They’re both played on diamonds. Each play begins with a pitcher winding up and firing a ball toward a hitter. Teams keep track of batting averages, ERAs, OPSes and WHIPs, among other stats. But baseball and softball are drastically different sports.
People love baseball. It was once considered America’s pastime, and attendance numbers dwarf softball’s.
Baseball pitchers stand 60 feet 6 inches away from home plate. Softball pitchers are 43 feet away, use a bigger, yellow ball and throw underhand. Bases are 90 feet apart on a baseball diamond and 60 feet apart on a softball field.
It’s these dimensions, though, that make softball such an entertaining game — one that should be watched as earnestly as baseball. Things happen so much faster. Balls put in play move from fielder to fielder more quickly.
The same spectacular diving catches and mesmerizing home runs enjoyed by fans of baseball are featured in softball. The skills one develops during a baseball career are developed by softball players as well.
But you don’t see any slapping or rise balls in baseball. You don’t see slappers — fast left-handed hitters who run toward the pitcher as the pitch is thrown in an effort to get an extra step down the line — in baseball. But they’re crucial in softball.
Because they throw underhand, softball pitchers can make the ball “rise” in a way that baseball pitchers can’t throwing overhand, or even sidearm.
Some may disagree, but I find softball to be just as entertaining as baseball, which is saying a lot considering my lifelong affinity for America’s pastime.
Basketball is a different story. The dimensions, except for a small adjustment on the three-point line, are essentially the same. The ball is a bit smaller in women’s hoops but the differences between the two are minimal.
Yet people don’t watch women’s basketball nearly as much as men’s basketball.
A lack of athleticism, best illustrated — most believe — by an inability to dunk, is one of the most popular reasons for not following women’s basketball. Brittney Griner has done a lot to disprove those reasons, dunking 14 times during her illustrious Baylor career — including once against Texas this season.
The biggest thing women’s basketball has working against it, however, isn’t a lack of athleticism but a lack of parity. The same teams seem to be in national title contention every season — Connecticut, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Baylor, Duke and North Carolina.
Those squads have to play each other almost every year to keep the game as relevant as possible. If women’s basketball found a way to get more teams in contention every season, its popularity would immediately skyrocket.
Women’s sports are still worth watching, though. Watching the Final Four of the volleyball NCAA Tournament was one of the most entertaining sporting events I’ve seen.
While everyone was focused on Alamo Bowl story lines and speculating as to how David Ash would fare against Oregon State, the Longhorns volleyball team was busy securing a national championship.
Make sure to pay attention next season — Texas returns all but one player from the national title team. And be sure to pay attention to their softball and basketball counterparts.