild pitches and passed balls. At minimum, the distance should be 25 feet, but some fields have backstops that are 30 feet or more.
Home Runs and Temporary Fences
When women play fastpitch softball, they hit home runs.
This might come as a surprise to people who are unfamiliar with the game, but it the 220-foot fences are perfect distances for athletic women who can swing a bat with power. Unfortunately, women are forced to play on fields with fences that are simply too far away.
Fortunately, there are temporary fences that can be erected quickly to keep the game true. When tournament directors do not use temporary fences, they are taking away a major part of the game and they change the way outfielders play (see our article on right fielders).
Power hitters train to hit the ball over 220-foot fences and outfielders train to rob home runs at the same distances. When women are forced to play on fields with 350-foot fences, home runs become easy fly balls. But, outfielders have to play deeper, so they are less likely to make good plays on bloops and dribblers.
The Batter’s Box
The other issue is the batter’s box. There are two of them, one on either side of home plate for right-handed and left-handed hitters. The batters boxes are usually drawn with templates so they do not have to be measured each time the field is prepared. The batter’s box is three feet wide and seven feet long. There is a 2’5” space between the inside corners of the boxes.
Looking at the batter’s box from the pitching mound, think of cutting home plate in half parallel to the mound. At that point, three feet of the batter’s box is in front of the half-way mark and four feet of the box is behind that mark.