If you’re thinking of giving softball a try, then you must know that one of the most important pieces of equipment is the bat, of course. In order to attain high-performance levels, getting a high-quality unit you can depend on is mandatory.
Still, you can’t pick the first one that crosses your path. You should have all the background information regarding softballs bats before making a purchase. And this is the fundamental purpose of this guide – to help you in this view.
History Of Softball
Softball is a very popular game in the United States, being a variant of baseball. Supposedly, softball was developed from a game referred to as indoor baseball. That is to say, in 1887, in Chicago, a group of men played it for the very first time – and this is how this popular sport was born.
Furthermore, the very first rulebook has been issued by Hancock in 1889. In time, it became more known by various names such as kitten ball, diamond ball, mush ball, playground ball, and so on. Essentially, there were major distinctions regarding the use of equipment and the dimensions of the playing field.
This is why, in 1923, a rules committee was designated to publish and circulate a specific set of rules. Afterward, the committee was enlarged, as it formed the International Joint Rules Committee on Softball. It comprised of the main representatives that would sponsor and promote softball.
Hence, it was only in 1926 when the term softball was used. Moving on, the first official softball tournament that ever took place was in 1933.
And it happened in conjunction with Chicago’s World’s Fair. The reporter that was responsible for writing about the event – Leo Fischer – contributed to the establishment of the Amateur Softball Association.
In time, softball continued to grow in popularity. Apparently, the fact that American servicemen used to play and teach the game during World War II played a significant role in this respect, as well.
1952 was the year when the first meeting of the International Softball Federation (ISF) was held. This organization would be responsible for governing the sport around the world.
As for the very first international world championship, it took place in 1965 – during the event, women’s teams deriving from five countries competed in Australia. One year afterward, the first Men’s World Championship was played in Mexico.
Lastly, in 1991, women’s fast-pitch softball was chosen to debut as a medal sport, during the Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1996. And while the game has undergone a range of modifications since its creation, it is one of the most beloved sports around the world, especially in Australia, Japan, and China.
Why Is It Called Softball If The Ball Isn’t Soft?
A common curiosity about softball is the one regarding its name. Why is it called softball when the ball is actually hard? In fact, the ball is made of hard leather, being filled with rubber, cork and synthetic materials.
As we’ve noted beforehand, the name softball was officially given in 1926 – that’s because the ball used to be soft.
Essentially, the game went through numerous modifications over the years, and this is one of the most noteworthy ones, might we add. The equipment was changed so that it would last longer, and to make the game more appealing and challenging.
Equipment Needed For Softball
Next, we’d like to outline the main pieces of equipment you’ll need for a softball game. Let’s have a look at the purpose of each.
First and foremost, you’ll need a ball – surprising, right? Essentially, softballs come in a wide range of sizes, whose circumference ranges from 10 to 16 inches. When it comes to fast-pitch games, players prefer using 12-inch balls, or even smaller.
On the other side, in the case of slow-pitch games, 16-inch balls are used. Concurrently, organized leads require the balls to meet the ASA specifications, which provide clear guidelines regarding the ball’s color, circumference, and bounciness – or coefficient of restitution.
Secondly, a softball bat is just as mandatory. Typically, the length of most softball bats is of 34 inches. Once again, depending on your league, your bat has to be approved by the Amateur Softball Association of America. As a rule of thumb, approved bats should feature the ASA logo.
It’s worth noting that some leagues have particular restrictions concerning aluminum and wood bats. Meanwhile, younger players might need to use bats equipped with safety knobs on the end.
We’re referring to large end-caps on the handle. These help players maintain their grip on the bat; thus, preventing players from losing control of the bat, especially in the case of wild swings.
For the game, it’s just as important to wear appropriate gloves, or catching mitts. However, most players prefer wearing gloves. The main distinction between the two is that gloves are less padded while featuring individual fingers.
The primary reason why gloves are preferred is hitting. That’s because when the ball makes direct contact with the bat, it creates an instant vibration throughout the bat. Evidently, you feel that vibration as well, which can have an unpleasant, stinging effect.
Thereupon, wearing adequate gloves significantly diminishes that harsh sting. Meanwhile, first baseman and catchers wear mitts featuring extra padding. That’s because they need to catch the balls that are thrown at high speeds.
Types Of Softball Bats
When you’re looking for the best softball bats, you might be taken aback by the different categories of bats you can find on the market. What are the characteristics of each category? Here’s what you should know on this topic.
Slow-Pitch Softball Bat
For one thing, there are slow-pitch softball bats. A common question is: what makes the best slow-pitch softball bats? We’ll get right to this in the forthcoming paragraphs.
Supposedly, the most common type of softball is slow-pitch softball. This is usually played with regulation equipment. Concurrently, the ball’s circumference measures 11 or 12 inches – this usually depends both on the gender and league.
Additionally, there are simultaneously 10 players on the field. The pitching distance is 46 feet, for both men and women. Plus, the pitched ball should be delivered at a moderate speed – the arc, in its flight toward the batter, ought to be of 3 feet, at the very least.
