Softball is a team sport similar to both rounders and baseball, played by both men and women. But let me guarantee, the ball is not soft. It’s larger than a baseball and covered in leather. As an avid softball player, it was nice to find this league in Ireland.
Each team takes turns hitting and fielding. The players at bat use metal bats to hit the ball (one at a time). The players in the field use leather gloves to field the ball. In the field, you have a pitcher, who pitches the ball underhanded to the batters; a catcher, who stands behind home plate; a first baseman; a second baseman; a shortstop, who stands between 2nd base and 3rd base; a third baseman; and four outfielders. Each team plays up to ten players at one time, but more players can be ‘on the bench’.
The object of the game for the batting team is to hit the ball safely into the field of play. Hitting the ball safely allows runners to advance along the base paths, with the ultimate goal to cross home plate, which scores a run. The object of the game for the fielding team is to ‘catch out’ or ‘run out’ the batter or one of the runners already on base. When they have achieved this three times, it’s their team’s chance to bat. At the end of seven innings (alternating between batting and fielding), the team which has scored the highest number of runs wins the game.
Softball Ireland, formed in 1989, was set up to promote the game of softball and provide a structure through which events and competitions could be organised. More details about Softball Ireland can be found on their website.
The softball season begins towards the end of April and continues until September.
Linda Hughes, manager of the Base Devils softball team, says, “We like to be fun more, so we can be a little bit competitive. Team mantra ‘mid-table mediocrity’? We are not really, really good or really, really bad. We like to have fun and bring in new players.”
Linda says, “The biggest struggle is finding girls—females can be fickle, and they have other concerns—they are more likely to have kids (or at least be looking after kids, says me, a mom). They may have other commitments, or play other sports. It can be tough to get four girls every week and to commit to playing. The rules state you need to have at least four girls actively playing during a game. Hence the recruit in a dress still playing.”
Linda says, “Softball Ireland is extremely sociable. There are a couple of weekends away every year and tournaments, which can get a bit merry. When you have seven or eight teams down in Limerick all together in university housing for a weekend, mixed with a lot of beer, things get interesting. It’s a very incestuous sport. On our team alone, three couples have formed, as well as me meeting my husband. As well, interbreeding across teams has led to some interesting developments.”
Noel Fitzgerald, who works for Softball Leinster, says, the 28 teams in the division find it difficult to get women each week. He says, “Softball teams are dwindling, as in the late 90s, there were many big companies who sponsored teams. There used to be between 40-50 teams. The problem lies partly with the youth development, as you have to be at least 14 years old to play and still have parental permission. If anyone is interested, you can contact us on our website, and we will try to match you with the team closest to you, so you won’t have to travel far for practice.”
Some Irish take their softball quite seriously, as evidenced by the face paint they put under their eyes to keep the sun out (sun in Ireland, lol). As well, I remember getting called out once for stepping outside of the batter’s box; only there was no batter’s box. I started laughing, as I assumed it was a joke. When I questioned this call, the umpire declared, “I have a view of the batter’s box in my mind.” I nearly got thrown out of the match as they had to pick me up from the ground, I was laughing so hard. Only in Ireland, where you play softball on a grass field, where there are no secured bases, no backstops, no rain delays, and no rain cancellations. In saying this, the craic is mighty, it’s a good time had by all, mixed with exercise and good friendships.