Key Softball Rules
An Infield Fly is a fair fly ball (not a line drive or bunt) that, in the judgment of the umpire, can be caught by an infielder, pitcher, or catcher with ordinary effort and when there are runners on first and second or first, second, and third and less than two outs. When the umpire calls "infield fly” the batter is out, regardless of whether the ball is subsequently caught or dropped. The ball is live, and runners already on base may advance (at their own risk) if the ball is not caught or tag up and advance if it is caught.
Why does it exist?
To prevent double or triple plays on popups. Imagine bases loaded and a soft popup to third base. Without the infield fly rule, the runners have a dilemma. If they stay close to their bases, the third base player could choose to let the ball drop and get multiple outs by tagging the runner who was on third, stepping on third base to force out the runner from second, and throwing to second base to force out the runner from first. If the runners go too far from their bases, the third base player catches the ball and doubles them off. The reason the rule applies only with at least first and second base occupied is that if there are not multiple runners on base, a missed popup can only result in one force out.
What does it mean for my player?
When you hear infield fly called, you no longer have to run if the ball drops. So stay close to your base and listen to your coach, who will probably send you only if the ball is not caught and you’re going to be safe; be ready to slide because it will be a tag play.
The look-back rule is triggered when the pitcher has control of the ball in the pitcher's circle and is not attempting to make a play on a runner (including a fake or threatened throw); any runner stopped on a base must stay on the base, and any runner not on a base must immediately either advance toward the next base or return to the previous base. Any subsequent change in direction or stop by the runner while off the base will result in the runner being called out, so long as the pitcher does not attempt to make a play.
Why do we have the rule?
In softball, runners must stay on the bases until the ball is released from the pitcher's hand. The look-back rule forces runners onto a base so the next pitch can be thrown, and provides a means to avoid time-consuming "cat and mouse" games on the base paths that detract from regular play.
Does the pitcher have to look at the runner to trigger the rule?
Interestingly enough, no, the name is a bit of a misnomer, as there is no "look back" requirement in the look back rule. So long as the pitcher has control of the ball in the circle and is not trying to make a play, runners have to advance or return, regardless of whether the pitcher is looking at them.
This rule applies when first base is open, or if there are two outs. If the batter strikes out (swinging or looking) and the catcher does not catch the pitch before it hits the ground, the batter can run to first base. If the batter fails to run, she can be called out when she enters the dugout.
When does it not apply?
If there are less than two outs and first base is occupied, a dropped third strike could lead to a sneaky double play. For example, with bases loaded, the catcher could drop the third strike, step on home plate to force out the runner from third base, and throw to first base for a double play.
As the batter, players should break for first base on any third strike and run until their coach or the umpire lets them know the catcher did catch the ball. Don't wait and see! As a catcher, you should "catch, tag, or throw" with two strikes. A quick catcher will often be able to tag the batter before she starts running, which makes the play much easier and holds other runners. With two outs and bases loaded, the catcher only needs to step on home plate after a dropped third strike, forcing out the runner from third base.
When a fielder does not have the ball and is not in the act of fielding a batted ball, an obstruction occurs if that fielder impedes the progress of a base runner. The umpire makes an obstruction signal by extending an arm to the side with a fist. If the impeded runner is put out prior to reaching the next base or a subsequent base that the umpire believes she would have reached if the obstruction had not occurred, then the out does not count and the umpire will put the runner on the base she would have reached absent the obstruction.
It is very important to understand that the ball remains live after obstruction occurs and that the runner must try to advance in order to get the base to which she is entitled. When the umpire lowers his or her arm, the runner is no longer protected, either because she has arrived at the base she would have reached or she has failed to try to advance.
As fielders, our players have a hard time learning to stay out of the way of runners. We see obstruction called in almost every game, and the most common obstruction comes from a fielder standing on a base without the ball when the runner reaches the base. If a fielder is playing directly between two bases when the ball is pitched, she needs to be prepared to move out of the way of a base runner if the ball isn't hit to her. After a ball is hit, if there is no play at her base, then she needs to stay away from the base and out of the runner's way.
A runner (as well as the coaches) should look for an obstruction signal by the umpire if she's impeded, and she should continue running to the next base even if a tag is likely. As long as the umpire is making the obstruction signal, the runner is protected in advancing.
This rule (often nicknamed "take what you can get") means that when a ball is overthrown, the ball is live and runners will only be stopped when the defensive team retrieves and fields the ball. The exception is to this rule is a ball that lands over or under the fence or out of bounds on fields without fences; in that case, all runners advance two bases from the last base they had reached at the time the ball was thrown.
If a runner tries to avoid a tag and runs more than three feet outside of the base path, the runner is out automatically.
Is the base path the line between the bases?
No, the base path is the direct line between the base and the runner at the time when the fielder is trying to tag the runner. The base path is the direct line between the runner and the base to which she is either attempting to advance or retreat at the moment that a defensive player is attempting to tag her. Moreover, the base path may be a long way from the base line. For example, a batter who realizes that the third strike was dropped may start running from near the entrance to the bench.
Does running out of the base path always result in an out?
In general, runners may run well outside of the base line. For example, if a runner is advancing more than one base, she is able to run faster by rounding the bases rather than slowing down to cut sharp corners. However, the base path rule applies if a tag play is being made on the runner.
What about first base?
