SEATTLE — Have you ever felt a softball fly past your body at 70 miles per hour? We had not either until we stepped onto the University of Washington softball field and faced pitcher Brooke Nelson.
Nelson and catcher Jenn Cummings are really excited to see softball back in action at the Olympics after 13 years. They gave us a crash course on pitching and hitting.
We started with pitching because that is one of the main differences between softball and baseball.
"We can throw a rise ball, a drop ball, a curve, a screw change,” explained Nelson. “So, there's a lot more variety.”
Nelson started by teaching us how to grip the ball. We held the ball with our four fingers on the seam in order to rotate it through the air. Before we got to the full pitch, we started with a simple underhand pitch.
Softball pitchers use an underhand motion, which is less stressful on the body compared to an overhand pitch used in baseball.
But the underhand pitch was not as intuitive for Jake, who played baseball growing up. At one point, the ball went way too high, too far left, bounced on the ground, and even went backward when Jake pitched.
Things did not get much better when we moved onto the full rotation. The release of the ball is the most difficult part of the entire swing because even minor variations can result in huge changes in where the ball ends up.
Mimi pitched pretty straight but ended up thinking too much about her movements and timing, which made the ball either bounce or end up too high.
After seemingly failing the first part of the lesson, we moved onto hitting the ball.
After several swings and misses, Mimi finally got a hit off Nelson's pitch.
When you are 43 feet away from the mound, those pitches come fast. Nelson enjoyed throwing us off by switching up her pitches.
"You have a little bit more room to get a little crafty and kinda throw balls that look like strikes, but then they break away from the batter,” warned Cummings.
Jake fared better in the hitting than in pitching, managing to get several hits into the outfield.
Another big difference between softball and baseball is that the field is smaller, which Nelson and Cummings said makes the game more fast-paced and fun to watch.
"The corner infielders, pitchers, even the middle infielders are so much closer than baseball," explained Nelson. "So, your reaction time has to be instant."
Nelson and Cummings spend their summer coaching young girls in softball camps and take pride in encouraging a love of the sport. They're especially excited to have the sport showcased on the international stage again.
"It's very accepting in the sense of you don't need to be a certain height,” said Nelson. “They don't need to be a certain build. It's accepting of all shapes and sizes. So, I think that's super, super cool about our sport.”
Even certain news anchors can do it, with a little help from some star players from UW.