Fast-pitch softball (also known as fast pitch or fastpitch without the hyphen or "fastball") is a form of softball played commonly by women and men, though coed fast-pitch leagues also exist. Fast pitch is considered the most competitive form of softball. It is the form of softball that was played at the Olympic Games in 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008. The fast pitch style is also used in college softball and international competition.
Pitchers throw the ball with an underhand motion at speeds up to 75 miles per hour (121 km/h) for women and up to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) for men. Considering the distance between the pitcher and batter (40 to 43 feet (12 to 13 m)), the equivalent batter reaction time in baseball would be to a 125 miles per hour (201 km/h) pitch from 60 feet (18 m). An allstar major league baseball team once played an exhibition game against Eddie Feigner of the barnstorming softball team "The King and His Court". The only major league player to make contact with a pitch was Rod Carew who hit a foul ball. The game was cut short after four innings due to the major league players embarrassment and the exhibitions never happened again. The reason for this is that a fastball can move up or down in a strike zone and baseball players are only used to seeing a ball that goes down or straight and therefore they will have difficulties hitting a ball that rises.
The pitching style of fastpitch is different from that of slowpitch softball. Pitchers in fast-pitch softball throw the ball using a "windmill" type of pitch. In this style of pitching, the pitcher begins with her arm at the hip. The pitcher then brings the ball in a circular motion over the head, completes the circle back down at the hip, and snaps the wrist. A "modified" fast pitch is identical to a "windmill" pitch except the arm is not brought over the head in a full windmill motion, but instead is brought behind the body and is then thrust directly forward for the release. There are many different pitches which can be thrown, including a fastball, changeup, riseball, dropballs, curveball, offspeed, screwball, knuckleball and more. These pitches can be taught in many different styles, depending on the pitching coach's method and the player's abilities.
The game of fastpitch softball is similar to baseball, and includes stealing bases and bunting. Unlike baseball, however, there is no "leading off" - the baserunner can only leave the base when the pitcher releases the ball. Most leagues use the "dropped third strike" rule, which allows the batter to attempt an advance to first base when the catcher fails to catch the third strike.
Younger players generally play with an 11-inch (28 cm) circumference ball, and older players will generally play with a 12-inch (30 cm) ball. The surface of the ball has changed over the years from white to a high-visibility "optic" yellow.