To Retire Or Not To Retire…

Written By Cat Osterman

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To Retire Or Not To Retire

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…that was this summer's question! This past April, as I turned 30, I announced I would leave my cleats in the circle come August. After all, like I said, I turned 30! In my mind, I convinced myself I didn't need to keep playing. Sure my body has told me I need to slow down some with injuries, aches and pains. Fortunately, I got through my younger years relatively unscathed, so dealing with those set backs was a new and trying process.

The story starts with the end of the 2011 season. If anyone watched the NPF Championships, you can remember my crumbling to the turf, holding my arms and screaming in pain. What was very painful at the time, and for a little bit after, ended up being a neurological complication due to something called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. In short, compression in my upper body had pushed my first rib and clavicle together, which pinched my nerves. Once my arm hit the top of my arm circle, I would essentially lose pulse in my arm. It was trippy to feel once the doctor test me out. Those curious, this is more prevalent in baseball pitchers, but not uncommon, and not incredibly serious if caught early. It can be more serious if it's not recognized. Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals was diagnosed with the same thing, by the same doc, as I was! Pretty neat!

After the diagnosis, I had surgery 2 days before New Years. The rehab process was long. It was 12-13 weeks before I could even start to throw again. This put me only about 6-10 weeks out of season. After that long of a lay off, that's a short time to be ready. The 2012 season was less than stellar for me physically and mentally. No matter what stat lines read, I was laboring to really throw well. My definition of well isn't the outcome. It's how fluid I feel, how well I place my ball, and more importantly how consistent I can spin it. These things that had always been easy, were very difficult. My catchers are a saving grace, because many times drops took off to the opposite corner, and curves wouldn't curve the same each time. After throwing for 18 years, I didn't think this should be as much of a problem as it was, and honestly I thought maybe I was hitting the point where I just wasn't going to be able to pitch the same anymore. I toughed out the 2012 season, and resigned myself to the mindset 2013 would be it.

Knowing I only had 1 year left, I set out to be in the best shape and have no regrets. Starting in December of 2012 I met with a trainer 4 times a week. I always thought I was in shape, but Lance got me into a whole different level of in shape. I loved it. I enjoyed working out. I enjoyed lifting heavier and heavier. Conditioning has always been my stronger point, so that wasn't as hard to learn to love. I put all I had into going out with a bang.

Then came the summer. I really should have known in April, when I emailed my teammates to tell them the news that I wasn't ready. I was crying and shaking uncontrollably as I tried to type. I reported to Florida and happily enjoyed practice and the company of my teammates. I didn't take a day for granted, and I kept working hard to get my pitching back to the form I knew I was capable of.

Not a day went by where someone didn't ask me how sure I was of my decision. Honestly, after about 3-4 weeks of season, not many days went by where I wasn't asking myself the same question. I talked with a few teammates about it. I think I was unconsciously searching for their advice. As practices kept on, games happened, I realized I was loving this game more than ever. For the first time in a while (2-3 years) I was having a lot of fun with this game again. I felt like I was even different as a teammate. I just felt like I had a more positive aurora. It's really hard to describe, but there were moments I would get out of a jam or we'd win a close game, and I'd look back and think, I still live for these moments. I was slowly realizing I still want the game. It's not a need, but it's a desire. The challenge to continue to be one of the best has always driven me, and it still does.

Once July rolled around, I knew I needed to make the final decision. I needed to decide before the end of season whether I was really going through with it or not. The last thing I wanted was any more retirement ceremonies, when I knew I was questioning it. I didn't want a big deal made, and then change my mind in the off-season.

I finally sat down and called my dad. He's been there for me my entire career. I no longer call him up after every game, but I do still confide in him, especially with my career. He acknowledged I looked better this season, and seemed to be throwing at a higher level than 2012. He didn't say anything anyone else had not already told me, but his affirmation means a little more.

The last pieces of the puzzle were telling my AD and head coach at St Edwards University, the Division 2 School I coach at. Retirement meant I could recruit during the summer, and be around more to do clinics which help us fund our program. They both gave me their consent, and our AD added a happy unretirement.

I told the team before a game in Akron. I was just as nervous to tell them I was unretiring as I was upset to tell them I was retiring. Tears welled up in my eyes, not because I was uncertain, but because I was letting them know how big of a part they played in me falling back in love with this game. I practiced my speech 100 times, but when I went to deliver it, it was 2/3 as long and not near as heart felt as I wanted it to be. Having sensed this announcement was coming, they properly presented me with a signed Brett Favre picture. After a few laughs we went out to play.

Megan Willis, my long time catcher put it best when I told her‚ “We all seen your love for it, come back”. We all knew it wasn't time. But we all know you, we can't tell you that. It's something you have to figure out on your own. I am glad you did, and I can say I'm pretty sure everyone else will be too.

Some fans have asked if I wished I had stuck with my decision since a championship would have been the storybook ending. I've never lived for fairy tales or storybooks, so no I don't wish that at all. Instead, I am diving back into my training, and making sure I am just as ready for next season as I was for 2013. There are still challenges that wait, and I am still driven to meet them. I just know, I won't decide to hang them up prior to a season ever again. I can trust my heart will let me know when I am ready, instead of my head.

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cat-osterman Cat Osterman’s accomplished career as a softball pitcher precedes her, starting with a record-breaking 4 years at the University of Texas and continuing with her impressive Olympic achievements and professional softball endeavors. In fact, she was the first pitcher to register over 2,000 NCAA strikeouts.

After taking home the gold at the 2004 Olympic games and enjoying years of success playing with the USA Softball Women's National team, Cat began her professional career in 2007 with National Pro Fastpitch. She is an inspiration to countless young softball players all over the world. Visit her website at www.CatOsterman.com

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