Fastball 45 has returned this season and is bigger than ever thanks to three regional qualifiers ahead of this weekend’s National League finals in Auckland. Softball NZ’s shortened version of the game has proved a huge success with games being broadcasted on national television and associations in other countries asking for the rulebook to give it a crack themselves. If, however, you’ve yet to see some Fastball 45 action or still get a bit confused around certain aspects of the high-intensity contest, I’ve decided to try and explain things for you ahead of this weekend’s finals after being part of the growing scene for the last two years.
So here’s the ins and outs for F45.
Photo Credit: Paul Hodgson – PauloPics.nz | Wellington Thunder, Fastball 45 Squad
Softball NZ themselves state on the very first page of Fastball 45’s rulebook the game is designed to “increase the amount of ball in play, increase double plays, scoring opportunities and the points system itself”. With that in mind, a point I feel most coaches have had to try and explain to their batteries is that this is not a game designed for the pitcher. Fastball 45 is a 45-minute match at most and yet teams can still easily score in the double-digits from game to game thanks to the offensive advantages added into the format. The most obvious one is having runners on the bases at the start of each inning; a runner on one in the first innings, two runners on one and two in the second, loaded bags in the third and – if the game reaches a fourth frame – back to a single runner on one for the final innings. Immediately that opens up scoring opportunities for teams which is why you may see teams go “top heavy” with their batting line-ups in the hopes of maximising their chances to cash in early. You may also see them put some heavy hitters higher in the order in the hopes of pouncing later in the game when you get to the dangerous third innings where another new rule often appears – the power play. In Fastball 45, offensive teams can call a power play once a game where for the next two batters, the defensive team must remove one player from the field. Often times, teams will save their power play for a loaded-bases situation or something similar to maximise their chances of scoring multiple runs.
Photo credit: DB Photography – Debbie Barker | Cole Evans, Central Auckland Bolts
Some strategists might think they have a loophole for this in simply walking the next two batters to dodge the situation but that isn’t desirable as a walk during the power play is worth two bases, meaning the batter ends up at second base which in a loaded-bases scenario means two runs. If you thought things were already tough for the pitcher there’s also the alteration to the counts which sees a batter walked after three balls instead of the usual four, meaning they’re encouraged to throw more strikes more frequently to try and get the bats popping. The last offensive boost teams have in Fastball 45 is this squeeze play – a move where the batting team will bunt with a runner on third who is looking to score on contact – being worth two runs instead of one. With all these offensive tweaks to the game, it’d be easy to think defence goes on the backburner for teams but thanks to the addition of one other added rule, that isn’t the case; double plays end the innings. While some may think that isn’t a gamechanger like some of the offensive rule additions made for Fastball 45, one must remember there are almost always runners on base with the shortened game so it is possible to end a team’s innings with just one pitch – if the defence is up to the challenge. I said earlier that Fastball 45 is a 45-minute match at most and I meant it with games ended after three quarters of an hour no matter what.
Photo credit: DB Photography – Debbie Barker | Maddison Gerbes, West Waves
This rule is perhaps where most strategy comes in to play as it means having the lead after a completed innings is incredibly important as the score will revert to the last completed frame should the hooter go midway through a contest. To help teams with managing the clock against potential time-wasting towards the end of a contest, Softball NZ has also introduced an offensive declaration rule which allows batting teams to declare their innings closed at any time once a match, meaning a better chance to solidify an innings should they snatch the lead late. And that’s the gist of it – I can appreciate having just written this out that can be quite a lot to take in so feel free to put it to the side and simply enjoy some good softball skills or memorise it to become a Fastball 45 virtuoso. This weekend’s finals will see the best teams comprised of players from North, Central and South fight it out to claim national bragging rights after coming out on top in their regional qualifiers over the last three weeks.
So if you want to see the country’s best men and women battle it out in this high-intensity contest, come along to the finals at ELE Stadium in Auckland where admission is free or tune in to the games live on SKY Sport.
Written By Brodyn Knuckey