There is an additional rule when running to first base. The batter should run in the "lane," which is a three-foot wide path on the foul side of the first base line; the lane starts halfway from home plate to first base and runs to the orange (outside) bag at first base. If the batter runs outside of the lane and is hit by a throw or interferes with a fielder's effort to catch a throw at first, the batter will be called out.
What does all of this mean for my player?
A runner, in general, is allowed to run outside of the base line. However, when a tag play is being made on the runner, the runner must go directly toward the base and can only evade a tag by dodging up to three feet to the left or right, sliding, ducking, or, in very rare situations, jumping over the tag. Alternatively, a runner can attempt to run back toward the base from which she came.
We teach our players to slide at home if the catcher is at the plate so we avoid potential injuries from running into the catcher. However, this leads to some confusion because there is no "must slide" rule. The applicable rule is that a runner is out if she remains upright and crashes into a defensive player who has possession of the ball. This happens most at home plate, but it applies at the other bases too. The runner's options are to slide, run around the fielder, or stop and run back to the previous base. If the fielder does not have the ball or if the ball arrives at the same time as the runner, a collision does not result in the runner being called out.
Also, there is often confusion about runners who remain upright but do not "crash" into the fielder. It is the umpire's discretion, but merely "bumping into" the catcher shouldn't result in the runner being called out.
Our catchers need to learn to (1) stay well out of the way of the runner unless there is a play at the plate, and (2) if there is a tag play at the plate, take the throw from just in front of the plate and then block the plate.
Our runners should obviously slide when there is a play at the plate, and good sportsmanship requires that they avoid running over catchers who are blocking the plate without the ball too, even though the collision would be the catcher's fault. This may mean sliding into and upending a catcher who is blocking the plate while watching the play.
The pitcher's circle is a circular area with an 8-foot radius measured from the center of the front edge of the pitcher's plate (rubber).
The pitcher's circle is used to determine when the play has ended, i.e., when the pitcher has control of the ball in the circle play is called dead by the umpire and runners are placed at the correct base according to their position relative to the halfway lines on the basepaths.
The pitcher's circle exists as a basis for the "look-back" rule. The look-back rule refers to the requirement that a runner on base not "dance around" while the pitcher is inside the circle, has control of the ball and in no way is attempting to make a play on a runner. For example, when a batter gets a hit and rounds first base, if the pitcher is in possession of the ball within the circle and is not attempting a throw or faking a throw attempt, the runner must either advance towards second base or immediately return to first. She cannot juke back and forth in order to draw a throw. If the runner continues to change direction towards first, then second, the umpire may call her out. Likewise if she stops between bases waiting for the pitcher to throw to a fielder, as sometimes happens between pitches, and the pitcher is in possession of the ball within the circle and not attempting a throw, the runner may be called out by the umpire.
As a general matter with respect to all lines on the field, a player's foot is said to be inside a line when any part of it is on the line. A pitcher is inside the pitcher's circle when both feet are inside the line. For this reason a pitcher standing with both her feet on the line is standing inside the circle.There are no additional rules with respect to anything a pitcher may or may not do while she is inside the circle.
The pitcher is not prohibited from throwing the ball to any fielder from within the circle the way she is if her foot is in contact with the pitcher's plate. There are no rules which prohibit a pitcher delivering a pitch to not step outside the circle but there are prohibitions against her crow-hopping during a pitch. If a pitcher has a long stride which exceeds 8 feet and she ends up stepping outside the circle, the pitch is not illegal due to her stepping outside the circle.
There are really two meanings for the term "crow hopping." A fielder is said to be "crow hopping" when she picks up the ball and takes that little hop while preparing to throw. That's a good thing—it helps the fielder throw farther by using their hip and chest muscles in addition to their arm muscles.
The second meaning of crow hopping involves a similar, but more subtle move by a pitcher making a pitch. "Crow hopping" by a pitcher making a pitch is illegal.
There is a general requirement that a pitcher not leap (both feet off the ground) while engaged in the pitching motion. A pitcher is required to keep her pivot foot (the foot she pushes off with) on the ground, dragging it forward as she strides toward homeplate. When both feet leave the ground it is officially called "leaping," although many coaches mistake this for "crow hopping." Leaping is not permitted under ASA rules.
When a pitcher actually strides forward (usually leaping in the process), replants her pivot foot and pushes off with it as she releases the ball, this is an illegal "crow hop." The reason this is prohibited is it effectively gives the pitcher an opportunity to pitch from a much closer range than she would otherwise.
In practice both leaping and crow hopping are difficult to enforce. Umpires generally issue a warning and leave it at that.
The DP/Flex rule is a rule that is similar to (but not the same as) the designated hitter in baseball. In a game where you are not using a continuous batting order (i.e. when you are only batting nine players instead of the entire team), the DP/Flex rule allows the coach to designate one of the nine players in the line-up as the "Designated Player" (DP) and add a 10th player to the bottom on the line-up card as the "Flex". The DP only bats. The Flex only plays defense.
The key difference between the DP and the designated hitter in baseball is that the DP can be inserted into the defense for any of the nine other players listed on the lineup card, and the player she is replacing can re-enter the game later.
A guide to the DP/Flex Rule can he seen here. You should review this document and carefully research this rule before you use it in a game.
Ultimately, the DP/Flex rule allows another player to be involved in the game. And it gives the coach a tool to optimize their batting and defensive line-ups.