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People think you were born out of the womb, is this amazing athlete all of a sudden and it's like I learned to pitch and I was very average for a long time, and then everything clicked.
Welcome to the Just Women's Sports podcast, where we talk to the biggest athletes in the world about the untold stories behind their success. I'm Kelly O'Hara and my guest today is Pat Osterman. Kat Osterman is the most dominant pitcher in the history of softball at the University of Texas. Cat became the only player to win three USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year awards. In 2004, she led Team USA with 23 strikeouts during the gold medal run at the Athens Olympics.
She again helped the team take home silver in Beijing, a four time national pro basket's champion, and came out of retirement in 2017 and hopes to help Team USA win gold now 2021. Tokyo or. Kat, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. I'm excited to talk to you today. And we're just going to start off going back to where it all started for you back to the beginning. You were born and raised in Houston, Texas.
What was your early childhood like and how would you say you were first introduced to sports in general?
I played sports as soon as I think I could walk and hold balls and kick balls and everything else. So I grew up in a family that loves basketball. My dad's from southern Illinois. And so football wasn't really something we had on the TV when I was growing up. But as soon as I was capable of playing sports, I was I was in sports funny. I actually was in soccer for a long time, was a pretty good goalie from what everyone tells me.
But I got really bored being a goalie. So I said, no, I need to I need to go find something else to do. Did you start soccer first? Which sport was your first? Soccer was first. Soccer was first. We introduced basketball in third grade when we could play with the YMCA and then softball. Actually, I played one year in like first or second grade and didn't like it and quit and then went back to it when I got bored from standing in the goal.
So really? Yeah. Yeah. So I picked up softball again, probably in about fifth, fifth grade. And that was, that's when I started pitching though like the first time I was just ever but like the five year old picking flowers out in that field or something because I say five year old softball must be off of a tee, right? Yeah, well, that was the problem was so they put first through fifth graders on the same team because they had just like leagues had divided.
So they didn't have enough teams. I'm like first and fifth grade. That's a big maturity gap there. So, of course, the first graders were all out in the outfield picking flowers and chasing butterflies. So, God, it got it. It was a little intimidating. So I was like, oh, not for me right now. Thinks we're into it.
That's so funny that you essentially quit the sport that you ended up being uber successful and later on in life as like five year old. Yeah. And I really went back to just because I was like, I don't think I want to play soccer anymore. I don't really like being goalie. And obviously they didn't think I could do anything else because they would like, oh, at halftime you can play midfield or whatever. And I was like, OK.
And then have time to be like, oh, the game's really close. We need to just stay in the goal. I'm like, great, thanks. That's so yeah. When I said that my dad was like, OK, well what do you want to do. He's like, you already play basketball in the winter, what do you want to do? And I was like, I don't know. He's like, do you want to try it again?
I was like, sure, we can try.
That was the type of thing where your parents were like, you got to be doing a sport basically every season. Pretty much, yeah, pretty much. I can't remember a season without a sport, to be honest. Sam, did you do anything else besides softball, basketball and soccer?
I played volleyball in junior high and then my freshman year of high school ended up quitting, leaving that just because competitive softball was playing in the fall. So it was like I had to I had to balance too much. And I was like, if I'm going to go play softball in college, I might as well just go ahead and leave. Leave behind ran track in junior high. I like long distance running. So that part was I would have been a perfect soccer player if they would have let me try it.
No kidding. Oh, that's so funny that they didn't let you because. Yeah, I feel like most people don't like long distance like the people. The thing people hate about playing soccer is that you have to run so much. Yeah, but now that I'm older, I'm like, I don't know how you guys run five miles a game for like one goal. That's just too much.
The return on investment isn't that high sometimes, that's for sure. So you quit as a five year old. You came back to it as a fifth grader and that's when you started to get into pitching.
And what was the thing about pitching that you fell in love with?
I fell in love with it from the first time I got to try it. To be honest, I think some of it is being so active. Obviously, we have to throw every pitch for the game to proceed, but I think it was just the challenge of hitting a good spot. Well, the first time would probably have been just getting the ball over the plate to where it made someone swing. But Little League had rules where pitchers can only pitch so many innings and the other two on our team had because of rain outs and stuff being made up, they had met their innings since our coaches like who wants to try to pitch?
And I was the first person to raise my hand, like, I'll try it that way.
Done it. Yeah. And then did it. And after the game, my dad, I was like, I think I want to pitch, I want pitching lessons. I want to learn how to do this. And so when you raise your hand to say, I'll I'll try it, you would never pitched before. Did you just go off of what? Like watching what everyone else was doing and say, oh, I can just mimic their actions?
Pretty much. That's just fascinating. Let me do something other than stand up first in the outfield then. Yeah, just figure figure out how to get your arm in a circle and throw it there and but yeah, after that I, I, my dad said that. He looks like you came off the field and beaming ear to ear, it was just like, this is what I want to do. So that's so cool. So for my 11th birthday, I asked for pitching lessons like I didn't want anything other than to be able to go to pitching lessons.
That's amazing. So you really did just it was love at first pitch, essentially. Yep, it really was. It really was. And it's such a technical technique, which makes me sound stupid for saying it like that.
So you immediately got into lessons and started to work on that technical side of the game.
Do you love that part of it?
Learning and kind of fine tuning and mastering that skill?
Yeah. So, yeah, I started the lessons right away. My dad and I practiced for a little while before I ever got back in another game. He didn't let me go try again, really.
