If Cat Osterman’s script had been written the way she wanted it to be Monday night in Hoover, Ala., she would have walked away from softball a champion.
The supremely talented southpaw, who announced her impending retirement in May, would have been the one raising her arms in adulation in the pitcher’s circle after a win in her final National Pro Fastpitch game, and soon after, mobbed by teammates to celebrate both a championship victory and the end of one of the greatest careers the sport has ever seen.
Instead, Osterman and the USSSA Pride were defeated 1-0 in the NPF final, and the 32-year-old was left to weep as her team’s season and her illustrious 21-year playing career came to a close.
“I actually started crying because it finally set in that I would never step foot on the field as a player again,” an emotional Osterman said in a phone interview Tuesday, following a superb pitching performance in which she gave up just one unearned run on four hits with six strikeouts. “I feel that I pitched as well as I could have, but it really just wasn’t in the cards for us to win.”
Despite Monday’s defeat, this season was a fine one for the NPF’s 2014 Pitcher of the Year. She finished 15-4 for the regular season champions, with a 1.21 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 121.2 innings of work. In eight seasons in the NPF—two with the now-defunct Rockford Thunder and six with the Pride—Osterman captured four league titles, three Pitcher of the Year awards and was an All-NPF selection six times.
Aside from her bountiful successes and accolades in the NPF, Osterman is proudest of her part in growing the game and helping to mold the next generation of softball superstars during her last two seasons in the league. “I’ll look back and know that I truly feel that I got to play with the next group of legends in our game,” Osterman said. “Madison Shipman, Shelby Pendley and Lauren Chamberlain will carry the torch and play for a while, and I think it’s awesome for those of us on our way out to play with and inspire that new generation of kids who everybody knows and is looking at to be phenomenal.”
Long before the names of today’s stars were known, Osterman was posting jaw-dropping numbers with the U.S. National Team. While with Team USA from 2001 to 2010, Osterman compiled a cumulative record of 59-4 with a minuscule 0.38 ERA. She amassed 832 strikeouts in 425.2 total innings pitched.
Osterman was one of the last remaining active players from the gold medal-winning team at the 2004 Athens Olympics, on which she was the youngest player at 21. In 2008, she was the ace of the American squad that captured the silver medal at the Beijing Summer Games.
“The pinnacle of my career was winning a gold medal,” Osterman said. “It didn’t matter whether I pitched a lot or not at all, just being part of that amazing team was the highlight of my career.”
Osterman also had one of the best collegiate careers in NCAA softball history. The 6’3” Houston-native went 136-25 in her four seasons with the Texas Longhorns, and was a four-time All-America selection and three-time National Player of the Year during her NCAA tenure. She ranks first all-time in NCAA Division I history in strikeouts per seven innings (14.35) and perfect games (seven), second in career strikeouts (2,265) and third in no-hitters (20) and shutouts (85).
“My career took me further than I ever thought it would,” Osterman said. “I’ve cried a lot since [Monday’s] loss, but I’m not really that sad because I know it’s the right decision and the right time to walk away. I’m very happy and content with how my career unfolded and I’m excited for what the future holds.”
Though Osterman’s days in the circle are now done, her time in the dugout is just beginning. She will enter her second season as an assistant coach at Texas State in San Marcos this fall, and continue working primarily with the Bobcats’ pitching staff. “Now when I wake up, it’s not what can I do to be a better pitcher today, it’s what can I do to be a better coach and make my players want to strive for the same things I got,” Osterman said.
And while the ending of one of the finest playing careers in the history of the sport did not follow a seemly script like it perhaps should have, Osterman is left with no regrets and a sparkling legacy that will far outshine Monday’s loss. “Obviously I’d like the storybook ending, but not everybody gets that, and I’m OK with that,” Osterman said. “I loved every pitch of this ride and I hope to be remembered as someone who was constantly out there fighting. It was just amazing to have the ball in my hand for every pitch of every game I played.”
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