Essentially, the speed and height of the pitch can be judged by an umpire – who is entitled to ejecting a pitcher, due to repeatedly throwing a ball too fast. Also, when it comes to slow-pitch softball, base stealing isn’t permitted.
Evidently, this type of softball entails the use of the best slow-pitch softball bats. For the most part, they measure 34 inches in length. In reference to the barrel diameter, it is of 2 ¼ inches. Usually, these bats’ weight ranges from 24 to 3o ounces.
As for the materials used, they include aluminum, composite, wood, or other combinations. We’ll talk about this aspect as well.
Fast-Pitch Softball Bat
Moving on, when it comes to fast-pitch softball, things are a bit different. As the name already implies, the pitch is faster. Plus, there are only nine players on the field at the same time.
Additionally, both bunting and stealing bases are allowed. It is considered that fast-pitch softball is the most competitive form of softball. As a matter of fact, it was played at the Olympic Games, as well, as follows: in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008.
The pitchers throw the ball at speeds that reach 77 miles/124 km per hour for women and approximately 85 miles/137 km per hour for men. Essentially, the pitching style used is also different.
When it comes to fast-pitching, the pitcher has to wind his/her arm by spinning it around. The motion is similar to that of a windmill.
This motion provides momentum to build up, in this way, maximizing the speed at which the ball is thrown. Also, the balls are thrown at upward angles, in order to attain a high speed.
Conversely, in slow-pitch, the specific windmill motion isn’t used.
Moreover, catching is an essential part of fast-pitch softball. It makes sense: without a fast-pitched catcher, the chance for the pitcher to succeed is minimal. That is to say, the catcher must recognize the hitting style as well as the right pitches to call.
When it comes to the best fast-pitch softball bats, the barrel diameter is of 2 ¼ inches. Meanwhile, the weight to length ratio ranges between -8 to -13. At the same time, they are usually made of composite, aluminum, or a combination of the two.
Modified Softball Bat
And the third category is that of modified softball bats. When it comes to modified softball, it restricts the windmill wind-up, which is typically used in fast-pitch softball.
Nonetheless, the pitcher still has the option of throwing the ball as hard as possible, by using the restricted backswing. This form of softball aims at making the game more challenging, without requiring world-class skills on behalf of the players.
Both aluminum and wooden bats may be used, as long as they meet NSA’s list of approved bats. At the same time, modified softball bats cannot be longer than 34 inches, nor can they weigh more than 38 ounces.
Now it’s time to discuss about distinct bat materials. Evidently, the material used has a direct impact on the speed at which the ball can be thrown, and not only. Bear in mind that the manufacturing material determines the durability and weight of the bat, as well.
Wood is known as the original material when it comes to softball bats. As a result, you can make your pick at wooden bats. For decades, ash used to dominate the bat scene. Nevertheless, with every passing season, maple and birch are growing in popularity.
That being said, what are the main advantages associated with wooden softball bats? For one thing, there’s the classic appeal they have.
Moving on, there’s also the pricing issue. In other words, wooden bats are much more affordable in comparison to alloy or composite bats.
On the other side, there are some disadvantages worth noting as well. In comparison with alloy or composite, wooden bats are considerably more fragile. This means that their durability isn’t remarkable.
In fact, only one miss-hit on the handle might cause a split or crack that will ultimately make the bat useless. At the same time, wood is heavy. In fact, if we were to compare two bats of the same size, the wooden item will be much heavier than its counterpart.
It makes sense that younger fans of this sport might find it difficult to handle a wooden bat, due to this particular aspect.
Concurrently, it’s worth noting that wooden bats aren’t as powerful, not to mention that they have the smallest sweet spot. However, out of most wooden bats, ash bats provide the biggest sweet spot. Plus, when it enters direct contact with the ball, it will actually flex.
Due to ash’s flexibility, this makes it really forgiving. Even so, the downside is that it is prone to cracking, in the case of close contact to the handle.
Maple bats have grown in popularity, due to the dense, solid grain they have. And while they have a small sweet spot, this makes them boom or bust. Still, when a maple bat breaks, this means it instantly shatters, which might be a safety hazard.
The primary metal used in softball bats is, without a doubt, alloy. And is becoming more and more commonly used, due to the fact that it is light, durable, and aims at maximizing your performance.
Obviously, though, not all alloy bats are created equal – the overall quality and durability of the item will ultimately depend on the manufacturer, as you might expect.
Still, leaving that aside, the most evident advantage to metal bats is their popularity. That is to say, most softball bat manufacturers put a lot of time and energy into continually innovating and improving their metal bats. Hence, this would give you the widest product diversity to choose from.
Moving on, in comparison with wood, alloy is more lightweight. This is why young players prefer metal bats over other materials. Furthermore, durability is another pro – if you handle the bat correctly, the odds are that you’ll be using it for many years to come.
The same cannot be said about wooden bats that have to be replaced in the case of unanticipated incidents. Plus, even in the unlikely scenario in which the bat’s barrel is actually dented, the bat is still usable and legal – the only condition is to be able to slide it down the barrel. In other words, we’ve never heard of a shattered aluminum bat.
