Obstruction and Interference – Which Is Which? By Gary Leland
Obstruction and interference are common terms in the fastpitch softball vocabulary. However, many people still misuse these two words during the game. And believe me – even coaches confuse these terms too. Well, obstruction and interference are both penalties that the umpire may call against either of the teams during a softball game. But when do you appropriately use the term “obstruction?” And under what premise is an interference called?
So let’s shed some light on these concepts by defining each and differentiating one from the other.
Obstruction is simply defined as an act by which a fielder hinders or impedes the batter or runner, provided that the fielder is not fielding a batted ball or if he is not in possession of the ball.
An obstruction may also be called against a catcher if he obstructs the batter who attempts to hit or swing a pitched ball.
An obstruction is called:
1. With or without contact between players.
2. If the fielder fakes a tag and this causes the runner to slide into the base when he could have advanced.
3. With or without intent.
What is the penalty for obstruction?
1. If play is being made during obstruction, a dead ball is immediately called. This is upon the sound judgment of the umpire that a runner would’ve reached the base had not the obstruction occurred. As a result, the runner would be allowed to advance and is awarded the next base.
2. If no play is being made during obstruction, the play will still continue. The moment the play ends, the umpire will then use his judgment in awarding the base to the runner according to whichever base the runner would have reached safely had obstruction not been made.
But what happens when…
The runner is trapped in between the second base and the third base but then decides to go back to second base. But before he could reach second, the fielder who does not have a ball tries to obstruct the runner causing a collision between the two. The umpire then calls an obstruction.
Question: Considering that the runner would’ve already gone back to second base had obstruction not occurred, which base will be awarded to the runner?
Answer: In this case, the runner will be allowed to proceed to third base.
Interference happens when a runner interferes with a thrown ball or when he interferes with a fielder who is trying to field a batted ball.
Interference can be called:
1. With or without contact between players.
2. When there is intent.
3. If the runner does not avoid the fielder attempting to field a batted ball.
The Element of Intent
If the runner is running on the base line and intentionally runs into a fielder who is attempting to field a batted ball, interference is called.
How is interference avoided then?
Interference can be avoided if the runner runs out of the base line to avoid bumping into the fielder.
However, if the runner goes out of the base line with the intent to avoid being tagged out by the fielder, then interference will be called.
In the case of a runner going to first base:
If the runner goes out of the 3-foot line to avoid the fielder who is trying to field the ball, then interference is not called. However, if the runner is already more than halfway towards the first base and goes out of the 3-foot line and the umpire thinks that the runner is trying to interfere with the fielder attempting to field the ball, then interference may be called.
What is the penalty for interference?
If the runner interferes with the fielder, a dead ball is immediately called and the runner will be called out to avoid sliding. The other runners will then have to return to the last base they touched at the time interference was done.
If both players collide, the runner will typically be called out.
To summarize, obstruction is called against a fielder when the fielder, who does not possess a ball or is not fielding a batted ball, hinders the runner. On the other hand, interference happens when the runner tries to interfere with a thrown ball or with the fielder trying to field a batted ball. Hence, while obstruction is a violation committed by the defensive team against the offense, interference is a violation committed by the offensive team against the defense.
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