Softball Base Running: The Circle and the Rule
In Little League Softball, the proper interpretation of the running rule is imperative. In order to utilize the base running rule, the eight- foot radius circle surrounding the pitcher’s plate must be adequately marked. This is the first and primary essential to our discussion.
In 7.08 (a) (5) Note 2, when the pitcher is in possession of the ball in the circle, all runners off their bases must immediately attempt to advance or retreat. Immediately, is interpreted to mean within a three-second time frame. It is equally important, from an umpire standpoint, to realize that a runner or runners may vacate their bases and begin to attempt to advance once, on EACH play or pitch. In the Little League Major division and below, runners may come off their base when the ball reaches the batter. In Junior, Senior and Big League divisions, runners may vacate their base when the ball is released by the pitcher. If the pitcher drops the ball at any time before delivery of the pitch, the ball is alive and all runners may advance at their own risk, without penalty.
Let’s discuss a point that seems to be confusing to many, and it focuses around a batter-runner being awarded a base on balls. The batter-runner cannot be frozen at first base on a base-on-balls by merely returning the ball to the pitcher in the circle. The batter-runner after reaching first base may continue on, without stopping, in an attempt to reach second base. Said runner may stop in the baseline after rounding first base. At this point, the umpire should begin a three-second count on the runner. If the runner again begins movement to advance or retreat before the count reaches “three” and does not stop again, this is a legal action and should not be penalized. However, if the runner stops a second time, without an attempt by the defense, that runner is out immediately. On any base hit, the runner is allowed to continue advancement even if the pitcher has received the ball back in the circle. Again, in this case, a stoppage will cause a count to commence. The attempt to advance must be one continuous motion without a stoppage at a base. If a runner or runners are off their bases and making not attempt to advance, with the pitcher in possession of the ball in the circle, and the umpire’s count reaches “three”, the runner is out, the ball is dead, and no advance may be gained with the play. If multiple runners are in violation of the rule, the runner that left base first is called out. If multiple runners are in violation and the umpire cannot detect which runner was first to vacate their base, the lead runner will be called out, the ball is dead, and no advancement will be allowed.
A very important point to keep in mind is that, if the pitcher makes a ball fake at a runner, the runner or runners are again allowed to stop, change direction, or resume advancement. The pitcher must make an obvious attempt to play on the runner or execute a ball fake to allow the runner or runners to again stop without penalty. A “head fake” is not considered an attempt to make a play on the runner or runners.
One other point need to be discussed, pertains to runners on base who do not attempt to advance on a particular pitch. For example: With a runner on first base, the pitch reaches the batter, and runner does not attempt to come off base. The ball is returned to the pitcher in the circle, and the base coach, at this point, informs the runner that she was supposed to run. She now comes off the base. This violation should, and does, constitute an immediate stoppage of play by the umpire, the runner is called out, and no one else on base may advance.
The Softball base running rule is designed to speed up the game. It will be quite easy to interpret if you utilize the preceding points. Keep in mind, that softball players are well-trained and versed in the running rule. You will not see many mistakes or instances when you must enforce the immediate “out” call. Good Luck and enjoy the game of Softball.
By Dr. Mike Lantiere
Eastern Region Assistant Umpire-in-Chief