by Jim Herbert
If you’ve attended a Hawthorne Softball game (and shame on YOU if you haven’t) or if you’re a new player, you’ll notice that “senior softball” is a bit different than the baseball and softball games you’ve played or watched.
We’ve made some changes to “accommodate” it to the needs and abilities of 55+ players; that “plus” can extend for quite a few years. Our player’s ages range from upper 50’s to 80 plus.
The game we play is designed to make it safer and more practical for “age-challenged” players.
The most obvious change is the number of players on defense. “Traditional” baseball and softball have nine players on defense – a pitcher, a catcher, three outfielders and four infielders. Senior Softball has FOUR outfielders (left, left center, right center, and right fielders.) We also add an infielder between the second baseman and the shortstop who is referred to as the MID FIELDER or ROVER.
The added players make up for the fact that SOME of us are slower afoot and don’t have the reflexes of 20-year old’s (or 50-year old’s, for that matter.)
In the traditional game only the players who have fielding positions can bat. In Senior Softball, any number of players from the team roster may BAT during the game. They do NOT have to play positions on the field.
Our style of ball is called “slow pitch.” That means that the pitcher attempts to LAND the ball on a 19 x 35 inch “strike board”. If the pitched ball hits this board before being struck by the batter, it is a “called” strike.
The pitch must be thrown underhand and travel from the pitcher to the strike board in an “arc”. At its HIGHEST POINT, the pitch can be no lower than 6 feet and no higher than 12 feet off the ground. If you hear the umpire say “flat” or “illegal”, that means the pitch was outside the 6 to 12-foot zone and is an automatic “ball”. A batter MAY swing and hit an illegal pitch. A “swing and a miss” is ALWAYS a strike.
One rule that may seem odd to a spectator is that if a player with two strikes hits the ball into foul territory, it is a “strike out”. In other kinds of baseball/softball, a player can foul off an unlimited number of pitches with two strikes. In Senior Softball, ALL foul balls are strikes.
Some pitchers use a screen which is placed between the batter and the pitcher. This is to protect the pitcher from hard hit balls. Any batted ball that HITS the screen is a dead ball and is neither a strike nor a ball.
The old saying among aging baseball players is that “the legs are the first thing to go.” In Senior Softball, where the “legs going” is the LEAST of our problems, another player from the batting order can be used as a “courtesy runner”, either substituting for a player already on base OR running for the batter from home plate. If a courtesy runner is used for the batter, he/she starts 5 to 8 feet back from the third base line and runs to first from there. There is a chalk line drawn behind home plate that serves as a starting line.
The courtesy runner must be in the batting order. When a courtesy runner replaces another player, both players stay in the game.
Senior softball does not allow intentional bunting or slapping the ball (as you might see in a high school or collegiate “fast pitch” softball game.) Given the limited mobility of some of our pitchers and catchers, this is a SAFETY issue!
There’s no base stealing in Senior Softball. A runner may not leave the base until the pitch reaches the batter.
When you attend a game, you’ll probably notice that there are TWO first bases and two “bases” at home.
At first base, there is a white base in the regular location. There’s also a RED base next to it, in foul territory. When there’s a “play” at first, the fielder must step on the white base and the runner must step on the red base. This is intended to minimize collisions.
A similar situation occurs when a runner is trying to score. The pitcher’s plate (the 19 x 35 “strike plate” – see first image, above) must be touched by the catcher when the ball is thrown in for the runner to be out. The runner runs to a separate base which is 8 feet away from the traditional “home” plate in foul territory. (The scoring plate is, in some leagues, being replaced with a three to four-foot line that the runner must cross to score a run.) The catcher cannot tag the runner at or around home plate. ALL outs at home are “force outs”.
Both at first and at home, if the runner touches the WRONG base, it is an automatic out.
Tagging a runner is rarely necessary in Senior Softball. All plays are force outs. For example, a runner from second does not need to be tagged as he/she approaches third even if there’s no one on first. If the runner doesn’t stop, the fielder just needs to touch third base to FORCE the out. If the runner STOPS, they can be forced to return to second. The fielder on second, upon catching the ball, can touch that base to force the out. The runner cannot reverse direction again. There are NO RUN-DOWNS in Senior Softball.
We usually play 8 inning games. Teams are only allowed to score 5 runs in any one inning UNLESS they are behind. When behind, a team is allowed to score more than 5 runs if it allows them to catch up with the other team. Only in the 8th inning are teams allowed to score unlimited runs.
A rule in the Sun and Fun League automatically ends a game if a team is 15 or more runs ahead after the 5th inning. This is referred to as the “mercy rule”.
So, that’s it. You still need three strikes for a strike out and four balls for a walk. There’s still 3 outs in an inning. You still have to touch all the bases to score a run.
If you come and watch one of our games, you’ll still see spectacular defensive plays and heartbreaking fielding errors. You’ll see power hitting and weak pop ups, wicked line drives and singles that roll 3 feet from home plate. In other words, it’s not just a lot of old guys trying to re-live their youth! You’ll get to see a great BALL GAME.
9/30/18, revised 11/8/20.