When Cat Ostermansteps onto the mound, she becomes the most intimidating figure in the world of softball. It's not the extra 6 inches or so of dirt beneath her cleats; she has no need for that, standing 6'2" tall. Instead, it's her swift delivery of underhand smackdowns and the trail of shattered records and rung-up batters she's left behind in recent years.
After beginning her career with the Texas Longhorns in 2003, Cat quickly broke almost every school pitching record, and she currently holds 10 career records and 12 of the single-season variety. By the end of her tenure, she had set new NCAA marks for both career strikeouts [2,265] and strikeouts-per-seven innings [14.4]. Cat is now the ace for the U.S. National Team, with whom she's prepping for the '08 Olympics.
Below, the four-time All-American, three-time National Player of the Year, and 2004 Olympic and 2006 World Championship gold medalist explains why she'll never lose her edge.
STACK: You asked for pitching lessons for your 11th birthday. Tell us about that.
CO: I asked for pitching lessons because I had been on a Little League team; it was regulated by how many innings you could pitch in a week. We had a big game at the end of the week, and our coach needed someone to step in and pitch two innings, because the [starting] pitcher reached her allotted innings, and our best pitcher was being saved for the end of the week. At that time, I was in the outfield picking flowers, so I volunteered. I'm not sure if I struck out the first batter or one of their better hitters, but I still remember who it was. After that first strikeout, I loved it. From then on, I wanted to take lessons and work at it. My father was happy to find someone who could help me.
STACK: Do you have any superstitions before you pitch?
CO: In warm-ups, I go through my pitches in the same order, but that's more habit than anything. The biggest thing is that I never step on the chalk line; and when I get to the mound, I kick the dirt around. I always walk around the back of the circle, and then I approach the mound. I use that routine to get myself focused. Prior to that, I just relax and hang out with my teammates. I don't want to have too many superstitions, because if they get thrown off, I'll end up freaking out.
STACK: When did you develop that mound routine?
CO: In college. I didn't like looking at the other pitcher's footprints or where she drags, so I smooth that out when I get there. I don't like the mound looking too pretty, either. So if they rake it, I'm definitely going to kick it around a little bit. Walking to the back of the circle—rather than just walking to the mound—is just my way of starting the inning. I like to be able to look at the plate, take it all in, approach it—then I'm ready to go.
STACK: What music do you use to get yourself ready to play?
CO: Any current hip-hop is usually playing on the bus or on my iPod. Hitters get their "at bat" song, and us pitchers get a warm-up song. In college, I used "Can't Be Touched" by Roy Jones Jr. I stole it from a friend and fell in love with it. I actually chose that as my song at the World Cup with the National Team, too.
STACK: You've thrown a lot of no-hitters in your career. When you are late into one, do you recognize what's going on?
CO: I recognize it, but I don't feel any pressure with it. I know I have to do my job, and my defense needs to do their job. A lot of things can break up a no-hitter—a bunt, bloop or hard-hit ball.As long as we win, I don't care if I give up a hit—unless it's on a fat pitch, then I'll be upset.
STACK: Do you try to psyche hitters out by making eye contact or staring them down?
CO: I usually don't make eye contact with a hitter. If I do, it's usually someone I know, and I end up laughing. Sometimes late in a count, if a hitter is looking at me, I'll glare right back. I try to psyche myself up more than I try to psyche them out.
STACK: How do you approach setting and reaching goals?
CO: Once I accomplish something or receive an award, it makes me want to go out and do it again. It's motivation for me to try to improve my performance. The big record for me was breaking the career strikeout mark at Texas. I looked in the media guide my freshman year to check the career number; it was 680. So I IM'd that number to my dad and told him that's how many strikeouts I needed. After my freshman year, when I had something like 560 strikeouts, [I was interested] to see what I was doing on paper versus other people. When things are in sight, it makes me work harder to go get them.
STACK: What are your go-to pitches?
CO: My curve ball, my drop ball and my rise ball are my main three. My drop ball is my go-to pitch. I learned in college that a drop ball is much easier to keep in the park, [because] any pitch with a downward spin is a lot harder to lift over the fences. I sometimes use my curve to get the first strike, because it's easier for me to keep in the zone, since it stays on one plane.
STACK: What's going through your head when you're on the mound?
CO: A lot of it is situational. It depends on who's up; I always know where I am in their order. I always try to think about who I'm facing, and if I've faced her before. I will know what she did last time. I go through my pitch sequence subconsciously, and I know what we've already thrown. I decide on what I should throw, and if my catcher calls it, then we're on the same page. You get an affirmative half-smile from each of us when that happens. Any time the count is 3-2, I talk to myself to make sure I don't put her on—I do a lot of talking to myself to stay focused. I approach it one pitch at a time and don't think too far ahead.
STACK: How have you remained hungry after breaking so many records?
CO: I'm always trying to one-up myself. There's no such thing as a perfect performance, but that is what I strive for. That keeps me going.
STACK: How do you respond when you're heading into a game and your body's not feeling its best?
CO: I know my team's relying on me. At the same time, I know that in an hour I'll be able to sit in an ice bath and revive my body. There have been times when I physically felt like I was going to pass out because of heat and pitching so much, but I can get a quick fix with some cold water and taking some deep breaths. I keep my mind on my pitches rather than how my body is feeling.
STACK: Do you use any visualization techniques?
CO: Not on a regular basis, but if I'm ever struggling with a pitch, I will a little. In college we did some work with a sport psychologist. He told me that I know what my perfect pitch looks like, so I should imagine myself throwing and seeing it break exactly how I want it to; then notice how my body moves to make that happen. So, when I'm struggling, I'll close my eyes and imagine throwing the perfect pitch. I'll do that between games or even in the dugout mid-game. It's not a 100-percent remedy, but I know what to do, and I just need to relax to get it done.
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