He was like, you can't pitch again until in practice more. Yeah. So part of it was my that was my pitching coach. His philosophy to me is like we're going to pitch and get technique right before you go back in a game and, you know, change your mechanics just to try to get the ball over the plate. So I practiced for a while and I loved it. I did. And you hit the nail on the head. It's it's trying to master every little part of it.
It's trying to be as perfect as possible, even though we can't be perfect every single pitch. When I was young, it was about. Yes, like what Mechanics' can I change or fix to be better? And then obviously as you get older, you start throwing pitches that move and change speeds and this and that. And just being able to try to master those and control those as perfectly as possible was a game. It was so fun for me.
And it still is. I mean, thirty seven. I'm so trying to make this ball move and MFAT so. Right. I know it's so, it's so funny to as you get older in your sport, for me I'm the same way. I'm like I love mastering or feeling like I can get as close to perfection as possible.
So at what point do you feel like you realized you had it and you could go super far and also decided like, this is what I want to do.
So that's probably about fourteen is when I knew I wanted to play in college and I had talked to my dad about it. And there's no real reason why I fell in love with the University of Texas as a fourth or fifth grader at some point in time. I think in Texas you just decide you're either Longhorn or an Aggie at some point in life.
I'd like to do it pretty early. I might have a greater you know, my parents like having no ties either. It was like, oh, I'm going to be a long, hard. I just remember getting this purplish gray Longhorn shirt for Christmas and it was like the best Christmas present ever. And I'm like, why did I choose that of all things at that point in time? But that is super funny. You can't pinpoint what it was.
It was I wasn't born there, so I wasn't even big at softball yet. Like, I have no idea. So, you know, at thirteen fourteen I talked to my dad about wanting to play in college. If he thought I could be good enough to walk on somewhere, would we be able to make that work? And so the thought process started as far as putting the process in place for the future. And then I was being recruited already.
So when the recruiting carousel started, when I was summer between junior and senior year, there was obviously a lot of interest from a lot of schools across country. And so that was kind of the first, OK, we've made it moment. I think my dad thought we would get some interest from some schools, but when the letters started coming in, it was just like, oh, all right, this is a different level. Yeah, well, you just said, you guys, your first conversation was about if you could walk on, which is easy.
It's crazy to think about because I did. I specifically remember a girl from our area had gone to Texas and I had asked my dad, do you think I could be good enough to walk on in Texas because she's going there? And he was like, I think you can be that good, but it's like we'll keep working. And that was my dad. My dad was like, oh, I'm sure you probably have similar stories. Like you might have performed well, but we could have done something better.
And it's not the demeaning talk, but it's just like the you you need to keep working talk. I tell people all the time I gave up, I think, five hundred home runs in the driveway because you'd be like, oh, so-and-so hit that one, oh so-and-so hit that one.
And I'm like, you would just smash against you. All right. Thanks, Dad.
And then when I was 17 was kind of the big aha moment for me. I got to play against the 20 Olympic team as they toured before going to Sydney. And I pitched five innings, allowed one hit and struck out 11 as a high schooler against Team USA as a high schooler. Yeah, and that's OK. As I say, that had it been like, all right, yeah, I could do this. I left that and looked at my dad was like, OK, I want to be on that team one day.
And he is like, OK, I think you could do that. That is cool. Yeah, exactly.
You could do that, but keep working. So was that your first time that you thought, oh, I want to I want to be on Team USA, I want to go the way we had gone to see them play their exhibition game in ninety six in Houston? And it was like, oh cool, softball's in the Olympics but still just a little bit too young and still in my kind of developmental phase of self Bulford to for that to be like an actual dream.
But then after two thousand I was like yep that's there it is. Yeah. That's, those are pretty impressive stats as a high schooler against a fully professional, the best women in the country for it was insane.
I still remember the game to this day and it's just like adrenaline, high emotions and like every strikeout you would have thought we just like won the game because I was so excited. It was a win win as far as you get this experience. And if you lose, you're supposed to. It's OK. But every strikeout I was just jumping for joy and I got my invite to the national program the next summer. And I remember some really girls like you were so cocky or so.
And I'm like that was called like pure bliss.
I didn't expect to even, like, strike out any of you yet alone. Eleven. So I was like it was it was a really cool experience, though. Yeah.
I'm sure. I also read that in one high school game you struck out thirty three batters in fourteen innings, which is just insane. It set a national record for strikeouts in a game less than 20 innings.
Do you remember that? Do I also I think I also scored the winning run in the 14th inning. No. Yeah, that was in high school.
We were playing Cy-Fair, which was actually one of our our rivals. They were historically very good in softball. And yeah, that was the first club team I ever played on. My coach's daughter played on that team and another I'd like two or three of the girls played on that team. So it was always fun playing against them because I was playing against some of my former teammates and they were good. And that was a long game. That's one of those.
Yeah, extra innings. And you're like, OK, maybe we'll go to ten. And then after ten you're like, OK, somebody can score, anybody can score. Can we figure this out? Just somebody said fourteen innings, essentially two games back to back. Yeah, that's wild. So at what point did you commit to Texas.
How. It was the fall of my senior year. So recruiting was kind of I say the old calendar, the normal calendar that most people did. So we took our visits at the beginning of our senior year and then we committed usually by October, exciting day was in November. And so I took two of my five visits canceled, too. And that same team that played the Olympic team, six of us ended up going to Texas together. So no way.
