Ahhh…summer! In addition to trips to the beach and picnics, there's another time-honored tradition that many Americans enjoy: a trip to the ballpark! With a hot dog in one hand and a mitt on the other, many children look forward to watching players toss around a ball and hopefully hit it over the fence!

Of course, many children enjoy playing ball more than watching a game. From tee ball to little league, millions of children love to grab a bat and swing for the fences. There's nothing quite like running the bases on a hot summer day and sliding into home plate to score the winning run.

Not all players play the same type of ball, though. Some players call themselves baseball players, while others play a game they call softball. The balls look a lot alike and the games seem very similar. Is there really a difference?

You bet there is! Just ask any softball or baseball player. Softball and baseball, while similar in many ways, have some significant differences.

Some people believe that softball is merely a version of baseball for girls, but they would be wrong! Invented in 1887 by George Hancock as a sport called “indoor baseball," softball began as a game modeled after baseball. Over time, though, it has evolved into a sport all its own that's enjoyed by both women and men.

If you watch both a baseball and a softball game, one of the first differences you'll notice is the techniques used by the pitchers. Baseball pitchers stand on an elevated pitching mound 60.5 feet away from home plate and throw with an overhand motion. Softball pitchers, on the other hand, throw underhanded from a flat pitching circle only 35-43 feet away from home plate.

You'll also notice that baseballs and softballs are quite different in size and color. Baseballs are quite a bit smaller and much denser. While baseballs have a circumference of nine inches, softballs have a circumference of 12 inches. Baseballs are almost always white, whereas softballs are often yellow. Younger softball players may play with a smaller, white 10-inch softball, though.

You may also notice differences in the bats baseball and softball players use. For younger players, baseball and softball bats are basically the same. For older players, though, softball bats tend to be made of metals or composite materials, while baseball players often use wooden bats. Softball bats sometimes also have a unique “bottle" shape.

The size of baseball and softball fields also differs. On a baseball field, the bases are 90 feet apart. On a softball field, however, the bases are only 60 feet apart. Because of the shorter distance between bases, softball players are not allowed to leave a base until the ball is pitched, whereas baseball players are allowed to “lead off" a bit, often in an attempt to steal a base.

In addition to the smaller infield, softball outfields are usually smaller than baseball outfields. Where a baseball field might have a home run fence in center field as far away as 400 feet, the center field fence on a softball field must be no more than 220 feet away.

Softball games are also shorter in length. While baseball players play nine innings, softball games usually last just seven innings. If a baseball game ends in a tie, players play extra innings to break the tie. Softball games also go into extra innings if tied, but with one important difference: in extra innings, teams start the inning with a runner on second base, which often helps to break ties more quickly.

Although softball may have started out as “indoor baseball," the sport has evolved to be a unique and significantly different sport today. Whether you play baseball or softball, though, you're sure to have tons of fun on the ball field!

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