Olympic gold and silver medalist Cat Osterman, 35, announced in October that she was coming out of retirement with the goal of making Team USA and competing in the 2020 Olympics. This week, she shares her experience as she takes part in national team trials in Clearwater, Florida.
I had the revelation walking through the hotel Thursday morning, the second day of USA Softball's selection camp. I realized that regardless of what the roster says Monday, and whether or not I'm part of the team in 2019, this experience has been completely worth it.
I don't just mean worth it to get back in the circle and pitch again after three years away. I mean worth it to come back and be around these athletes, to let loose and relax. This is fun.
At least that was how I felt Thursday morning.
The night before, pitching here in Florida for the first time, I felt like I might be sick.
Kelsey Stewart, who was the hero for Team USA when it beat Japan to win the world championship this summer but was in college when I retired from the NPF [National Pro Fastpitch], told me after that first scrimmage here that she and her teammates were excited to get the chance to face me for the first time.
"Great," I thought. "You're excited, and I'm over here ready to puke."
So yeah, Day 1 was a little rough. After breakfast at the hotel, we went to the field and went through defensive drills. After lunch we started the scrimmages, but I wasn't scheduled to pitch until the evening. Sitting in the dugout, it was a good chance to get to know some people and put faces with the names. It wasn't until almost time to go to the bullpen to warm up that the enormousness of the moment hit me.
You're back in a competitive environment for the first time in three years -- I wanted to go back and count the days since my last game for the USSSA Pride exactly because I'm pretty sure it's somewhere over a thousand days. Let's just say there were some butterflies. Dinner before the night session was from Jason's Deli -- good sandwiches -- but I was so nervous that I think I would have puked if I had eaten the whole sandwich.
"Great. You're excited, and I'm over here ready to puke." Cat Osterman
I don't know that I've ever been that nervous. That was the part that was different for me. Not only was I nervous -- I was extremely nervous. I would say that didn't go away until well into that scrimmage. At least the worst of the nervousness faded by then.
Day 2 was a little better; my timing got a little better. It's just getting back and figuring out the little things. Yes, I teach my kids I coach at Texas State rhythm and routine and this and that, and you think when you get back out there yourself that it's just going to be automatic. There are just things that aren't automatic. So it's been getting back into the feel of it in a short period of time.
And Friday morning, my third of five days, probably felt as close to my old self as possible.
The first time out, there were certain pitches when I felt like everything came together. Then there were whole at-bats the next day when I had that feeling. The third day, Friday morning, that was when I felt like the whole outing was something close to complete. It's a process. I'm trying not to self-analyze too much right now. Maybe I would if things didn't feel right and I had been pitching for the past three years. But I feel pretty good right now, so I'm just going with it.
I can't complain too much. It took me a while, but I got comfortable. I'm having fun and feel like I'm throwing pretty well.
Throwing well enough to help this team in the 2020 Olympics was my goal all along. That was why I came back. But I've got to admit, having fun is the surprise reward out of all of this.
When I finished pitching the first night, Danielle O'Toole was leaning over the fence near the dugout. As I walked that way, she said, "So talk to me. How do you feel?"
It was genuine. That was cool. Danielle was part of the team that won the world championship this summer. We're all competing as pitchers, obviously, but we're not avoiding each other. There's no ill will if someone does well. There's a tradition here of keeping things as equal as possible during the trials -- runners don't tip pitches from second base, pitchers don't talk to each other about scouting reports on hitters, that kind of thing. But as pitchers, we'll talk about the craft of pitching or life or whatever. I've had tons of conversations with Carley Hoover. She's a trip, she's great. I've had great conversations with Kelly Barnhill and Jess Moore.
I've seen a lot of these athletes play on TV, with their colleges or when the national team is on, but I haven't seen them in person. It's fun to see and talk to a new generation. And often funny.
That first day, Kelly came over and introduced herself, "Hi, I'm Kelly."
I was like, "Yeah, I know." Everyone who follows softball knows who Kelly Barnhill is.
I didn't expect a bad reception or people to be rude. It's just that I didn't know what to expect because I didn't know most of these people at all. It was all one big unknown. But they have all been super friendly and super welcoming. It's been awesome to come back to an organization you were part of, but now with completely new people, and almost feel like you never left.
Sure, there are things they talk about that I've heard my Texas State players talk about. And I want to shake my head and roll my eyes -- like you do when you hear your players talk about it. But it's like, "Oh, these are my teammates." Most of the time it's about something I don't even understand, and my automatic response is, "I'm too old for that." They just laugh.
Even Jess Moore, we were driving back from the field Friday morning and talking about her time playing at Oregon. I told her I remembered watching her in travel ball when I was recruiting as an assistant coach at DePaul.
She gave me this funny look because she said she doesn't feel like she's that much younger than me -- and it's true, she's one of the more experienced players here. But she was still in high school when we lost the gold-medal game in the 2008 Olympics. Time moves fast.
It has been really enjoyable to be around everybody and be back in it. That's the thing that has stood out the most. That's the thing that surprised me. For the first time in a long time, I might be relaxed and having fun. I say having fun -- I mean, I'm still competing, but actually having fun competing with these guys, as opposed to feeling stressed and worried and all that jazz.
I'm obviously focused on throwing well, but it's more that the experience has already been worth it. I'm going to give it my all, but if Monday comes and I'm not on the roster, I'm not going to feel like I wasted my time at all.