Yeah, it was a pretty cool experience to be able to stay with friends, but I love Texas. When I visited, my dad had taken me up there to college games once I got serious about softball and it was just an atmosphere I loved. And I think more importantly, I was still home in Texas, but I was also far enough away from home that, you know, mom and dad couldn't just drop in for lunch or come check on me all the time for sure.
So going into Texas or into your career at Texas, how was the team before you got there? They were two years removed from going to the World Series for the first time. So they were a young program. But Crystal Williams, who is an Olympian from Houston as well, had transferred from UCLA to Texas after her freshman year. And so she had taken them to the World Series, I think, in their fourth, third or fourth year. And then she actually opted out of her senior year to try to kind of go the endorsement route with the Olympic team.
And so then there's one year in between us and that I started. So they were good, but they were still up and coming.
Yeah. So you guys were kind of filling in and like creating what could become something great for sure. When you arrived your freshman year, you were second team all-American and Big Twelve picture of the year right off the bat. Did you expect to be that successful immediately getting into the college game?
Honestly had no idea. I think you're confident because you have a great club career and no one really knows what the next level is and. So you get to the next level, and my first weekend out was terrible.
Thankfully, my dad last minute for the tournament or else I probably may not have gotten on the plane to go home, but it was one of those things that you're in the moment and you just kind of are trying to buy into everything. Everyone's feeding you, coach's strength, trainer, all of it, and definitely didn't expect to be that successful early. But at the same time, having my national team experience from the summer prior to entering college also knew that I had something if they selected me on that team, that I had something.
And I just needed to figure out how to adjust to the next level. So that was definitely being called into Team USA. Leading into your freshman year was probably a huge, huge confidence, huge learning experience. Yeah, obviously I was the only high schooler and I was I think there was only one girl who had just been a freshman.
Everyone else was like a sophomore, older and, you know, just trying to pick their brains and learn and figure out what it is I'm going to have to face off at as soon as I get to school. Yeah. Absorb as much as possible being one of the younger ones.
Well, you not only through the first perfect game in UT history, you threw three of them your freshman year, which set a national record for freshmen, which goes along with your amazing transition from club to college.
Can you explain to listeners what a perfect game is?
So perfect game. Basically seven innings. Twenty one outs. No one gets on base, no hits, no walks, no hit by pitches. You have to cut your defense, too, because no errors. Four balls that are put in place for sure. And it's really freaking hard to do. But yeah, I remember the first one because I knew obviously as the game ended, knew what we had had a perfect game. Like when you start to think about what did hitters do?
And it was like, oh, they announced it, but no one celebrated or anything like it was a double header. So was the first game a double header? We were all like just filing into the dugout to go the locker room. And no one announcer then came on and said, oh, that was the first perfect game in history. And then the stands claps of coaches like go back out there.
But I didn't know it was the first one in history until he said that. So, God, it was pretty cool, though, as a freshman, I remember I didn't expect to do that. I opened the Everyone gets the media guy and I opened it to the records page when I was a freshman. And I looked at whatever the strikeout record was. And I was like, Dad, that's what I'm aiming at. So now I set a goal.
And then obviously that was I surpassed it by quite a bit.
Yeah, just a little bit, I'm sure. I thought that any time a batter was at bat and they hit the ball, that counted as a hit, but it only count if they get on base, correct? Yeah. So that's why I like a perfect game. You might not throw strikeouts, they might hit the ball. But like you said, you have to credit your defense. And it's obviously a big. Credit to the picture as well, because you're doing so much work as a picture, how conscious are you of the fact that in the moment you're pitching a perfect game?
Is it like what is your internal dialogue look like doing that?
I'm pretty good at remembering what hitters do, so I usually know what's going on, but I don't start thinking about it probably to like the fifth inning because there's just a second, third, fourth inning. Still so much game left. Yeah. So it's about the fifth inning that I start looking at it. It's like, all right, can we make this work? So but it's not internal dialogue as long as as much as like when you go out for the seventh in college, we had like if we get dirty everyone.
No, like a no hitter, a perfect game was on the line. Like we're going all out for every play that we can. I love Get Dirty, that's all.
So it was fun, but those are their intense moments, too, because you're like really trying not to give up the hit. But then at the same time, you can't be too tense and like try to be too perfect because then you're going to walk somebody and that just totally gets a whole nother door and usually snowballs into a negative effect anyways. So. Oh yeah. Because if you walk somebody then it's not a perfect game. Oh my God.
Perfect games in saying thank you.
I've never really thought about what goes into that. That's crazy. Wow. OK, well your sophomore year you just got better, which is also crazy to think about. I'm going to read some highlights. You led the nation in era and strikeout ratio. I don't have you explain these things. And in your second season at Texas, you broke the school's career record for strikeouts, which you had just said you went into freshman year wanting to break and you broke it your sophomore year.
No big deal. Shutouts and wins. So you broke all those records your sophomore year. And then first team all-American and USA softball collegiate player of the year. And then you made your first trip to the College World Series that year where you tied a World Series record with seventeen strikeouts against Cal.
So I feel like I mean, you obviously had a prolific freshman year, but then sophomore year you just exploded even more like were you just building on your freshman year or was it like switch flipped, walk me through freshman to sophomore year?
Yeah. So I benefited again, like had national team every summer in between all my all my years of college. That's what everyone's like. Oh, do you get summer vacation. I'm like, if you call playing softball vacation then.
