Long time readers of this blog know what big fans we are of former University of Texas softball standout Cat Osterman, and I was delighted when the opportunity arose to get together with her for coffee at Book People to catch up on her life and career. For those who weren't around during Cat's tenure at UT (2002-06), she dominated her sport more completely than any other athlete, in any other sport, I can think of. At the very least, she is probably the most dominant athlete ever to play a sport for Texas.
The numbers don't lie:
Freshman Season: Cat set UT single-season records for wins (36), innings pitched (304⅓), games started (40), shutouts (17), appearances (51), and consecutive innings without giving up an earned-run (79 2/3, spanning from February 13 to March 13), as well as the UT single-game record for innings-pitched (14) and strikeouts-in-a-game (23) in a March 1 game against Mississippi State University. In a March 20 game against Texas State, she broke her own UT record for strikeouts-in-a-game with 24 in a 12-inning match. She threw three perfect games, and tied the UT single-season record for complete games (27).
Sophomore Season: Osterman threw four more no-hitters, including another perfect game, while setting new UT career records for wins (68), shutouts (35), strikeouts (1,042), and opponents-batting-average (.105). She is the only pitcher in Big 12 Conference history to strike out 1,000 batters in only two seasons. She also broke the record for strikeouts-per-game with an average of 14.1 per seven-innings, beating the previous mark of 13.9 by Danielle Henderson of the University of Massachusetts in 1999; she surpassed her own UT single-season record for shutouts with 18, and tied her own shared record for complete games (27). From April 22 to May 22, she went a career-high and UT record 65 consecutive scoreless-innings.
Read her Wikipedia page for the rest, but needless to say her junior and senior seasons were just as bonkers. We're talking about the sport's best player here. Of all time.
After the jump, my conversation with Cat Osterman. And starting this spring, Cat will be doing some guest posting here at BON, writing about her experiences as she plays pro softball over in Japan.
PB: Thanks for getting together with me to catch up, Cat. Tell Burnt Orange Nation what you've been up to.
Cat Osterman: I spent three years coaching at DePaul and have spent the last two years playing summer pro league with [former UT catcher] Megan Willis. We won the title both years-in 2009 with Rockford and then this past summer with the USSSA Pride in Orlando. Unfortunately, however, I suffered an injury to my lower forearm that sidelined me for six to eight weeks. I couldn't twist it at all, which makes it impossible to pitch.
PB: Was this the first time you've suffered a major injury?
Cat Osterman: I actually blew out my ankle right after graduation and had to have reconstructive surgery, but it didn't cost me any playing time since it came in the offseason. These were the hardest six to eight weeks of my life. I basically had to just sit and let it rest.
But I came down to Austin with my team when we played Round Rock and met with Brian Elspermann, who is really big into arrosti and he-
PB: Arrosti? What's that?
Cat Osterman: I guess the best way to explain it is like a really intense deep tissue massage. It basically realigns your muscles. And it hurts really, really badly. But it worked, and I was able to start throwing again soon after seeing him. So I'm a huge believer in arrosti now.
PB: Pitching a baseball overhanded is an incredibly unnatural motion for the human body. Is softball pitching more natural?
Cat Osterman: It's a much more natural motion, which is why you don't see the same number of shoulder injuries in softball pitchers as you do baseball. Softball pitching is all about your legs and body, which is why it was so weird to all the sudden suffer this forearm injury. But it was awful-I couldn't even open doors. I couldn't even hold my purse; anything that put pressure on my forearm was extremely painful.
PB: Was there an injury ‘event' that caused it?
Cat Osterman: It actually happened during the title game of the world championships against Japan in Venezuela. Around the second inning I felt my forearm starting to tighten, but I was able to keep pitching because it wasn't hurting, it just felt tight. But finally in the fourth inning I threw a pitch and I didn't even see where it went because I immediately turned around in pain and I saw my trainer already coming over to me. The pitch didn't even make it, and I told the trainer, ‘It's going to rip if I throw one more.'
PB: Do softball pitchers watch their pitch counts in the same way baseball pitchers have to?
Cat Osterman: It really doesn't matter. I never have. Like I said, so much about softball pitching is about your legs, which are much stronger so you really don't have the same issues. And that's why you'll see softball pitchers go on back-to-back days.
PB: Which was awesome for fans, because we'd get to see what kind of insane numbers you could put up in a two-game box score. Osterman: 14 innings, 1 hit, 0 earned runs, 1 walk, 38 strikeouts. [Note: That's not at all an exaggeration. Through 11 games during her senior season, Cat had pitched 72 1/3 innings, allowed just 2 runs to score, walked just 10 batters, and struck out 172 batters.]
Speaking of your statistics, I have to ask: do you think anyone will ever break your records at UT?
Cat Osterman: [laughs] Well, since they changed the schedule so that teams can only play 56 games it makes it pretty unlikely, but even if they hadn't, I don't know. I guess you don't really realize it at the time, but looking back, the numbers were pretty out there.
