Six years after first retiring from playing competitive softball, Cat Osterman has retired once again — and this time it appears to be for good.
One of the sport’s greatest players, Osterman wraps an unforgettable chapter (well, chapters) with three Olympic medals, two world titles, three Pan American Games gold medals, four National Pro Fastpitch championships, an Athletes Unlimited championship, three USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year awards and a national team career that spanned an astounding 18 years.
Unlike in 2015, when the Chicago Bandits beat Osterman’s USSSA Pride 1-0 in the NPF final, this time she went out on a high note.
The 38-year-old finished the Athletes Unlimited season helping Team Chidester to a 3-1 win over Team Ocasio late Monday night. Osterman pitched 6.2 innings, striking out six, walking one and allowing one unearned run in her career finale.
“This is the start of a new chapter for one of the greatest competitors, pitchers, representatives of softball, and one of the greatest people to ever wear the USA uniform,” U.S. head coach Ken Eriksen said in a USA Softball statement. “Cat’s career has had an impact on the way the game has been viewed by both women and men. She has left an indelible mark on the game as well as on many people across the country. I have been one of the luckiest people to have been around her all these years while witnessing her historic career.”
The second-best pitcher in the league this season, she played her final game with several of her Tokyo Olympic teammates on the field: Amanda Chidester and Dejah Mulipola on her side, and Haylie McCleney, Kelsey Stewart, Janie Reed and Olympic alternate Hannah Flippen opposing.
In the second stint of her career, Osterman was the inaugural Athletes Unlimited champion in 2020 and placed fifth this season. Only one athlete, Chidester, in the top-25 comes within seven years of Osterman’s age; she has 10-15 years on most players, not that her age ever shows on the mound.
“I think the fact that it’s been proven now that women can continue to play this game well beyond the age of 30, well beyond 35, I hope I see some of these players playing when they’re 35, 36, 38,” Osterman told Athletes Unlimited over the weekend.
“If somebody wants to go into their 40s like Kelly Kretschman, by all means, go right ahead. I have all the tricks in the trade if they want to learn how to take care of their bodies and everything else. It’s truly humbling, I guess, or exciting to hear people say that because that’s not what the point of un-retirement was. But if that motivates people to continue to play well into 30s to 40s, I’ll take it because someone had to do it first, I guess.”
Osterman’s first stint started off when she set records as a Texas Longhorn freshman that still stand today. Her stellar college career ended with school records in eight categories, all of which remain in tact. Fifteen years after graduating, Osterman still holds the NCAA Division I strikeout ratio record and is second in strikeouts, WHIP and perfect games.
She was named USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year in 2003, 2005 and 2006 (she redshirted in 2004) and remains the only player to earn the honor more than twice. She also earned the Honda award for softball in 2005 and 2006, and ESPYs in those two years.
Osterman joined the national team in 2003 and played for the red, white and blue every year until 2010, when she first retired from national team play knowing that softball had been removed from the Olympic program following 2008.
In that stretch, she helped the U.S. win gold at the 2003 Pan American Games, 2004 Olympic Games, 2006 World Cup of Softball, 2006 World Championships, 2007 World Cup of Softball, 2007 Pan American Games, 2009 World Cup of Softball, 2010 World Cup of Softball and 2010 World Championships, plus silver at the 2008 Olympic Games.
Osterman was the youngest U.S. player in Athens in 2004 at 21 years old and led the team, which included fellow legendary pitchers Jennie Finch and Lori Harrigan, with 23 strikeouts.
Four years later in Beijing, she was still one of the six youngest players on a 15-member team and continued to dominate with 33 strikeouts, including striking out 13 in a no-hitter against eventual bronze medalist Australia; it was the U.S.’ second no-hitter in Olympic history.
The U.S. lost the gold-medal game to Japan, 3-1, for the first Olympic loss of Osterman’s career and the team’s first since 2000, following a 22-game Olympic win streak. It was the first time a team other than the U.S. had won gold in Olympic history.
Osterman continued with the national team for the next two seasons, and the NPF for five more after that.
She was the No. 1 NPF draft in 2007 and in her nine-year professional career playing for the Rockford Thunder and USSSA Pride, she amassed 1,260 strikeouts, four season titles and was named to the All-NPF team six times.
She played her then-final game Aug. 17, 2015. The Pride retired No. 8 in her honor in 2017.
Osterman married Joey Ashley and became stepmother to Bracken in 2016 and spent several years as associate head coach at Texas State.
With the 2016 news that softball would rejoin the Olympics in 2020, Osterman announced her change of heart in 2018. She tried out for – and made – the national team in 2019 with a strong desire to avenge the 2008 loss that ended her Olympic career.
In her first season playing for the U.S. in nine years, it was like Osterman had never left. She had seven strikeouts in 5.1 innings and a 0.00 ERA en route to Japan Cup gold. At the Pan American Games, where she had last played 12 years prior, she finished with a 2.25 ERA and had 18 strikeouts in 9.1 innings pitched.
She was named to the Olympic team in October of that year.
“They were in the mindset of, yes I’m here and I’m still competing, there’s nothing guaranteed whatsoever; they never let their elite status in the softball world ever be a factor,” coach Eriksen said of Osterman and Monica Abbott, a fellow pitcher on the 2008 Olympic team who came out of national team retirement in 2018, at the time. “They just never did. They checked their ego at the door and just continued to play ball.”
The pandemic delayed her final Olympic Games by a year but that didn’t deter Osterman – or any player on the U.S. squad – from waiting.
This summer, she was the oldest U.S. player in Tokyo by over two years (and was six years older than the oldest first-time Olympian). Among the six countries competing, Osterman was the fifth-oldest player and one of just five players who had also competed in Athens 17 years prior.
While Abbott led the team, Osterman had 15 strikeouts in 14.2 innings.
Despite having won the last two world championships over Japan and defeating the host nation one day before the Olympic gold-medal game, the U.S. again fell to its longtime rival and settled for Olympic silver, this time 2-0.
“Obviously it’s a heartbreak to not come home with the gold, but at the same time you have a silver medal,” Osterman said after the game. “How many people would give for that? So, learn from it but also just accept where you are in the present moment. To all the little girls out there, keep dreaming the dream.”
The result made her the oldest Olympic softball silver medalist, third-oldest softball medalist in Tokyo and one of only seven Americans with three or more Olympic medals in the sport. She and Abbott are the only two-time silver medalists in the sport.
Softball has already been left out of the Paris 2024 Games, meaning the next chance for any softball player to compete in the Olympics is in seven years in Los Angeles and making Osterman’s decision to retire for one final time an easy one.
In a letter to the sport posted to her Instagram on Tuesday morning, Osterman wrote:
“Our tango on the field has ended, but I won’t be too far away. I’ll share all you’ve taught me with anyone and everyone. I’ll help others love you the way I have, and I’ll be cheering loudly as you grow and give my peers continuous challenges and successes.
“For the last time as an athlete, I say goodbye to you.”
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