Cat Osterman celebrates winning the first-ever Athletes Unlimited title last season. (Courtesy of Athletes Unlimited)

Heading into the final weekend of the Athletes Unlimited season, and the final weekend of her softball career, pitching legend Cat Osterman is focused on just one thing: enjoying herself. 

“I’m ready to walk away,” she tells Just Women’s Sports. “There will be no regrets. I have given everything I can to this game. 

“But as a teammate, I just want to have fun.”

Coming out of retirement wasn’t even a remote possibility for Osterman in 2015 when she first stepped away from the sport. At the time, she was ready to hang up the cleats for good. 

Everything changed when softball was added to the Tokyo Olympics after being taken off the program following the 2008 Games. As Osterman explained on the Just Women’s Sports podcast last year, she was first asked to help coach the US team before deciding she still had some gas left in the tank.

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The addition of Athletes Unlimited introducing softball as its first professional league in 2020 was a silver lining in the midst of it all.

“I am glad I unretired and came back, but I’m fully ready [to retire],” Osterman says, adding that the biggest thing she’s learned over the past two years has been how much she truly enjoys playing softball.

“I think I am very intense and serious so often that my enjoyment of the game doesn’t always come through,” she continues. “But I truly enjoyed playing and have been able to let loose in moments that I didn’t before.”

At 38 years old, getting to know new faces, be it through Athletes Unlimited or with the U.S. National Team, has been a highlight for Osterman. Season two of Athletes Unlimited has been different from season one in that the athletes are no longer in a bubble. That means more bonding activities outside of just softball. The league has enabled Osterman to connect with players she might not normally have crossed paths with, like outfielder Ciara Bryan.

“We went to a White Sox game and [Bryan] was like, ‘Hey, do you want to be in my Snap?’ And I was like, ‘Sure. I’m not a big Snapchat person, but hey, you want me in your snap? I’ll jump in and say hi,’” Osterman says. “And just to learn that that was her first MLB game ever was crazy.”

Playing with Athletes Unlimited has also allowed Osterman’s friends and family to see her play one last time after fans were barred from the Tokyo Olympics. At previous Olympics, Osterman was used to having a dozen plus family members cheering her on from the stands. 

“I’ve had a very supportive family throughout my whole career,” she says, adding that a lot of family will be coming to Chicago to watch her this weekend.

“That’s always cool to be able to see those people in the stands, and just feel their love and their presence, because they’ve been a huge part of my career.” 

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Heading straight from the Olympics into the Athletes Unlimited season has been a grind for the 23 players that were in Tokyo, including Osterman. 

“There were two-and-a-half, three weeks in between the end of one season and the start of the next,” she says. “That’s not really a lot of time for us to process everything, to be able to decompress, physically come down from all the training that we’ve been doing for the last two years.”

But that’s where enjoying the game and not letting expectations get the best of you comes in. For Osterman, the past four weeks have been about doing it because she loves softball and nothing else. 

Still, as many athletes continue to open up about their mental health, Osterman admits that while she’s not one to always put her thoughts on social media, it’s been a struggle. 

“I’ve been home 13 days in the last three months, and that’s tough,” she says.  “Mentally, it’s surrounding yourself with the right people, talking to the right people so they fill your love up. They fill your heart up. 

“I think for me, knowing this is the end, I approach every week with, ‘You know what? I’m going to leave everything I have out on the field.’

“Some days I have my stuff. Some days I don’t. When I don’t, it’s frustrating. But at the same time, I’ve got to offer myself a little bit of grace and know that what we have gone through in the last two years is a lot.”

Osterman will head into her final weekend of Athletes Unlimited softball in an unusual position — for the first time in two years, she won’t be captaining a team. After losing the top spot in week three to Amanda Chidester, she now sits at 10th on the leaderboard with 1,216 total points. 

After winning the inaugural individual title last season, Osterman says this season is all about having fun and not stressing about the outcome. 

“At the end of the day, does [our performance] make or break where we end in the standings? Yes,” she says. “But does it make or break our careers? No, not at all.”

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No matter what happens this weekend, Osterman will still retire as one of the greatest pitchers the sport has ever known, one with one Olympic gold and two silver medals to her name. Her number has already been retired with the USSSA Pride after amassing a 95-24 record during her career on the National Pro Fastpitch. The University of Texas likewise retired her number last year, making her the first UT softball player and third woman in university history to have her jersey retired. 

Her venture with Athletes Unlimited has been just as successful and historic. Osterman will forever be the first-ever champion in league history. And while she might not repeat this year, she still made history all the same, tossing the first no-hitter in Athletes Unlimited history.

As a legendary career draws to a close, Osterman insists that she’s staying in the present, and that she’ll be focused this weekend on celebrating another successful season of Athletes Unlimited. She’s hopeful the league can continue to grow as the pre-eminent professional league in the country. 

If there’s an avenue, Osterman says she’d love to stay involved with the league. But for now, she’s excited about the prospect of finally being able to step off of the field and into the rest of her life. This time, it really is for good. 

“It’s crazy to think that I will never put on the cleats again,” she says. “But I’m excited to celebrate the end of another successful AU season with these athletes. It’s not about me. I’m obviously going to walk away. But just for them to have this avenue and to have been a part of it in the first two seasons is pretty cool.”

Editor’s note: Athletes Unlimited is a sponsor of Just Women’s Sports.