Back in college, whenever softball pitcher Cat Osterman heard a meow, she knew her best friend and teammate Lindsay Gardner was somewhere nearby. "During practices, she rarely called me by my name," said the 28-year-old Osterman, a two-time Olympian. "She could make that cat sound from across a field and I'd automatically think, 'OK, where's Lindsay?'"
Though the cat-calling days are over, the friendship between Osterman and Gardner remains strong. This fall, the two joined forces on the softball field once again, when Osterman accepted an assistant coaching gig with Gardner, now the head coach at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. Osterman, who still plays professionally, said taking the job was a no-brainer. "She texted me at 9:30 in the morning about the position being open, and by 6 p.m. I called her and said, 'Where do I sign?'" recalled Osterman. "It's the perfect opportunity -- I get to do what I love and work with my best friend."
Osterman's bond with Gardner goes back more than a decade. At age 16, Osterman joined the softball team in her hometown of Houston, Texas, and found herself being coached by her teammate Gardner's dad. Gardner went out of her way to make Osterman feel at home. "I was the youngest girl on the team and Lindsay immediately took me under her wing," said Osterman. "She showed me the ropes. We shared a passion for the game and became close friends very quickly."
The two also shared a dream to play for the University of Texas. Gardner, two years ahead in school, got there first. "The day she received her college jersey, she sent me a picture and said, 'I can't wait for you to get yours,'" Osterman said. In 2001, she did. "When I arrived at UT, Lindsay was like my big sister all over again. She eased my transition into everything, from academics to athletics." The two were inseparable: At the end of each inning she pitched for UT, Osterman would wait at the foul line for Gardner, who would sprint in from second base and give her a high-five before heading to the dugout.
Most memories Osterman has of her college and professional softball careers involve Gardner. "When we won the playoff game to go to the [College] World Series, I was running toward the catcher to celebrate and someone jumped on me from behind. I didn't need to look -- I just knew it was Lindsay," Osterman said.
When someone you have a lot of respect for believes in you, it helps you believe in yourself.” -- Cat Osterman
When Osterman pitched at the 2004 Olympics, it was only fitting that Gardner was her main support system, cheering her on from a few thousand miles away. (Gardner declined to try out for the Olympic team after not making the U.S. team roster the previous year.) "I had a text from her within minutes of winning the gold that read, 'I'm so proud of you. I knew you could do it!'" Osterman said, adding that her friend's faith in her ability helped her stay confident during the tough games. "When someone you have a lot of respect for believes in you, it helps you believe in yourself."
Their connection on the field was strengthened by their off-the-field friendship. "In college, I visited with her family as much as my own," Osterman said. "It's funny, because we don't have that much in common outside of softball. We have completely different tastes in music and movies, but she knows everything that goes on in my life. If one of us ever needs help, we're there for each other."
After pitching for 10 years with the U.S. national team, playing in two Olympics and racking up multiple honors and awards along the way, Osterman recently began contemplating her next big step in softball: retirement. Realizing that no one plays the game forever -- not even the best players -- was an emotional moment for Osterman. What would she do with herself if she weren't throwing balls and strikes? Once again, Gardner was there to guide her, after hanging up her own cleats in 2007.
"I knew how Lindsay felt when she retired, so I know that she knows what I'm going through. We've talked a lot about it," said Osterman, who is still undecided about how many more years she'll play. "I've had moments where I realize my body isn't going to withstand many more seasons, but I am very satisfied with my career and I am trying not to look at retirement as a sad thing. I'm sure when the times comes, there will be tears, but there are other avenues that I am embracing with much more passion these days."
Like continuing her coaching career with Gardner. "We have the same excitement and energy level and we work well together," Osterman said. On the other hand, "we're also both extremely stubborn. If we disagree, it takes some time to work through it." Don't expect any on-field head-butting to detract from their mission, though. "Our careers have given us such joy and it's fun to look back and know that we shared it together," she said. "Now, we get to share that passion for the game with the next generation of softball players."