Yes exactly. I know I yeah.
I never had summer, never had spring break except for one exactly the same thing. Never get it. And so I was building on freshmen like freshman year to sophomore year. I had the national team in the middle learn some things during that summer just in kind of just like how to place my pitches a little better when hitters move in the box, different pitch calling philosophy, that kind of stuff, and just starting to be more confidence built. And so by the end of my sophomore year, I was really confident in knowing what my best pitches were when I needed to throw them.
So a lot of people there's young pitchers that don't want to shake off because they don't want to have to think about the way they're pitching and how they're setting up pitches and shake off that to the list.
Yes, because I know I think I know what it is. It's when you say no, I want that. But when the when the catcher is telling you most the time the pitching coach is given the catcher the signal and the catcher is giving it to the pitcher. And so that's where a lot of times the college pitchers are like, well, my coach knows better, so they just throw it. But if I ask me if it's if I don't if I'm not completely convicted on the pitch, I'm not going to I'm not a throw it.
And so there were times that I probably shook off more than most pitchers at that age, but I was confident in what I could throw. So I just know there were a number of times that. I just went with my gut, as opposed to probably on paper, what looked like it would work. Yeah, yeah, that's cool. I like that. I feel like that's a very mature characteristic to have as a college player to just trust, like, I know what I can do and I'm going to do it.
And I think being able to play in the USA program gave me that. If I didn't have that, I don't know that I have that same confidence. But for sure, the national program is this pitcher catcher working. So it's like I do have more control and more input into what we're throwing. And so when you come from that element and then now it's like, OK, well, I know this works because I've done it already. So wait.
So at the national team level, the coach isn't giving the pitching signal? No. So a national team level, we we have film sessions, scouting report charts from years past, whatever it is. And we go over all that. And based on who's throwing and the catcher calls the game.
I didn't know that I would have thought that the coach still had some sort of input in that every now and then before we go out for an inning, if there's a certain hitter we need to keyon or something he would give us like let's stay away to the center. So, like, he gives us little tidbits here and there. But yeah, so it's different. Some colleges let their catchers call the game. By the time by the halfway through my junior year, my catcher was calling my game at Texas.
And is that like you create this relationship with your catcher and it's just kind of I feel like it's the same way you work for me, like with the back line or the the player playing in the position in front of me. You just have this connection and you understand each other and it's working through.
Yeah. So my junior year, I got a new catcher. So freshman year the girl who I thought was a junior, so she graduated. We got a new one in the year. I redshirted for the Olympics. And so my junior year, I worked with Megan Willis for the first time. And yeah, we are polar opposites when you talk about personality. But we instantly clicked as far as working in the bullpen and. Yeah, pitch calling and all of that.
So I was fortunate. She actually caught me for about ten years to in college and then pro ball for four, eight or nine. So. Wow. So you guys established that early on and just let it ride. We did. We just clicked and she was smart. I think that's the other thing is obviously she took pride in the coaching position. So she was super smart about, you know, when she watched when hitters move in the box, whether they move up or back or if they move off the plate on the plate.
And she would look at that point it out and then they call it pitch based on on what hitters were doing. And I love all the nuances and the different. It's like as just a casual fan, I would never think that, oh, the the catcher is looking at the way the hitter is like approaching or positioning themselves on the plate, and that's determining what they're going to do.
Yeah, I'm that way more now. You should. I should.
Well, it's a fun part because then yeah. You can do a lot of times you can tell if hitters are comfortable or not because if they're not comfortable, they'll try to move like mid pitch. If they're comfortable, then they fill in themselves and have confidence. They usually stay in one place at the box, but got it. Yeah. Based on where they they stand, a lot of times we'll change our game plan if we need to. That makes sense.
So your signature pitch is a drop ball, is that correct. Can you explain what that is? So for baseball fans, it's kind of similar to a sinker, except for a little bit sharper baseball and softball pitches don't equate at all. So when we say a curve ball and they say a curve ball, they're like two totally different pitches. OK, so if you combine their curve ball in a sinker, it's kind of like what our dropout would look like.
So for me, it's like coming probably about three or four inches. I'm trying to aim three or four inches above the knees and then let it break. And when it breaks, it'll probably be right below the knee caps. It's a fun pitch to watch people swing over. Yeah, I'd say that's probably such a good feeling to be like I got you. Yeah. Oh, it is strikeouts. My I try to teach kids know like oh just make good pitches.
Meanwhile I'm like I'm over here trying to strike everyone out because it's just fun and I can place it different heights like well if I want it first strike as game three or four inches above the knee. But then obviously as the count works in my favor where I'm ahead, I'll be able to take it lower off the plate, that kind of stuff. So what do you think has made you the best pitcher in US history? Basically, like, is it your mental game?
Is it your dedication to the technique and the technical side of things like what would you say separates you from everyone else?
I think work ethic that I got a really young age. I feel like you're never you just never feel satisfied. Well, we never were satisfied. But I also I think and you probably same way people think you were born out of the womb is this amazing athlete all of a sudden. And it's like I learned to pitch and I was very average for a long time. And then everything clicked once. I obviously grew into my body and everything else.
And so once it clicked, then. The work ethic I had established at a younger age simply because I loved pitching paid off. And so that coupled with mindset, I mean, I think if you can survive giving up five hundred home runs in the driveway with your dad, then when you give up like one, it's not a big deal.
You just shake it off.