Now, what about the main downsides of metal bats? Regardless of the manufacturing material of the bat, each one has a sweet spot. That is the part of the bat that transfers the maximum energy to the ball, while diminishing the sting.
Even though purists might think of a small sweet spot as a good thing, beginners and young players will find it challenging to strike the ball well in this case.
Plus, the bat sting is another notable disadvantage. In comparison with other materials, alloy bats have the worst bat sting, which reverberates through the bat and up to the forearms and hands.
On a different note, over the course of time (we’re talking about years), the performance of an alloy bat is likely to decrease.
Mix Material Bats
Furthermore, some of the best youth fast-pitch softball bats are made of mixed materials. These are also referred to as hybrid bats, as they utilize a combination of specific materials with particular characteristics.
Essentially, we could say that hybrid bats aim at offering the best out of different worlds. Usually, a hybrid bat will feature an alloy barrel and a composite handle. While it is true that there are other configurations to choose from, as well, this is the most commonly met.
For one thing, the composite handle aims at diminishing the bat sting, whereas the alloy barrel doesn’t necessitate a break-in period. Price-wise, hybrid bats aren’t as expensive as composite bats or as affordable as alloy – but somewhere in between.
Now, we’d like to mention the drawbacks that come with the territory. Firstly, the alloy barrel is likely to get the bruises and bumps of an alloy bat, whereas the composite handle is prone to cracking.
Plus, in some leagues, hybrid bats aren’t legal.
What Is Bat Rolling?
Another controversial topic regarding softball is that of bat rolling. Essentially, bat rolling implies accelerating the process of breaking-in a composite bat. What does this mean, exactly?
You have to place the bat into a special rolling machine. The bat will be located between two rollers, horizontally, being compressed and, in some cases, heated. Afterward, it will remain in the machine for a couple of minutes, until you acknowledge that it is ready to play.
Some people assume that bat rolling aims at maximizing the performance of a composite bat. The primary benefit of this practice is that your composite bat will break in faster. Also, this technique ensures that the bat is broken in uniformly.
Is Bat Rolling Illegal?
If you’re thinking of rolling a softball bat, you might wonder whether the process is illegal or not. In this case, you should note that this isn’t illegal.
In truth, before composite bats are regarded as legal to play, they should be rolled in advance. This process is actually done in order to maximize the safety of the players during the game.
Leagues And Rules
ASA stands for the Amateur Softball Association, and this league is responsible for establishing the rules for fast-pitch softball, in the United States.
If you want to become a part of this league, you should assess the specific rules and regulations that indicate the type of gear you should invest in. And while there is a range of elements you should take into account, we’ll outline what makes the best ASA softball bats.
The bat’s maximum length should be of 34 inches. Concurrently, it shouldn’t weigh more than 38 ounces. Moving on to the size of the ball, it should range from 10 to 12 inches.
Meanwhile, SSUSA is the Senior Softball USA league, having its set of rules and regulations, as well. In reference to the bats approved by this league, they should be marked 1.21 BPF or below.
Concurrently, the bats featuring an ASA 2000 or 2004 stamp are accepted. Aside from that, every bat should be marked Approved for SSUSA Use.
DeMarini softball bats are, without a doubt, some of the most popular products on the market – and for a good reason. By using state-of-the-art technology, they are continually enhancing their products, so that you reach higher levels of performance.
Moving on to Easton softball bats, this manufacturer offers bats engineered exclusively for fast-pitch and slow-pitch softball alike. They are renowned due to their sleek and sturdy looks, and the fact that they take the softball game to another level.
Miken softball bats aren’t disappointing, either – quite the opposite might we add. The company clearly states that its number one mission is to increase the performance level of dedicated athletes by supplying innovative gear.
And lastly, but certainly not least, Louisville Slugger softball bats represent another testimony of dedication to high-quality standards. This company has a far-reaching history (more than 134 years) in engineering softball equipment. Grounded in history and tradition, Louisville Slugger remains a remarkable name in this competitive industry, continuing to evolve.
Softball Bat Maintenance And Care
In order to ensure that the softball bats preserve their qualities for an extended timeframe, appropriate maintenance and care play an important role.
In this view, you should ensure that you hit the right balls, only. They should be dry, leather balls, whose compression is rated at 500 lbs. or less. Bear in mind that higher compression balls feature a higher density, meaning that they might dent your bat.
At the same time, it’s just as essential to store it in a cool place, during the summer.
However, when it comes to lower temperatures, note that softballs increase in density, due to the exposure to the cold. This is why we advise you to check the manufacturers’ guidelines when it comes to using the bat during cold weather.
To conclude, we believe that you’ve found our comprehensive guide on softball bats insightful. We wanted to make it complete so that you have all the background information to make a correct investment.
Make sure you read our upcoming buying guide that presents more in-depth information regarding the best ASA slow-pitch softball bats, the best composite fast-pitch softball bats, and so on. Also, leave your comments and questions in the designated section!