PB: They're obscene is what they are. So what's next for you? Back to the pro league?
Cat Osterman: Actually, I'm going to go play pro softball in Japan.
PB: Oh wow. I'm jealous already.
Cat Osterman: Yeah it's a really exciting opportunity. I signed a five contract with Toyota Shokki, as did Megan Willis. I wasn't as keen on going on my own, but they also signed Megan so we'll be heading over there to play in Kariya.
PB: Have you been to Japan before?
Cat Osterman: I've been with the US national team, but never for an extended stay. So I'm really excited to get immersed in the culture in a sustained way and really take everything in.
PB: So you're going with Megan Willis, who has been your catcher for a lot of your career. Does it help having a catcher who you're comfortable with? Does that impact your pitching at all?
Cat Osterman: It really does. It makes a difference because she knows me so well and we know what we want to do. Toyota Shokki understood the way we work well together and signed us both, which will make the experience in Japan that much more fun.
PB: Do you speak any Japanese?
Cat Osterman: I don't yet, but they're actually going to give me classes. The Japanese players actually work full-time for the company, so they do things from eight to twelve with the company, and we have the option of taking English classes provided by the company three mornings a week.
PB: What's your mental approach like out there on the mound? Do you try to intimidate batters?
Cat Osterman: I'm really just focused on what I'm doing. Especially after a while, your reputation precedes you, so to speak, so I really just spend all my energy focusing on being consistent. And I'm a total perfectionist, as Megan will attest. She'll say, "That was a great pitch," and I'll not have been happy with it. We're talking centimeters here. So yeah, I'm just really locked in on my technique and mechanics. I can feel it when I deliver a pitch exactly right, and I've learned over the years that when I got off track it's because I was focused on who we were playing or what was going on around me.
PB: What do teams do when you're totally grooving on the mound?
Cat Osterman: Try to bunt. Except I've always played on great defensive teams so that doesn't work very well. If I walk a batter teams will get very aggressive on the base paths. Basically try and play small ball to manufacture a run.
PB: Okay, so most UT fans know you as an athlete, but I wanted to spend a couple minutes asking about Cat Osterman off the field. What do you like to do with your free time?
Cat Osterman: I absolutely love to snowboard. Tina Boutelle and I take a snowboarding trip every winter-this year we went to Park City, Utah and had a great time snowboarding there. I love to be outside, generally, and now that I'm back in Austin I'm spending a lot of time doing some of the things I didn't do-didn't often have time to do-when I was here in college. I just got a Kindle for Christmas, which will be great for going to Japan. I love to read.
PB: Have you read anything great recently?
Cat Osterman: The Alchemist was fantastic. I'm reading Pirate Latitudes right now, and it's okay, but not great.
PB: College or post-college life? Which is better?
Cat Osterman: Post-college, for sure. You're just much more on your own timetable. In college, there's so much more structure and obligations to be somewhere at particular times, and now there's just a lot more flexibility. It's definitely harder to find someone to work out with you all the time, but I've been lucky to have been in places where I can get that done, and when I'm back in Austin I always am able to find someone to work hard with me. But it's definitely a lot more enjoyable now. And I get to travel a lot more, which I love.
PB: Do you remain close with the Texas softball program?
Cat Osterman: For the most part. Coach Clark is fantastic, and I'm still friends with [Texas assistant coach] Tina Boutelle. I want to stay close to the program. I gave so much of myself to Texas softball, and it's been a big part of my life.
PB: I'd guess the ladies on the team today grew up idolizing you.
Cat Osterman: It's funny to think about, but some probably did. I know that Blair [Luna], the pitcher at UT now, watched the video I made. And she sort of resembles me, which is scary. Having fans still feels a little weird, but it's also kind of cool.
PB: So what's down the line for you? Do you see yourself coaching five years from now?
Cat Osterman: You know, I'm not sure. If you'd asked me two years ago, that's probably what I would have said, but I didn't fall in love with it. So I don't really know yet. I'm sure it will be something with the sport, but I can't say for sure what I want to be doing down the line. I know I won't be playing in five years. My body won't last that long, that's for sure.
PB: Before I let you go, I should ask: are you a big fan of other UT sports? Do you have a chance to keep up?
Cat Osterman: I'm a huge fan of the volleyball team. I think Coach Elliott's first year here was my freshman year and he's just done an incredible job building up that program to where it is now. They're just so much fun to watch. I don't keep up with the ladies basketball team as much as I once did, but I know they're not doing as well right now. And football-oh God. That was not a fun season to be a fan.
PB: So who should Mack Brown hire to come in on offense?
Cat Osterman: I just have this feeling it's going to be Major Applewhite. Which I wouldn't mind at all. I think that would be a good thing.
PB: You're not the only one. Cat, thank you so much for your time. And best of luck in Japan. We'll look forward to your blog posts from the Far East.
Cat Osterman: Absolutely. It's going to be a lot of fun.