But, you know, he was I say is hard on me. He wasn't hard on me. He just had high expectations. So when we learned to pitch, he was there catching. And he would be he would tell me if the spin was off or if he won was he thought one was spinning faster than the other. It broke more. And so just having that feedback, we were constantly trying to work to be better and. Yeah, yeah.
So I think. Couple of that, and that has allowed me to my ball spins at an incredible rate, which is what I'm known for, that is really what has given me the ability to just play as long as I have. Yeah, I know. I just think it's incredible. So you back to college, played freshman and sophomore year, blew it out of the water. And then you took a gap year to go to the Athens Olympics with Team USA.
What was that experience like for you? It was incredible. So they had told us in the fall of what would have been my junior year, they had said if you made the roster of 15, you had to forego school. And then if you were an alternate, you had a choice to go back. And so my parents and I had a meeting with coach and she's like, OK, you're just going to forego school. I'm like, well, no, if I'm an alternate, they said I could come back and she's like, no, you're going to forego school.
And I was just like, we haven't even had tryouts yet, really. So this was before like they were like, now you're on the team. We went on, well, I'm going to guess that. So Coach Clark, who was my head coach at Texas, had played for Coach K Andrea, who was our national team head coach when he coached junior college in Arizona back in the 80s. So they had a relationship. I had no clue at the time, just inferring now, knowing the coaching tree, like I'm going to guess she called and was like, what's the likelihood I need to prepare my college team?
So can we get the like yet? So, yeah, they forego school, which was cool. But then when I was home from breaks, everybody was in school and I'm like sitting in my apartment just like, what do I do now.
Like hanging out. Yeah. So you went you would go back to campus but you just weren't. I wasn't taking classes. I could still practice with the team and left and stuff, but I was doing a different lifting program, so I usually left it on my own. But yeah, I would go to practice and that was about it. So I was kind of like semi living the professional life as a college non student athlete at the point in time.
Just go into practice and then going home and hanging out. Yeah, because obviously for people who maybe don't know this, they made you forgo school because you were going to miss so much when the spring hits.
So when the college season starts, the national team tours and when we tour, we play all the colleges. So yeah, starting in the beginning of February, I was going to be home like five, six days a month max. So which is so crazy. It's just I look at it now and I'm like, how did we do that? And on a bus and, you know, I mean, we really bus to most places we flew if it was like cross-country.
But other than that, we're driving this big old charter bus around. Yeah, but it was fun. We got to go almost all over the country. A lot of times it's some smaller towns where our softball game is the biggest thing that night. And so everybody's there. So the crowds were cool and interacting with fans and just seeing the excitement for our sport on the Olympic stage. So and obviously, you know, when you end it with winning a gold medal, that's the cherry on top.
It's totally worth it. That's what everyone's like. What's your best memory? I'm like, really? I need to explain this. Exactly. It was cool because especially for me, being a college athlete, like obviously in college, we you know, we work hard. We go through the daily grind. And just being the youngest person on our roster of fifteen to see the blood, sweat and tears, like fully pay off and look back and be like, all right, all of that.
Like we weren't happy at the time or we were annoyed that we were running in the rain. And this night it's just like, OK, but it was worth it. If it made us just a little bit better that day, it was worth it. Absolutely. I agree. It's about the journey.
Make the most of it and then you get the reward at the end. It's all worth it. And you guys did, like you said, you want to gold. It was one of the most dominant runs in softball history. You beat Australia five one to win gold. And there one run was the only one scored against Team USA that entire Olympics. It was like a historic defensive effort and you personally led the team with twenty three strikeouts. I mean, what was the actual Olympic experience like?
It just sounds like it was the best possible situation, like winning outright every time. Yeah, it was the best case scenario. I mean, well, we had train the whole time and coaches philosophy was we are going to be a well oiled machine by the time we get over there is like we're going to be the most fit team. We're going to be the most dominant team like that was the other kind of mantra was like, we're not just playing to win, we're playing to dominate.
And so that's what that team had. That's the mentality we had. And I don't think any of us thought going over there that it would unfold the way it did as far as like not allowing a run to the final game and just literally putting up numbers that were incredible. But when you look back now, especially being older, you can see that he prepared us for that. And so you walk on the field for the first time for your first practice.
And it's just like, oh, my God, it's the same self-fulfilment we've always played on those dimensions or different or anything. But you just know it's the Olympic stage. And we opened with Greece that year for the first game and all of us got Mounty because they were like, we're going to get the nerves out now.
And I remember when they put me in, I was like, this is awesome and the whole world can watch.
And then my first pitch bounced and went to, like, wide of the plate. No, I'm so nervous. I mean, I've been nervous where, like, you're still kind of like you're shaking before you start throwing. But I think I was shaking the entire pitch. But after the first pitch, we settled it. Yeah. I was actually going to ask how you handled it mentally. Like, were you like, OK, I got this.
You know, you're young. You've never been the Olympics before. You're just enjoying yourself. What were you like? Oh my God, this is the Olympics. And obviously I was oh my God, this is the Olympics. And it was I just remember thinking the whole world can watch. Like that was the one thing not like the World Series where the country's watching, like the whole world. Totally. Yeah. But then after that first game, I settled in and thankfully they did a really good job in preparing.
