Dec 17, 2014

For Cat Osterman, Pitching is Still the Life

Cat Osterman winds up to pitch during a USSSA game in July 2014. Paige Lowe/USSSA Pride

Cat Osterman winds up to pitch during a USSSA game in July 2014. Paige Lowe/USSSA Pride

By Taylor Smith
For Reporting Texas

Cat Osterman’s finest season in professional softball almost never happened.

The former Texas Longhorn pitcher was 23 years old when she decided she would compete only until she was 30. She maintained that conviction through a career that took her to the peak of her sport – through two Olympic Games and six seasons in the National Pro Fastpitch league. In April 2013, Osterman announced that the upcoming NPF season would be her last with the USSSA Florida Pride.

The stress and pressure of maintaining her dominance had begun to blunt her love for the game. Osterman had been at the top for more than a decade. She was the 2001 Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year at Cypress Springs High School in Houston. She earned national college player-of-the-year honors at Texas three times.

A 6-foot-2 lefthander with phenomenal ball movement on her pitches, she threw the school’s first perfect game as a freshman and left college with an NCAA-record 2,265 strikeouts. She won a gold medal in Athens. She thought it had to end – and she had made the promise to herself.

“I knew I didn’t want to play forever,” Osterman said.

Osterman’s catcher with the Pride, an old teammate at Texas, confronted her about the decision to leave when she was still so good.

“What are you thinking?” Megan Willis asked Osterman. “Why would you stop playing? What else are you going to do if you aren’t playing ball?”

The catcher wanted Osterman to know that no one in softball could pitch the way she could.

“I have yet to catch anyone with a drop ball that moves like hers with precise location,” Willis said.

Osterman changed her mind about quitting after that 2013 season. In it, she won 19 games for the Pride and lost four. She registered a save in the championship game.

Osterman was the first overall pick in the 2006 draft conducted by the NPF, a league of four teams in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois. She played three months a year and embarked on a coaching career that took her to DePaul University, St. Edward’s University and Texas State University, where she is in her first year.

Osterman was named the NPF pitcher of the year last season after she announced her retirement.

“I don’t know if it was because I said I was going to retire that I relaxed a little bit,” Osterman said. “But I just enjoyed myself a lot more.”

So she decided it wasn’t time to hang up her cleats

“By the time Cat decided to come back, I wasn’t surprised at all,” said Jennifer Gladding, a Pride assistant coach. “She was pitching stronger than she ever has before.”

And 2014 was even better.

The 31-year-old finished the season 18-0 and notched her 1,081st career strikeout – the most in NPF history. Osterman led the Pride to another championship.

“I think it’s pretty obvious she has no business retiring yet,” Willis said.

A season that almost never happened became Osterman’s greatest professional season yet.

“I think all year I was waiting for that hiccup and waiting for the first loss to come, or that really bad game, because there is usually at least one or two,” Osterman said. “It just didn’t come.”

So her career continues. She has committed herself to the weight room and a cardio regimen, lifting three to four times a week, and running regularly.

“It took [until] I was about 27 or 28 to realize you can’t just get by with running here and there and lifting every now and then when you feel like it,” Osterman said.

Osterman has revisited a pitch she sparely threw in college: a screwball, which starts on the outside corner of the plate to right-handed hitters and breaks away farther off the corner, moving out of the strike zone.

“A lot of them know what to expect when my backdoor curve comes back across,” Osterman said, “so I just needed something that would stay away even if it’s just a waste pitch or something to get them to foul it off.”

Aside from playing professionally, Osterman said she enjoys coaching the next generation of softball players as an assistant coach with Texas State University. Osterman is not sure if head-coaching is a future for her, but believes she is five to six years from having to make that decision.

Lindsay Gardner, St. Edward’s University head softball coach and former teammate of Osterman at UT and Team USA, said Osterman would know when the time comes to retire.

As for right now, Gardner believes Osterman still belongs on the diamond.

“She is the best pitcher in the game,” Gardner said. “Her drive to get better every day and [each] season never ceases to amaze me.”