Softball Field History

Long summer days, company clubs, picnics, and beer. While many people have come to associate one of America's most beloved pastimes with these images, softball isn't just a game in the park. It's a serious team sport with a rich history, enjoyed by more than 56 million people across six continents

Who invented softball?

While you may think that softball is an offshoot of baseball, it's not! If anything, we can blame its invention on football. It happened more than a century ago, on a chilly Thanksgiving day in Chicago

Legend has it that in 1887, several Yale and Harvard alumni were gathered at the Farragut Boat Club awaiting the results of a game played between the rivals. When it was announced that Yale had won, an excited supporter tossed an old laced-up boxing glove at a Harvard grad, who hit it back with a pole. That gave George Hancock, a local reporter, a brilliant idea. Using the rolled-up glove and pole, and a few simple rules borrowed from baseball, the first game of "indoor baseball" was played on the club's gym floor. Two years later, Hancock released its first rulebook. The new sport promptly spread throughout the Midwest

In 1895, Minneapolis Fire Department lieutenant Lewis Rober began promoting the game as a way to keep his firefighters fit during down times. It was limited to seven innings in order to be played in under an hour. Firehouse clubs were created, and games drew fans by the droves. But it wasn't long before the gentler version of male-dominated baseball garnered the interest of female athletes, and the first women's team was formed. By 1926, "ladies baseball" rules were standardized

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What to call this new game?

The fledgling indoor ballgame using 16-inch balls was called by many names: Mush Ball, Cabbage Ball, Pumpkin Ball, Super-Slow Pitch; you name it. About the time leagues were formed it became known as Kitten Ball, perhaps because it had become a woman's sport. By 1913, the Minneapolis Park Board officially adopted the by now "indoor-outdoor" game, and it was played in parks and playgrounds around the city. The board changed the name to Diamond ball, in 1922

Softball is born

A few years later Walter Hakanson, a YMCA official, came up with a name that stuck. Softball. But it wasn't until the 1930s that the name became official. Though the larger balls of bygone days were soft, today's are anything but

The first 'Softball Association'

In 1933, competition softball was sealed at the national level when a Chicago sporting goods salesman organized local teams into state and national ones. Fifty-five teams were invited to participate in a tournament held at the World's Fair in Chicago. Teams were divided into three levels. Using a 14-inch ball, the tournament was a smashing success. The game swept across the country. To deal with its rapid growth, the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) was created in 1934 to serve as its governing body and to standardize rules. Aside from the still-existing ASA, other major softball organizations now include the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), the National Softball Association (NSA), and Independent Softball Association (ISA). By the 1940s fastpitch had gained much popularity, and in 1946 the National Fastball League was created. Growing interest in softball among kids inspired the establishment of Little League Softball in 1974, which today boasts more than 360,000 young players worldwide

Softball abroad

The first country outside the US hit by softball was Toronto, Canada, in 1897. The sport gained popularity overseas, during WWII. In 1952, the International Softball Federation (ISF) was formed, as was the first women's softball league in Britain. Softball was on the world map

International competitions

The ISF has hosted a number of world softball tournaments and championships. Fifty national teams comprised the first ladies international softball championship in 1965, five of which competed in the finals in Melbourne, Australia. The first men's world championships took place a year later, in Mexico City. In 1967, the International Olympic Committee formally recognized softball as an international federation. Women's fastpitch debuted in the 1996 Games in Atlanta, Ga. Since the early 1980s, the National Collegiate Athletic Association's inclusion of women's softball has allowed the sport to participate in the World Series Championships

Today, despite softball's popularity, a small handful of professional women's softball teams still exist. In 2005, the International Olympic Committee opted to discontinue baseball and softball for the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Since then, softball has struggled to remain a fixture on the international sports landscape, but leagues are working to regain its place in the 2020 Games

Softball today and tomorrow

What began with a rolled-up boxing glove batted by a broom handle on an gym floor one a chilly day in Chicago, is more than a popular way to stay fit. From a leisurely game in the park to the world cups, and everywhere between, softball remains enjoyed by many as one of the world's most popular outdoor team sports. Like many great sports, softball has not been without its challenges and obstacles in the competition arena. Whether the game returns to the Olympic stage in the next decade is anyone's guess

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