I felt everyone for their role. So I knew I was pretty much going to throw our game against Japan and then after that, probably just be relief and not start another game. So I was prepared for that. But I pitched right in a game against Japan to give us the one seed. And that was kind of one of the almost one of those first eight games, so to speak, until the end when we get a lead. And then all of a sudden I got nervous and Coach had to call timeout and come out to the mound and give me a nice lecture about what are you doing?
You have a three run lead. Can you please just throw it? I say, why did you get nervous if you had a lead? Well, it was just like eighth inning. And when we go into the eighth inning, we start what they call international tiebreakers. So we start with a runner on second just to try to speed the game up. And so any time that happens, it's just nerve racking. As a pitcher, it's annoying to have someone on second that didn't earn their way there, to be honest.
Yeah, but, you know, that's just one where you bring them over and then any fluke can score a run. And I don't think I put in perspective that we were three runs ahead. So if that runs scored, who cared? I think being that was probably the one thing being young in that moment. Like, I tensed up because I wanted to make sure we won and they just needed to come out of the circle and give me a little lecture.
And I was good. Yeah, makes sense. How was winning? This is the best experience ever. I mean, you can win. You got for you guys. World Cup is a little bit bigger than our world. But I mean, you can win other international events and hear your national anthem and it's cool, but nothing like it in the Olympic stage and then the aftermath and the parties and all of that. Yeah.
All right. There you go.
So you win a gold medal, your junior year of college. You go back, you play two more seasons for you and you win two more player of the year awards and you lead the team to two more college series college World Series appearances, all while breaking every record because you had already broken every record your sophomore year in your final win.
You said a World Series record by striking out eighteen batters in just seven innings. Yeah.
So you basically have the most incredible, unprecedented career in history or college softball history. You're the first softball player to have their jersey retired at Texas, only the third female in school history to have their jersey retired to basically just like our mutty legend at this point, obviously, Team USA legend Tim.
Can you describe what that means to you? I benefited in the fact that I went to Texas, it like the glory years. I mean, they both basketball teams with the Final Four football won a national championship. Baseball, won two national championships, I believe was their swimming and diving where the premier program. So it was one of those times that everyone was winning. So you kind of thought you were just doing what everyone else was doing. I was about to say I feel similarly.
Just like you're expected to win. Exactly.
And so. I knew after my junior year that I was like, OK, I was conscious of the fact that my career was unfolding in a pretty incredible way. And obviously you go around town and people who are fans recognize you and hi and this and that. And but when I left, I mean, that place is home. And so I think the cooler part of the story is it just started retiring women's jerseys last year. They retired plenty of men's jerseys, hadn't retired any females jerseys.
And then Crystal County became the athletic director there and he changed that policy. And so they did it chronologically, which was kind of cool. So Etheridge, who's a basketball player, got hers first and she rightfully deserved it, was one of the first player of the year for female athletics at Texas. But when he called to tell me that the jersey was going to get retired, I was like, speechless. One of those things I had kind of hoped at some point in time that the procedures would change and it would get done.
And I think when people are like, oh, you're a legend, I'm like, no, that would be Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams and like these big football names and basketball teams, which is so annoying. It's like but thank God they changed that policy. Come on. But it's cool. I mean, that's a similar for you to at Stanford. Like, it's just such a rich athletic history and tradition that to have your name thrown around with what you deem the greats of that athletic organization, it's just such an honor for sure.
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Yeah. So the national pro fast pitch is a league that runs basically end of May to the beginning of August, kind of the summer months. I was drafted to a team in Connecticut, ended up not signing because national team was playing so much that summer. I just was like, I'm not going to spend my whopping four weekends off, going to play more softball. So I waited and then signed as a free agent to a team in Rockford, Illinois.
At that time, we had six teams in our league, mostly all Midwest, East. There was two in Illinois, one in Ohio, and then two or three East Coast, kind of northeast. And so we played through the summer months. That league has fluctuated between six, five, four international teams have come in and played. I retired from that in 2015 and then the current state of professional softball, the NPF is still it's still going.
But then we have this new venture called Athletes Unlimited. The two CEOs, John Patricof and Jonathan Soros, have come up with this absolutely phenomenal way of of playing sports. And it doesn't change that. Yeah, it doesn't change the rules to the game or anything. Although if players really felt adamantly about changing some role, we have the decision to do that if we wanted to not midseason, but as seasons go. So this is pretty much they came up with idea, but the athletes run it.
So we draft our own teams every week based on how you play. You get points based on whether your team wins innings or games. You get points. And at the end of every week, real time on TV and stuff, they show the rankings. But we get to redraft our team based on, you know, whether you like somebody, whether you want somebody that's hot right now or whatever it is you choose. If everybody likes same color, I guess if you want it.
But the other part is at the end of the year, the very end of six weeks or six weeks period based on where you're ranked in the final rankings, we get bonus money based on that. And so is everybody. Is each player individually ranked against others based on wins and points and that sort of thing? And then it's like the top players get to draft the teams, correct? Yeah. So everyone gets ranked. So you can have a pitcher that may not even pitch that week, but if her team wins all the games, she may have more points.
And somebody that played every game, that's just kind of the nature of the beast. And then, yes, the top four players get to draft their teams and team colors go based on rankings. So the first player is team gold, second players, team orange, third players, team blue, and then the fourth player is Team Purple. So if you stay four, you'll always wear the purple jersey. And if your state won, you get to wear the well.
