Having played softball since I was 9 years old, I have long known the comments that are received when answering questions like “what are your hobbies/sports you play?”, and the first comment is usually “but I thought softball was for women?”. In some respects this is true, given that softball was the female counterpart to baseball at the Olympics from 1996-2008; however with a ratio of around 70/30, softball is still very popular among males.
And let me tell you, there is nothing quite like standing next to a plate 17 inches across waiting for some 6’5” behemoth to hurl a bright yellow ball in excess of 130kph at a distance of less than 15 meters, giving you around 0.35 seconds to react and swing a bat weighing less than a kilogram to hit the thing. To put it in perspective, the average baseball player has around 0.4 seconds to react, while in cricket it is around the 0.45 seconds region. Also, despite the name, the ball is anything but soft.
At junior levels in Australia, NSW have dominated both men and women’s U17 and U19 championships in the last few years. In the open Women’s, it is more even, with recent past winners being NSW, Queensland and WA. The open Men are a different story, with the ACT having won the past five National Championships, being led by some of the best pitching in the world.
On the International stage, Australia has previously been dominant at the U19 men’s level, at one point having won 4 consecutive Junior World Championships from 1997-2008. The Open Men are also a force to be reckoned with on the international level, having won a world championship in 2008, but New Zealand are considered the best team in the world at the moment. For the junior women, Australia has previously placed 3rd, with countries like Japan and the USA being dominant. It is the same story for the Open Women, who achieved three bronze and one silver medal in the four Olympics that softball was a part of, and placed 3rd in the two most recent world Championships.
Despite these successes on an international scale, the popularity of softball in the community has decreased greatly, down from an estimated 200,000 participants in 1995, to around 127,000 in 2015. This decrease can mainly be accredited to the removal of softball from the Olympic picture, but with partnerships with Fox Sports in recent years to broadcast replays of the Open Men’s and Women’s National Championships, the sport may regain the popularity, and successes that it once had.
If you would like to play softball, you can find your nearest club by going to the Softball Australia website, as well as join the ANU Softball Club which started in 2015 and attracted a massive intake this year.