Fresh off a trip to Tokyo to compete in Olympic softball for the first time since 2008, 23 Olympians from five different countries will join the Athletes Unlimited roster for its second ever softball season, set to start in late August.
The softball season will begin on August 28 and run through September 27 at Parkway Bank Sports Complex outside of Chicago. The site for this season is an ode to the origins of softball, which was invented in Chicago in 1887.
Headlining the 60-person roster is Cat Osterman, a three-time Olympic medalist (2004 Gold, 2008 Silver, 2020 Silver) for the United States. She was also the inaugural Athletes Unlimited Softball Champion. Osterman started nine games, struck out 95 batters through 64 innings pitched and served as a captain in four out of five weeks.
"It's a new up and coming professional endeavor and just to be a part of it in year one was special, but to be able to come back and be part of it for year two is even more special," Osterman said. "I think our roster of athletes is even stronger, which is crazy to say, because it was pretty strong last year. When you have that many talented athletes to choose from, it makes for exciting games."
Osterman will be joined by fellow Team USA teammates Ali Aguilar, Amanda Chidester, Haylie McCleney, Michelle Moultrie, Dejah Mulipola, Aubree Munro, Danielle O’Toole, Janie Reed and Kelsey Stewart. In addition to U.S. and Mexican players, athletes from Italy, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands round out the roster.
After competing against each other in the Olympic Games, Chidester and fiancé Anissa Urtez, who plays for Mexico, may have the chance to share the same dugout. Both athletes were part of the inaugural roster last season, and Chidester is excited to take the field and start playing some games.
"The Olympics was six or seven games, and it just doesn't feel like a lot for all that training we did all year," Chidester said. "I'm ready for some more games. Athletes Unlimited helps bridge the gap of all us athletes that had competed against each other for years becoming friends. We're all a bunch of people who love softball, love competing and love being out on that field."
Chidester knows there is no guarantee she'll play with Urtez, but she's ready to compete against her fiancé if needed. Last season, the pair played one set of games on the same team before being forced to take opposing sides.
“What an incredible lineup we have for our second Athletes Unlimited softball season, with more than a third having just returned from the Olympics and half the rookies hot off the super successful NCAA Tournament,” said Jon Patricof, co-founder and CEO of Athletes Unlimited.
Athletes Unlimited – which currently organizes softball, lacrosse and volleyball seasons – focuses on an innovative, player-centric model of professional sports. The organization focuses on women’s sports to give athletes more opportunities and provide access to typically overlooked sports to fans.
Games are played as they normally are, but individual players can score points to move up or down a leaderboard. At the beginning of each week, the four top players become team captains and draft an entirely new team for that week.
The weekend was packed with Olympic action and our Athletes Unlimited Softball and Volleyball players in Tokyo were busy making HUGE plays! 🥳
Check out the recap below for all the biggest moments from our athletes including @chiddy3 and @stewartkels7's walkoffs ⤵️ #BeUnlimited
— Athletes Unlimited (@AUProSports) July 26, 2021
Since it is a professional league, players get paid to participate in the six-week season. In 2020, the inaugural softball season, players earned a minimum compensation of $10,000 but could make up to $35,000 in salary and performance-based bonuses.
"It's tough when the money's not there to support women's sports," Chidester said. "I think Athletes Unlimited does an amazing job of really making us feel like professionals all the way through. And then to be able to get all those high-level softball players in one spot competing against each other, it's just pretty awesome."
Osterman will wrap up her professional career at the end of the Athletes Unlimited season, and fresh off an Olympic silver medal as well. She's excited that she'll get to end her career with an organization that puts the focus on female athletes.
"Anytime you find (people) that want to invest in female sports, that makes it special...It's really cool to see that actually come to life in person," Osterman said. "This will be the end of my career up in Rosemont. I'm really excited to just go be around a bunch of athletes and people who love the sport of softball."
All 30 softball games will be broadcast or streamed in both English and Spanish in a package that includes CBS Sports Network, FOX Sports, FOX Deportes, Facebook and YouTube.
Contact Alyssa Hertel at email@example.com or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cat Osterman, Olympians headline Athletes Unlimited softball roster