It's a Navy jersey with gold riding, but you get to be steamrolled every week. It sounds awesome. And I've been following along on social media. Have you enjoyed you obviously said like you've thought, this is a really cool concept. Yeah. It's just been incredible to see how many like I wouldn't have played with two thirds of these girls if I hadn't done this because they're all so much younger and I would never have crossed paths with them without this kind of environment.
It sounds awesome. And I'm really excited that.
This has been rolled out and it's been so successful and that you as an athlete are enjoying it, because I feel like there's so many different ways that you can structure leagues and teams and that sort of thing.
But I like the creativity behind it. I find it it's I mean, no one else has done something like this, which is really keep saying it's like fantasy sports in real life. Yeah. Exotic fantasy team. It's awesome. But yeah.
So not to like rewind a ton but to kind of explain obviously talking about Athletes Unlimited, which is what you're doing right now, and you're still you're with Team USA getting ready for the Olympics. Twenty, twenty one in Tokyo.
But to rewind and this is what I find so fascinating about your career. Obviously, the legend status is one thing, but going into 2008 Olympics before that, they had said that 2012 Olympic softball wasn't going to be in it. Correct. So after in 2005, the IOC came out and baseball and softball were eliminated from the Olympic Games following 08. So, yeah, we knew going into 08, there was a finality like, boom, we're done and we don't know when or if we'll ever get back in.
What was that like? I mean, it's just I feel like if they were to ever take soccer out of the Olympics, I would be crushed. Right.
The worst part, it was a completely blindsided. I still remember I was that it was in the summer of 05 and I was back in Austin hanging out with some of our baseball players. And it literally went across the bottom line of ESPN like that. I found out. Yeah, that's how I found out. One of the baseball players was like, looks like your career is going to be ended sooner. And I'm like, what? And then it went across again.
And I was like, no way. And then about five minutes after that, I think we got a text message from our communications director with the national team that was like this just happened like. So I'm guessing they got blindsided, too. But it just it was such a slap in the face. And I think for me personally, I had probably decided, oh, I'll play till through twenty twelve and then I'll be done.
And then it's like all of a sudden like OK, well twenty four, it's not going to happen. So what are we going to do. Did you at that point think wow I'm going to play beyond twenty eight because I'm still young, I'm going to play professionally, I'm going to do this as long as I you know it's still. Yeah. So I knew that the professional league existed and I wanted to do that as long as possible. And so I wasn't sure after we got voted out tonight how long I would keep playing.
But I actually got traded to a team in Florida called the you say Pride. And it was just a great situation and a great setup, just how we were treated, how we were paid everything. And so I ended up playing there well past what I thought I was going to play. To be honest, somewhere in my head when I was younger, I was like, oh, play, I'm thirty. And then I've done like, I guess I thought thirty was old.
Yeah, we know better. And so yeah I played till I was thirty five and then retired. Yeah. So you twenty eight Olympics. You go into it being like this is the last hurrah. Essentially you don't know if it's going to come back and you guys end up winning.
Yes. Against Japan, you guys lose to Japan in the final. It's terrible, I know. Did that make I mean, did it make it even. I can answer this for you. Did it make it even worse, getting sober and knowing, like, OK, that was my last contact. Yeah, for sure. I think you put it we won silver. But if you ask an athlete that's playing in that gold medal match, you lose the gold medal.
That's how you like. Exactly. Yeah. You don't. Yeah. It's like you don't want that. You don't want a consolation prize for not winning gold. I mean and so you have to convince yourself later or remind yourself later that that's still an incredible accomplishment for sure. But yeah, it was hard because not only did we not win, it was like. It was almost a nightmare game and anything that could go wrong did go wrong, like it was just like that's really how our Olympic story is going to end.
And yeah, it was brutal for quite a long time afterwards.
Oh, well, so not to get ahead of myself, but you go on. You went for NPF championships from 2009, 2014. You have a successful pro career, you have a gold medal, you end up retiring in twenty fifteen. And our agent talks about your retirement game and just being like it just didn't feel right. Like I can't believe that this legend of an athlete of softball player retired in this fashion as opposed to going out after a gold medal game or something like that.
And but then you unretire in 2016. They say softball's coming back in twenty twenty. So how did you hear that news? Not only is No one on ESPN. Well, probably on social media, though. Yeah. So they had formed the World Baseball Softball Confederation that was pushing to get the sport back in the games. And I think somewhere I don't know if it's always been this way or but the host host country gets to pick two sports. And so obviously baseball, softball are both very popular in Tokyo.
So that was the push was Tokyo's hosting the Olympics. Let's get it back in. And so they chose and I think they put they put out a post we got an email from USA softball, like we actually got notified better than the bottom line of ESPN. But at that time, I still wasn't thinking about playing. I was like, oh, that's cool. I really it's cool. They'll be another generation of soccer players. I get to be like, OK, you could be at the Olympics.
And yeah, I wasn't missing playing. I was coaching and I love coaching. And then Coach Erickson, our head coach for the national team, asked me to put my resume in for the coaching pool. I was like, OK, you go, no, no, no, no, no.
I still got it. I was like, why will you please just do it? And I'm like, OK, so I did it. And then when they announced the coaching staff for the national team in the junior team, I was on either one and I wasn't really upset. Like part of me is like, why did you force me to put my man? Yeah, I wasn't going to be chosen, but whatever. But then they got my wheels spinning because I'm like, if I'm not upset that I didn't get chosen, like, why am I keeping my resume in there anyways?
