By Marty Gitlin
Monopoly? Ping-pong? Tennis, anyone?
The game doesnt matter. If you think youre going to have a nice, leisurely competition against Cat Osterman, think again.
Shes going to want to beat the heck out of you.
Fortunately for those who make a living in other sports, Osterman plays softball. Of course, thats quite unfortunate for hitters.
Why? Because they dont do much hitting when Osterman occupies the circle. They spend more time flailing in vain at her pitches. The Rockford Thunder rookie shattered the NCAA career strikeout record with 2,265 during a brilliant career at the University of Texas. She averaged more than two strikeouts an inning.
Thats not all. The three-time USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year registered a ridiculous 0.39 earned run average in her last three seasons. She also pitched 14.2 shutout innings for the gold medal-winning United States team in the 2004 Olympics. Its no wonder she is the only softball player to twice grace the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Certainly her exceptional talent explains much of her achievement. But so does a drive to succeed instilled in her by parents Gary and Laura.
Theres nothing Im not competitive with, says Osterman. Even if Im playing Frisbee golf in (hometown) Houston, Im mad if Im losing. I have this internal drive to be successful. No matter what I do, I want to do it all out. One thing my coaches will tell you is that my work ethic is off the charts.
Its not about stats. I wasnt really aware of how I compared to others nationally or historically. I guess thats how I was brought up. My parents and I work hard for everything we have. My dad never forced me into softball at all, but he said that if I was going to play softball, I should give it everything I had. And thats what Ive done.
So it seems a shame to Osterman that those who excelled before her couldnt take that ability and work ethic and turn it into a career.
Thats one of many reasons she has decided to compete in National Pro Fastpitch. Its not only for the personal challenge and gratification; its to pave the way for future players who dream of making it to the big leagues of softball.
I want this league to thrive, she says. I want younger girls to be able to make a career out of softball. I hope that someday they wont have to find teaching or coaching jobs just to be able to play softball for a few months.
Osterman enjoys delving a bit deeper into the mental and emotional aspects of athletics, which is why she plans on pursuing a masters in sports psychology after earning her bachelors degree in psychology in May. She has given thought to a private practice in that growing field.
In the meantime, however, she is enjoying the spotlight. Along with fellow pitcher Jennie Finch, who will be sharing the professional playing fields of Illinois as a pitcher for the Chicago Bandits, Osterman is arguably the most publicized softball player in America.
And thats not something that comes naturally to her.
If you told me when I entered Texas that I would be three-time Player of the Year, I would have told you that you were crazy, she says. If you told me that I would be at the (ESPN) awards, I would have asked, Whos guest was I? These were eye-opening experiences. I never thought I would do that well, especially as a freshman.
Perhaps that fire indeed drives Osterman to excel. But she admits she takes on quite a different personality outside the competitive arena.
Im actually very laid-back, she says. Im so competitive that I sometimes stress myself out a bit. But basically Im just a fun person to be around and I just let things happen. On the field and off the field, Im two different people.
Hitters just wish Osterman would take on that laid-back persona when shes in the circle.
No such luck.
(photo courtesy USA Softball)