by Krista Tonnesen @yokrista

catretiring

Cat Osterman doesn’t remember her first professional strikeout. She remembers the game and she remembers that it was exciting, but she doesn’t remember the strikeout itself. Understandable, considering she’s recorded 645 more since then. With that many, they all start to run together after a while.

For the record, it came in an exciting 12-inning pitching duel (and 1-0 win) against Jennie Finch and the Chicago Bandits in Osterman’s National Pro Fastpitch debut in 2007. So did her next 23.

“It was one of the best games I’ve been a part of,” Osterman, 30, said. “That game was the way to start a career.”

Six years later, that exciting career is coming to an end; Cat Osterman is retiring from professional softball at the end of this season.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to hang it up on my own terms,” she said. “I didn’t want to keep playing much past 30 because I wanted to experience more things in life.”

Honestly, Osterman thought she’d already be done by now. She planned for the 2012 London Olympics, which would be her third Olympic games (she won a gold medal in 2004 and silver in 2008), to be her last hurrah as a player, but when baseball and softball were voted out of the summer games, she was left with two options: call it quits anyway or keep playing. Ultimately, she decided to play with the Pride for another season, but that would be it.

The hardest part of leaving the game, she says, will be leaving her teammates. She’s played with Pride shortstop Natasha Watley for 12 years, outfielder Kelly Kretschman for 11 and catcher Megan Willis, who Osterman calls one of her best friends and her backbone, since college.

“For a lot of us, we’ve been together for more than just one or two summers,” she said. “It’s been years and years and years. It’s going to be different to be watching them and not participating. It’s going to be like a permanent offseason.”

In the actual offseason, Osterman is an assistant coach for the Division II St. Edward’s University Hilltoppers in Austin, Texas, and definitely sees coaching as her next career path. As much as she loves the game, the decision to retire wasn’t necessarily hard.

“I think the thought of retiring became easier this year because I really fell in love with coaching and my job [at St. Edward’s],” she said. “As a coach, I wanted to be able to give that my full attention.”

St. Edward’s is just five miles from the University of Texas, where Osterman played her college ball. The Houston native could have gone out to the west coast to play, where the big NCAA softball powerhouses were at the time, but chose instead to play for the Longhorns in her home state. The biggest reason was to be close to her family.

“My dad caught for me my whole career, and I wanted to make sure he could see me play,” she said. “He wanted me to go wherever I wanted to. He said, ‘Two and a half hour drive or two and a half hour plane ride, I can figure it out.’”

Her competitive nature also played a huge part in her decision. “I really wanted to do something different. I wanted to try to beat the big schools, not just join them. If I could stay home and win Texas’ first national championship, that would be pretty cool.”

Osterman and the Longhorns didn’t win a national title, but she did make it to the Women’s College World Series three times, broke virtually every Longhorn and Big 12 Conference pitching record (many of which she still holds today) and was a four-time All-American.

While the USSSA Pride and professional softball may be losing one Longhorn pitcher at the end of the season, they just gained a new one for 2013. Texas right hander Blaire Luna, who just lead her team to 51 wins and a WCWS berth, just signed a two-year deal with the Pride.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Osterman said. “I got to watch her a lot, and she’s a very, very talented pitcher. I’m excited to share the circle with her.”

Last year, Osterman was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, an honor she shares with legends such as Troy Aikman, Mia Hamm, Shaquille O’Neal, Emmitt Smith, Nolan Ryan and one of her biggest athletic inspirations, former Houston Astros player Craig Biggio. According to Osterman, “He was one of the best to play baseball the way it’s supposed to be played, to hustle it out. He’s definitely one of the athletes I really look up to.”

Though her playing career will come to an end after the 2013 Pride season, Cat Osterman is sure to be a household name for sports fans for years to come. Her wish? That she’ll be remembered, not for all of her wins or the records she set, but for her passion for softball.

“I hope that when people think of me, they can say that when they watched me play, they could see how much I loved to compete in this game and that I worked hard at it,” Osterman says.

There is no question that Cat Osterman has made an impact on professional softball and the sport in general. Whether she’s in the pitching circle or coaching from behind the baselines, it’s safe to say she’s created a legacy for herself and will go down as one of the greatest players to ever step foot on the clay.

Osterman and the Pride begin their journey towards winning the Cowles Cup Sunday, June 8th at 8:05 PM ET. Tickets for the contest at Osceola County Stadium are available on dev.usssapride.com, and the game can be seen live in High Definition on USSSALive.com.

About USSSA Florida Pride:

The USSSA Florida Pride is a professional franchise in the National Pro Fastpitch League that is owned and operated by USSSA. The amateur organization of USSSA has multi-sport coverage and encompasses teams and players from the United States and abroad.

About NPF:

National Pro Fastpitch is headquartered in Nashville, TN. The league, created to give elite female fastpitch players the opportunity to pursue a professional career in their chosen sport, has operated since 1997 under the names of Women’s Pro Fastpitch (WPF) and Women’s Pro Softball League (WPSL). NPF is the Official Development Partner of Major League Baseball in the category of women’s fastpitch softball since 2002.

About USSSA:

The United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), headquartered in Osceola County, Florida, USSSA is the World’s Largest Multi-sport Athletic Organization. Founded in 1968, USSSA has grown to over 3.7 million participants, competing in 13 nationally sanctioned sports including Baseball, Fastpitch, Slow Pitch, Karate, Basketball, Soccer and more! For more information on USSSA and to register your team visit USSSA.com. Also be sure to visit USSSAToday.com for the latest USSSA News!