So the wheels had also started by saying, like, why am I going to coach the team when I think like, I could probably still throw and I think I made that statement to one of my best friends and she was like, well, then go through. And I was like, excuse me. She goes, you know, you want to? And I was like, quit reading my mind right now. Sometimes you need somebody else to tell you exactly what you're thinking.
And and she did she she pushed and I said, you know, I didn't want to have to resign and lose my job. And she had actually worked with me at Texas State University a couple of years before that. And so she basically told my boss, who had been her boss, she was like, she wants to play, but she's afraid that she's going to have to resign. And so when my boss was like, hey, we'll make it work, I was like, oh, all right.
And so, like, thirty six hours later, I walked into her office and said, just, you know, I'm going to start training I love. And so, yeah, fall of seventeen, I decided. All right, I'm going to give this a go. And I called Ken and he was like, yes, this is how it needs to and I love it.
Well, get to work the work cut out for you.
Go to work.
So, I mean, it just it makes me when I found this out, it made me so happy because. I just feel like. You're not you are meant to end your Olympic career in 2008. What would you say the hardest part about becoming a unretiring was? I feel like there's really a lot of things there are, to be honest. The hardest part was the mental side, I think. And you could probably attest that, like, once you get a good mental like a mindset and a good mental mental game, so to speak, like it's almost automatic when you're in game and it can just turn on and off and you can do what you need to do to to deal with adversity.
And I thought that I would take the field again and then like that mindset would just light switch on and back. It wasn't like I was coming off the field complaining about something. And my coach is like, first of all, you've pitched two games in the last five years or three years. And he's like, so you're expecting to be perfect. Why? And I'm like, because that's what I expect. I thought. Isn't that what we're all supposed to expect?
Yeah. You, like, preach the process to younger athletes and then you just assume you're going to flip a switch and there's no process. I was like, OK, I had to go back to being like, OK, buy into the process, figure it out, let it develop again. Totally. But that was yeah. That was the hardest part was just I, I don't know why I thought I was just going to go out and mental switch.
Just flip on. Here we go. It was short circuited, it just needed it a little rusty. We just had to get the rest off to let everything circulate through, get flowing get.
Well I'm so excited to watch you next year and to crush it and to win a gold medal because I know that you guys well.
And I'm just so happy that you get to have one last go at the Olympics.
Like, that's so cool.
I feel like not many people in their career have had the highs and lows of like their sports taken out of the one of the biggest stages it can play on. And then it's reintroduced and you come out of retirement just crazy. I feel like your story is I love it.
Yeah. You know, I think I'd have to cheers to my dad, to be honest. Years of sitting on a bucket catching me. But just being that parent that was in tune to lessons and making sure I remembered what I was taught when I came home. And then obviously, the older I get, your dad never turns off the the semi coaching role. So you call after a game and it's still oh, I knew you were going to throw that pitch there.
You should have done this year. And so I would have to cheers to my dad because he's been there is still there rides the highs and lows with me and just been my biggest supporter and my rock the whole way through. Amazing. Cheers, Dad. So we have two more questions and that's our questions that we do. So the first one is they say work hard, get lucky. How much of your success is predicated on luck? I've listened to your podcast.
You like percentages?
I do. I always people like give scenarios and they talk about I'm like, OK, now I'm going to go.
Eighty seven percent hard work. Thirteen percent luck. Oh I love the ram.
I don't like this. Yeah. You know I think there's some things that like situationally there's a little bit of luck or something falls your way in all sports. I mean soccer own goals. I'm sure you're like that. You don't train for that. It just happens. You know, we don't practice like the little we call them bloop hits like that just kind of fall into no man's land. It's just like what happens? So there's some luck to it.
But I just think. I think overall, the hard work you put in is what really carries you. Yeah, sounds like it from talking with you today. You can always be better, says Dad. All right. So you've accomplished literally I feel like everything and are essentially the best of the best in what you do. So where do you go next? Which I guess we know. And how do you keep pushing?
So, yeah, continue to train for Tokyo twenty twenty one. And then after that I will have the opportunity to play Athletes Unlimited again next year if I want. So I'm going to see what that looks like. I mean it's hard to say no and it's only six weeks and I'll have been in shape from Tokyo. So balancing that in my mind. But you know, right now, let's keep pushing because it is I get one last shot at the Olympics.
And I think the other part of that is I'm surrounded by a bunch of younger athletes who thought they wouldn't have this opportunity. And so I feel like it's partly my responsibility to make sure I do everything I can to give us the best shot at winning an Olympic gold medal. So that way they get to experience what I already have once. And then obviously I would I would love to experience that to myself. But to be able to help this younger generation get the best experience out of the Olympics, that's awesome.
I love that. That's perfect and point.
So thanks for giving us this time today and sharing your story with us, because like I said, I just I think it's such a cool sport. Appreciate it. I appreciate it. Thanks so much for listening. For more great sports content, go to just women's sports dot com and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. Our show was co-produced by Jessamine Sports and Boom integrated big thanks to our executive producers Hayley Rose and Adrian Glover and Robin Lynn. Jawn Murray and Sydney Shot do our research production by Jen Grossman, Jeni Montalvo, Victoria Gruenberg, Philip Roth and Juan Garcia Tiku.
Our special thanks to Jesse Louis, Haley Kazmaier, seven, Badler, Doree Nouman, ISO's Haywood and Kathleen Bobby. I'm Kelly O'Hara and you've been listening to the Just Women Sports podcast catch next time.