Equipment required in softball includes a ball, a bat (metal or wooden), gloves, uniforms and protective gear: for example, helmets for the offensive team and a helmet, shin guards and chest protector for the defensive catcher. Also cleats, sliding shorts
The playing field is divided into 'fair territory' and 'foul territory'. Fair territory is further divided into the 'infield', and the 'outfield', and the territory beyond the outfield fence. The field is defined by 'foul lines' that meet at a right angle at 'home plate'. The minimum length of the baselines varies classification of play (see below for official measurements). A fence running between the baselines defines the limits of the field; distance from home plate to the fence varies by field. Behind home plate is a 'backstop'. It must be between 25 and 30 feet (7.62 and 9.14 meters) behind home plate depending on the type of division that is playing. 'Home Plate' is one corner of a diamond with 'bases' at each corner. The bases other than home plate are 15 in (38 cm) square, of canvas or a similar material, and not more than 5 in (13 cm) thick. The bases are usually securely fastened to the ground. The bases are numbered counter clockwise as first base, second base, and third base. Often, but not always, outside first base (that is, in foul territory) and adjacent and connected to it, there is a contrast-colored "double base" or "safety base". It is intended to prevent collisions between the first baseman and the runner. The runner runs for the foul portion of the double base after hitting the ball while the fielding team tries to throw the ball to the regular first base before the runner reaches the safety base. However, not all softball diamonds have these safety bases and they are much more common in women's softball than in men's. The double base is required in ISF championships. The infield consists of the diamond and the adjacent space in which the infielders (see below) normally play. The outfield is the remaining space between the baselines and between the outfield fence and the infield. The infield is usually "skinned" (dirt), while the outfield has grass in regulation competitions. Near the center of the diamond is the pitching plate. In fast pitch, a skinned circle 16 feet (4.88 meters) in diameter known as the pitching circle is around the pitching plate. A field is officially required to have a warning track between 15 and 12 feet (5 and 4 meters) from the outfield fence. However, if the game is being played on a field larger than required, no warning track is required before the temporary outfield fencing. Located in foul territory outside both baselines are two 'Coach's Boxes'. Each box is behind a line 15 feet (5 meters) long located 12 feet (3 meters) from each baseline.
Softball is a variant of baseball played with a larger ball on a smaller field. It was invented in 1887 in Chicago as an indoor game. It was at various times called indoor baseball, mush ball, playground, softbund ball, kitten ball, and, because it was also played by women, ladies' baseball. The name softball was given to the game in 1926. A tournament held in 1933 at the Chicago World's Fair spurred interest in the game. The Amateur Softball Association (ASA) of America (founded 1933) governs the game in the United States and sponsors annual sectional and World Series championships. The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) regulates rules of play in more than 110 countries, including the United States and Canada; before the WBSC was formed in 2013, the International Softball Federation filled this role. Women's fast-pitch softball became a Summer Olympic sport in 1996, but it (and baseball) were dropped in 2005 from the 2012 games. There are two types of softball. In the most common type, slow-pitch softball, the ball, which can measure either 11 or 12 inches in circumference depending on the league, must arch on its path to the batter, there are 10 players in a team. In fastpitch softball, the pitch is fast, there are nine players on the field at one time, and bunting and stealing are permitted. Softball rules vary somewhat from those of baseball. Two major differences are that the ball must be pitched underhand—from 46 ft. (14 m) for men or 43 ft(13.1 m) for women as compared with 60.5 ft. (18.4 m) in baseball—and that seven innings instead of nine constitute a regulation game. Despite the name, the ball used in softball is not very soft. It is about 12 in. (30.5 cm) in circumference (11 or 12 in. for slow-pitch), which is 3 in. (8 cm) larger than a baseball. The infield in softball is smaller than on an adult or high school baseball diamond but identical to that used by Little League Baseball; each base is 60 ft (18 m) from the next, as opposed to baseball's 90 ft. (27 m).
The earliest known softball game was played in Chicago, Illinois on Thanksgiving Day, 1887. It took place at the Farragut Boat Club at a gathering to hear the outcome of the Yale University and Harvard University football game. When the score was announced and bets were settled, a Yale alumnus threw a boxing glove at a Harvard supporter. The other person grabbed a stick and swung at it. George Hancock called out "Play ball!" and the game began, with the boxing glove tightened into a ball, a broom handle serving as a bat. This first contest ended with a score of 41-40. The ball, being soft, was fielded barehanded. George Hancock is credited as the game's inventor for his development of ball and an undersized bat in the next week. The Farragut Club soon set rules for the game, which spread quickly to outsiders. Envisioned as a way for baseball players to maintain their skills during the winter, the sport was called "Indoor Baseball". Under the name of "Indoor-Outdoor", the game moved outside in the next year, and the first rules were published in 1889. In 1895 Lewis Rober, Sr. of Minneapolis organized outdoor games as exercise for firefighters; this game was known as kitten ball (after the first team to play it), lemon ball, or diamond ball. Rober's version of the game used a ball 12 inches (30 cm) in circumference, rather than the 16-inch (41 cm) ball used by the Farragut club, and eventually the Minneapolis ball prevailed, although the dimensions of the Minneapolis diamond were passed over in favor of the dimensions of the Chicago one. Rober may not have been familiar with the Farragut Club rules. Fire Station No. 19 in Minneapolis, Rober's post from 1896 to 1906, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in part for its association with the sport's development. The first softball league outside the United States was organized in Toronto in 1897. The name "softball" dates back to 1926. The name was coined by Walter Hakanson of the YMCA at a meeting of the National Recreation Congress. (In addition to "indoor baseball", "kitten ball", and "diamond ball", names for the game included "mush ball", and "pumpkin ball".) The name softball had spread across the United States by 1930. By the 1930s, similar sports with different rules and names were being played all over the United States and Canada. The formation of the Joint Rules Committee on Softball in 1934 standardized the rules and naming throughout the United States. Sixteen-inch softball, also sometimes referred to as "mushball" or "super-slow pitch", is a direct descendant of Hancock's original game. Defensive players are not allowed to wear fielding gloves. Sixteen-inch softball is played extensively in Chicago, where devotees such as the late Mike Royko consider it the "real" game, and New Orleans. In New Orleans, sixteen-inch softball is called "Cabbage Ball" and is a popular team sport in area elementary and high schools. By the 1940s, fast pitch began to dominate the game. Although slow pitch was present at the 1933 World's Fair, the main course of action taken was to lengthen the pitching distance. Slow pitch achieved formal recognition in 1953 when it was added to the program of the Amateur Softball Association, and within a decade had surpassed fast pitch in popularity. The first British women's softball league was established in 1953. In 1991, women's fast-pitch softball was selected to debut at the 1996 Summer Olympics. The 1996 Olympics also marked a key era in the introduction of technology in softball. The IOC funded a landmark bio-mechanical study on pitching during the games. In 2002, sixteen-inch slow pitch was written out of the ISF official rules, although it is still played extensively in the United States under The Amateur Softball Association of America, or ASA rules. The 117th meeting of the International Olympic Committee, held in Singapore in July 2005, voted to drop softball and baseball as Olympic sports for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Other sanctioning bodies of softball are AAU, NSA, PONY, ASA, ISC, USSSA, Tripple Crown and ISA.