Umpiring Softball Is No Different Than Umpiring Baseball, As Long As You Know the Rules
Have you ever heard a fellow umpire say, “I can’t umpire softball … The game is so different?”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
We want to concentrate today on the strike zone and related strategies. In future discussions, we will touch on pitching technique and legalities and base running rules.
Home plate is still 17 inches wide. The batter’s strike zone is still from the armpits to the knees. These two factors are the criteria for determining a strike or ball. The pitch, whether overhand in baseball, or underhand in softball, must still enter the batter’s strike zone between the armpits and knees and be over home plate. In fact, having a larger ball to judge, and in many instances, an optic yellow ball, should make it easier for the umpire to pick up visually on the target.
There are a couple of differences that should be mentioned. Male umpires, who were former players, are used to the fastball, the curve, and the drop, but, probably have never faced the rise ball before.
In softball, this pitch is very effective in luring batters into a swing, but the pitch must be in the zone to be a strike. What we need to know about the rise ball, is that to be effective, it will come in to the batter high in the zone and rise out of the zone as it approaches the batter in an attempt to draw a swing. Of course, if the batter does not offer at the pitch, it will, most likely be a ball. But, this pitch is very alluring, and can make our game easier to officiate.
The other area that we want to discuss is the batter’s box. In Little League Baseball, the batter’s box is three feet by six feet. In Little League Softball, the box is three feet by seven feet, with the extra foot added to the front of the box.
There is a particular reason for this difference.
Strategically, the first batter is usually left-handed, very fast, and will try to bunt or slap the ball to the opposite side and beat it out. In doing so, she will start in the back of the box, advance forward on the pitch, make contact with the ball, and be already on her way to first base. When she contacts the ball, her back foot is in the box and the front foot is suspended in the air outside the box.
The rule states, that in order to be called out for hitting the ball with a foot out of the box, the foot must be entirely outside the batter’s box and be in contact with the ground when the ball makes contact with the bat. By suspending the front foot off of the ground when the ball is contacted, the batter is legal. The extra length added on to the front of the batter’s box gives us a little more help in judging the legality of the hit.
Next time, we will be discussing the pitching motion and the penalties for any illegal motions or deliveries.
Eastern Region Assistant Umpire-In-Chief