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The History Of Softball

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The History of Softball

Softball originated in Chicago on Thanksgiving Day, 1887. A group of about twenty young men had gathered in the gymnasium of the Farragut Boat Club in order to hear the outcome of the Harvard-Yale football game. After Yale's victory was announced and bets were paid off, a man picked up a stray boxing glove and threw it at someone, who hit it with a pole. George Hancock, usually considered the inventor of softball, shouted, "Let's play ball!" He tied the boxing glove so that it resembled a ball, chalked out a diamond on the floor (smaller dimensions than those of a baseball field in order to fit the gym) and broke off a broom handle to serve as a bat. What proceeded was an odd, smaller version of baseball. That game is now, 111 years later, known as the first softball game. Softball may have seen its death on the day of its birth if Hancock had not been so fascinated by it. In one week, he created an oversized ball and an undersized rubber-tipped bat and went back to the gym to paint permanent white foul lines on the floor. After he wrote new rules and named the sport indoor baseball, a more organized, yet still new, game was played. Its popularity was immediate.

Hancock's original game of indoor baseball quickly caught on in popularity, becoming international with the formation of a league in Toronto. That year, 1897, was also the premiere publication of the Indoor Baseball Guide. This was the first nationally distributed publication on the new game and it lasted a decade. In the spring of 1888, Hancock's game moved outdoors. It was played on a small diamond and called indoor-outdoor. Due to the sport's mass appeal, Hancock published his first set of indoor-outdoor rules in 1889.

While Chicago was definitely softball's birthplace, the game saw some modification in Minneapolis. The year was 1895 when Lewis Rober, Sr., (a fire department officer) needed an activity to keep his men occupied and in shape during their free time. He created his game to fit the confines of a vacant lot next to the firehouse and the result was instantly appealing. Surprisingly, Rober was probably not familiar with Hancock's version of the sport because it was still concentrated in Chicago at that time. The following year, 1896, Rober was moved to a new unit with a new team to manage. In honor of this group's name, the Kittens, the game was termed Kitten League Ball in 1900. The name was later shortened to kitten ball.

In order to reach the Olympics, the women's sport of softball obviously had to grow greatly from its beginnings. The first women's softball team was formed in 1895 at Chicago's West Division High School. They did not obtain a coach for competitive play until 1899 and it was difficult to create interest among fans. However, only five years later, more attention was given to the women's game. The Spalding Indoor Baseball Guide 1904 issue fueled this attention by devoting a large section of the guide to the game of women's softball.

The Chicago National Tournament in 1933 also advanced the sport. At this competition, the male and female champions were honored equally. The International Softball World Championships in 1965 developed women's softball by making it an international game, a step towards the Pan-American Games and the Olympics. Eleven years later, women softball players were given the closest equivalent to Major League Baseball with the 1976 formation of the International Women's Professional Softball League. Player contracts ranged from $1,000 to $3,000 per year, but the league disbanded in 1980 because of financial ruin. Vicki Schneider, a St. Louis Softball Hall of Famer and former professional player, recalls this league as being the high point of her career (Schneider).

The popularity of women's fast pitch softball has grown steadily since the professional league's end in 1980. In fact, once again, there is another professional fast pitch league. The Amateur Softball Association reports that it "annually registers over 260,000 teams combining to form a membership of more than 4.5 million" (About the ASA). These numbers do not all apply to fast pitch, yet it is consistently growing along with slow-pitch. Vicki Schneider has seen a major growth in popularity and intensity for the sport since she has been involved. She says it is also very obvious that girls are consistently getting more involved and more competitive at an earlier age. Increased media coverage and the Olympics have greatly contributed to this development (Schneider). There is obviously some special appeal of fast pitch softball that has allowed it to steadily grow in popularity through the years. Through the technology of the internet, those who are currently involved in the sport were asked for their personal opinions on the mass appeal of women's fast pitch softball.

First of all, why are these millions of people involved in softball, not baseball? Is it just a substitute for baseball or is there a difference? John Kralik replies, "...[Baseball] can't adapt to the age groups without corrupting the game. Softball can and does" (Kralik). Megan Flaherty, 18, says that unlike baseball, softball is "not all about raw strength. You must think about what to do and when to do it. Out-of-the-park homeruns won't occur too often so you have to rely on other methods of getting around the bases quickly" (Flaherty). Londa Kauffman feels that softball is much faster and more exciting than baseball (Kauffman). More specifically, Dave Davis, an ASA umpire, says, "I grew up loving baseball in an era before sports became a big business. Labor strife and big egos have gone a long way to taint my view of the Major Leagues. I have found that sports are played more intensely on the amateur level. I also believe that in most cases, the fast pitch softball games are more exciting to watch than baseball. The rules are similar, to be sure, but the smaller dimensions seem to add to the action" (Davis).

Once a person chooses to become involved in fast pitch softball, the sport must have some priority to him or her. Does fast pitch play an important role in a person's life? Dot Richardson put aside her medical career in order to fulfill her Olympic dream. Therefore, softball must be a high priority to her. Robin Scott obviously agrees with Richardson, to a more extreme degree. She says, "NOTHING comes before softball. I don't care what it is. My first priority is softball, then everything else comes next" (Scott). Dave Davis, 35, has the same attitude. On his first anniversary, his wife insisted that he miss a softball game in order to take her out to dinner. Looking back, he replies, "Some nerve!" (Davis).




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