Softball’s colorful past—and its promise for the future

Benise P. Balaoing
A look at the history of softball, and the significance of the sport in the Philippines and Palarong Pambansa

SOFTBALL CINDERELLA. Jenny Pangilinan once had to scavenge through the Smokey Mountain in order to survive. She eventually competed in the Big League Softball Tournament in USA and landed herself an athletic scholarship from the University of the East. Photo courtesy of

MANILA, Philippines—Most people perceive softball as a “women’s game” and as “baseball’s younger sibling.” The former, however, isn’t absolutely true, and there is much more to the latter.

For one, softball is played by both genders both socially and competitively. While it was introduced as a “women-only” sport in the 1996 Olympics — although recently, it has been dropped as an Olympic sport from the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics — numerous softball associations such as the Amateur Softball Association of America and the Philippines’ own Amateur Softball Association of the Philippines (ASAPHIL) regularly hold softball tournaments for men.

And while it’s easy to see how softball evolved from baseball because of similarities in the manner of play, what most people don’t know is how 3 other sports created it.

The glove, boating club, and football game

According to the Sports Know How website, a boating club, a boxing glove, and a football game gave birth to the first-ever game of softball.

It all started on the Thanksgiving of 1887. Harvard and Yale alumni had gathered at the Farragut Boat Club in Chicago to await the results of the Harvard-Yale football game.

Telegrams from the Polo Grounds in New York kept them posted on the latest happenings. Yale won the game, 17-8.

What happened next is perhaps one of the most serendipitous moments in history.

A man from Yale playfully threw a boxing glove at the Harvard graduates but an alert Harvard fan hit the glove back with a stick—a broom handle, some sources say.

What commenced was not a heated sports riot but an action-packed game of indoor baseball.

George Hancock, one of the Harvard and Yale alumni gathered there, created a softball by binding the boxing glove with its laces. He also chalked out a small baseball diamond on the floor.

Hancock thought the hour-long game was a keeper and wrote down the rules. He also came up with a big softball and a rubber-tipped bat that could be used indoors as well as painted permanent foul lines on the boating club.

From Chicago, the game spread through the Upper Midwest and Canada. It became known as cabbage ball, mush ball, or pumpkin ball, depending on where it was played.

It only became known as “softball” in 1926 upon the suggestion of a Denver YMCA official.

In 1931, a team called Kids and Kubs travelled around the United States playing softball. What made them so unique? 2 things: one, they were all men at least 75 years old; and 2, they all played the game in their suits.

Softball in the Philippines

As colorful as softball’s history is the Philippines’ track record in it.

The Amateur Softball Association of the Philippines lists on its website some notable achievements of the Philippine Softball Team.

For one, both the men’s and women’s softball team of the Philippines bagged the championship in the 26th SEA Games at Palembang South Sumatra, Indonesia. The Philippine Softball team also emerged as the runner-up in the recently-concluded Pangaea Cup.

Palarong Pambansa, the nation’s largest sporting event that gathers the best elementary and high school athletes in the country, also includes softball as one of the competitions.

Some athletes who have competed in Palarong Pambansa, have also played the sport internationally.

Alex Zuluaga of the University of the Philippines has competed in the SEA Games as part of the national team. She has also played in the World Series, as did University of the East’s ace spiker Jenny Pangilinan, Polytechnic University of the Philippines’ Agapi Llave, and Adamson University’s Julie Muyco, Sara Jane Agravante and Sheirly Lou Valenzuela.

Given the high-caliber competition in Palaro, more world-class players could unsurprisingly emerge from this year’s games and wave the Philippine flag in future global tournaments. –

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