Club focus: Falcons reveal all about softball

Chichester Falcons play to win - and have fun too
Chichester Falcons play to win - and have fun too

Chichester Falcons Softball Club – formed in 2011 – have grown from a roster of two players to more than 40.

The origin of the team was St Richards Hospital’s X-ray staff, who had won a tournament under the guidance of Falcons coach James Wheeler. A handful of the Rays continue to play for the Falcons today.

The Falcons joined the Solent Softball League in 2012 and have never looked back. They play matches through the summer against teams from Portsmouth and Southampton, as well as in tournaments across the UK and abroad.

Last year the Falcons took a team to Holland to play in the Almere Classic Windmill Tournament and were delighted to come home with a ninth-place trophy.

Named after Chichester Cathedral’s famous avian habitants, the team have a strong social ethic and have several married couples, siblings and workmates playing together in the team.

Every year the Falcons host their own tournament in the city to raise money for local charities.

I would recommend softball to anyone who likes being active, part of a team and having fun

Vicki Cathie

Last season saw the inception of a youth fast-pitch softball team – the first in the history of the city, which has started extremely well. Boys and girls aged 12 to 16 enjoy softball in weekly sessions at Oaklands Park through the summer. This year’s programme starts on April 16.

How to get involved

The summer season is just under way. New players are always needed, so the earlier rookies join up, the more practice they can get before the season gets under way.

The youth team (12-16-year-olds) will be practicing on Thursdays, 6pm-7.30pm from April 16, and the adult team (16 & up) on Wednesdays, 6-8pm from now. Both teams practice and play at Oaklands Park, beside the Festival Theatre.

Beginners are always very welcome – players just need to turn up in their sports clothes and trainers, and all equipment is provided. Youth players need to register in advance.

Anybody who wants to try softball and join the Falcons should email chichesterfalcons@gmail.com or visit www.chichesterfalcons.co.uk

What is softball?

* Invented in Chicago in 1887, softball is a descendent of baseball and similar to rounders. Two teams of ten players play on a wedge-shaped field with a diamond at the apex. The ball is pitched underarm to the batter who must hit it before running around the bases to try to score a run.

* In the UK, softball is usually played co-ed – with men and women on the same team.

* Softball is a social, recreational sport. The co-ed nature of the game naturally brings fair play and etiquette to an exhilarating and competitive game.

* A game usually lasts around one to two hours; both teams bat through a series of seven innings.

* The ball is not soft! It’s just as hard as a baseball. Decades ago a softball was a lot softer than it is today – the inaugural game in 1887 was played with a rolled-up boxing glove – and the name stuck.

* There are two variations to softball – fastpitch, where the ball is pitched from a full ‘windmill’ arm motion; and slowpitch, where the ball is pitched from a half-windmill and must be thrown in an arc 6ft to 12ft high.

* Softball can be played both indoors and outdoors. The rules vary slightly and while the main principles are the same, the pace (not to mention the noise level) is significantly higher indoors.

Softball skills

Pitching

Pitching is an important job!

Falcons pitcher James Wheeler: “I used to pitch baseball as a kid where you’re throwing off a mound, pretty much as hard as you can. In slow-pitch softball, pitching couldn’t be more different. 

“The pitcher (bowler, for you cricket fans) has to throw the ball with a high arc of between 6ft and 12ft in height. This means the ball drops in quite slowly over the plate and most good batters are just going to crush it.

“You can mix up the timing and position of the pitches but really you have to trust that the fielders will be able to deal with it. That’s what makes for a great game though because anyone can hit, so there’s lots of fielding to do.

“The pitcher needs to be a good fielder too, because if a batter hits a ‘comebacker’ at you, you’re going to need some quick reflexes!”

Hitting

For the majority of softballers, this is the most fun part of the game.

Falcons batting coach Dave Piesse: “Batting is as simple as standing in the batting box at a right angle to the pitcher, holding the bat in two hands like a light sabre, watching the ball as it is pitched in, and swinging.

“The common trap which most new players fall foul of is trying to hit too hard. Often, swinging with only half the power will result in a clean accurate hit that gets you onto base safely.

“Once the ball has been hit you run. Fast! You never assume the ball has been caught or has gone into the crowd; you just run. Fast!

“The common saying of “Hit the ball and RUN!” is constantly applicable and the simplicity of hitting is underestimated. Softball uses a large ball, large bat and all at low speeds; it is a game designed around hitting.”

Fielding

Softball fielders must wear a leather glove, or mitt, to help them safely catch the ball with their non-throwing hand.

In-fielder David Morris: “At first it’s odd to have to catch with your weak hand, but the feeling and sound of a ball nestling into the glove is very satisfying and a little addictive!

“Good fielding isn’t about throwing hard or far, it’s about throwing accurately. We run a lot of throwing and catching drills at the start of every practice session.

“Fielders are quite spread out in the park so there is often a lot of yelling and ‘signalling’ between plays to keep everybody focussed. Being able to catch reliably, think quickly and make a good throw to a base are important skills for any softball fielder.”

Life as a Falconette - by Wicki Cathie

I’ve been playing with the Falcons for five years now. Before I joined, I’d only played rounders at school and that was years ago, so at the start I was pretty naff, but the team were so welcoming and patient. 

They taught me how to catch safely and then how to play within the team. I loved having the opportunity to play friendlies and competitions even as a relative novice. Everyone was so encouraging and I quickly learned the rules.

I was concerned about getting injured playing ball but it is actually quite rare – only the odd slip over and bruise here and there. Having a couple of hours’ practice once a week makes it a lot easier for me to be part of the team. 

I’m a busy person juggling family and work but getting together with the guys and gals is a great way to let off steam and get some good exercise in. 

My personal highlight was hitting my first home run – I couldn’t believe I had done it and the team went wild. The feeling was amazing!

I’ve made some great new friends and we are all so different – teachers, IT techs, sales, students, medics, musicians and MoD.   

Socials happen every few weeks and I’ve been to curry nights, barbecue-and-bowling; anything goes and they are always brilliant fun.  The team spirit is the reason why I’m still here five years on. 

I really look forward to going to training so I can run around and enjoy the sunshine. I would recommend softball to anyone who likes being active, part of a team and having fun. Of course you’ll need an edge of competition – we train to win and we’re doing all right!

Vicki Cathie, 2B

Softball jargon

Like many sports, softball has its own language! Here are five idioms from the softball phrasebook:

Home run

When a batter hits the ball so far (or the fielders make so many errors fielding the ball) that they can run around all the bases and get home before the ball does. This scores one run, plus an additional run for each runner who was on base at the time of the hit. If the bases are loaded, four runs are scored – this is called a grand slam.

Flyball

When a batter hits the ball high up in the air. These are typically caught by the fielding team, to get the batter out.

RBI (run batted in)

When a batter makes a hit which allows runners to come in to score. Batters who notch up a lot of RBIs tend to find themselves further down in the batting order, when there is more chance of runners being on base by the time it’s their turn to hit.

Strike

A strike is called by the umpire if:

1 The batter swings and misses at a pitch

2 The pitcher pitches the ball through the strike zone, but the batter does not swing (this is called ‘caught looking’)

3 The batter hits the ball into foul territory

If a batter gets three strikes on them, they are out.

Double play

When the fielding team make two outs on one hit. This is relatively rare and is usually followed by a lot of yelling. Triple plays are also possible, but are very rare (the Falcons have achieved this only once in their history).