Story: Softball and baseball

Many New Zealanders enjoy softball, and national teams have had success on the world stage. Baseball has not caught on to the same degree, but has its enthusiasts.

Story by Tony Smith and David Green
Main image: Kim Dermott takes a catch for the New Zealand softball team, Sydney Olympics, 2000

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Softball origins

Softball originated in 1887 in Chicago, US, as a form of indoor baseball. It is played on a smaller diamond than baseball, with a bigger, softer ball, pitched underarm rather than overarm. It lasts seven innings rather than nine.

Softball became popular in New Zealand in the 1930s, and really took hold in 1935 at the Ford Motor Company, Lower Hutt, encouraged by the Canadian manager W. H. (Bill) Wilson. Enthusiasm for the sport spread rapidly.

Inter-club competitions began early on. In 1940 Jenkins Gym in Wellington became the first national men’s inter-club champions, winning the John Lennon Trophy. Whanganui’s Hinemoa Club won the first women’s inter-club championship in 1946.

Golden era

The sport began to be played internationally in the 1960s, and New Zealand softball entered its boom years in the late 1970s.

The national men’s team (who became known as the Black Sox) shared the world championship in 1976. By 2017 they had played in 10 consecutive world championship finals and won six more titles.. The women (who became known as the White Sox) won gold in 1982 and have also won two bronzes and a silver. 

Softball in 2012

In 2012 Softball New Zealand had over 29,100 registered players: more than 18,700 males and 10,400 females. Thirty-three New Zealand players, coaches, managers, administrators, umpires and scorers had been inducted into the International Softball Federation Hall of Fame since 1981, and New Zealanders have played professionally in North America, Japan and Europe.

However, the sport was suffering locally from lack of sponsorship and a low media profile. Although in the past New Zealand had produced many great pitchers, by the 21st century developing the skills of new pitchers had become a major challenge.

Baseball

North American visitors began trying to introduce baseball to New Zealand in the late 19th century, but New Zealanders did not take to it in the way they would later adopt softball.

Baseball became more popular in the 1980s, and by the 21st century the sport was played around the country with national senior and youth championships contested annually. New Zealand teams competed in the Australian Provincial and under-23 championships.

Promising local baseball and softball players were scouted by North American major league baseball clubs, and some teenagers had gained contracts.

How to cite this page:

Tony Smith and David Green, 'Softball and baseball', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/softball-and-baseball (accessed 15 August 2018)

Story by Tony Smith and David Green, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 1 Jul 2015