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By Marty Gitlin

Monopoly? Ping-pong? Tennis, anyone?

The game doesn’t matter. If you think you’re going to have a nice, leisurely competition against Cat Osterman, think again.

She’s 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, that’s quite unfortunate for hitters.

Why? Because they don’t 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.

That’s 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. It’s 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.

“There’s nothing I’m not competitive with,” says Osterman. “Even if I’m playing Frisbee golf in (hometown) Houston, I’m mad if I’m 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.

“It’s not about stats. I wasn’t really aware of how I compared to others nationally or historically. I guess that’s 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 that’s what I’ve done.”

So it seems a shame to Osterman that those who excelled before her couldn’t take that ability and work ethic and turn it into a career.

That’s one of many reasons she has decided to compete in National Pro Fastpitch. It’s not only for the personal challenge and gratification; it’s 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 won’t 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 master’s in sports psychology after earning her bachelor’s 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 that’s 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, ‘Who’s 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.

“I’m actually very laid-back,” she says. “I’m so competitive that I sometimes stress myself out a bit. But basically I’m just a fun person to be around and I just let things happen. On the field and off the field, I’m two different people.”

Hitters just wish Osterman would take on that laid-back persona when she’s in the circle.

No such luck.

(photo courtesy USA Softball)