Wednesday, September 30, 2020

On the Beat With Athletes Unlimited Week 5 - 09/26-28/20

As the Athletes Unlimited season came to an end on Monday, once again Cat Osterman was in the spotlight. Osterman's Team Yellow went 3-0, while she finished with 2,480 points to capture the Athletes Unlimited championship.
Osterman's teams went 12-3 for the season. She had 95 strikeouts with a 1.53 ERA and pitched six complete games and two shutouts. 
For her efforts, Osterman received a gold medal after the final game. She also became the first entry into the Book of Unlimited, a 500-page book which will record every AU champion.

September 26
Team Warren (Orange) beat Team Ocasio (Purple) 7-4
Team Osterman (Yellow) beat Team Piancastelli (Blue) 9-5

September 27
Team Warren (Orange) beat Team Piancastelli (Blue) 15-9
Team Osterman (Yellow) beat Team Ocasio (Purple) 15-2

September 28
Team Piancastelli (Blue) beat Team Ocasio (Purple) 9-8
Team Osterman (Yellow) beat Team Warren (Orange) 18-3

Team Osterman (Yellow) 3-0
Team Warren (Orange) 2-1
Team Piancastelli (Blue) 1-2
Team Ocasio (Purple) 0-3

Final Leader Board
2-Jessica Warren-2,020
3-Victoria Hayward-1,860
4-Erika Piancastelli-1,840

Outfielder Haylie McCleney Named GEICO Defensive Player of the Year

The final week of games saw a season high 104 runs scored. That brings the season total to 362 or 12.06 runs per game. These numbers make Osterman's 1.53 ERA even more impressive.
In the post-game media sessions, I asked the players for their biggest takeaways on the season. Erika Piancastelli, Amanda Chidester, Jordan Roberts, Tori Vidales,Anissa Urtez, Katiyana Mauga, Taylor Edwards, Morgan Zerkle, Cat Osterman, Jessie Warren gave insightful answers, but as each gave her thoughts, a definite pattern formed. 
With the whole league living in “the Shield,” a term coined by Osterman (naturally), the players lived as a group for more than five weeks. Basically every experience was shared by all. Bonds were built. Friendships were forged. Memories were made.
This was an experience unlike any other. Six weeks or so ago, 56 elite athletes arrived in Rosemont excited and ready to start playing softball again. As the first players in the inaugural season of Athletes Unlimited, these pioneers were under the microscope.
As previously mentioned, AU utilizes a unique concept. It is run by the players for the players. It features a fantasy-like scoring system, which has teams redrafted every week.
While these athletes were happy to be playing again, it came with unusual pressure. The first class of athletes would set the tone for the league going forward. AU came with much hype and hope and the players needed to prove the concept, which they ultimately did in spectacular fashion.
Through it all, I never saw any signs of pressure from the players. In fact, I saw quite the opposite. The players looked happier than I have ever seen athletes.
From a fan's perspective, I admit I was a bit unsure about the scoring system and changing teams. After watching a few games, I started to get the concept and more importantly, I actually started to like it.
My only lingering questions about the scoring center on playing time. What is the incentive for non-starters? Those players will always be on the lower end of the leader boards. Maybe that is just part of the experience though. Sort of like rookies in sports, maybe they need to work their way into the lineups.
Another thing to note is the value of a two-way player. Players like Aleshia Ocasio, who pitched and played the field, could rack up big points. Ocasio missed a week of play due to a family emergency, yet still finished in 11th place with 1,584 points.
Lastly, winning innings and games was of major importance. Infielder Abby Ramirez finished in 20th place with 1,380 points, despite a .125 batting average. Obviously, Ramirez benefited from being on winners, but those winners benefited from Ramirez's presence on the team.
I am still not entirely sold on the changing teams though, but that's probably more a product of my age. I do see the fun and excitement of the weekly drafts and the strategy that goes into each. I don't know if that has staying power or how it would work with an expanded league.
My questions are minor points in my overall review of the debut season of AU. This was a major success. I saw the reaction on social media. I saw and heard all of the players unanimously praise the league.
While I was disappointed that the pandemic prevented fans and media from being in attendance, the games became must-see television for me. The post-game media sessions were Zoom meetings, but we had plenty of time to talk to each player and the players made them interesting and enjoyable. I didn't imagine enjoying the Zoom interviews as much as I did.
I really have nothing but praise for the entire Athletes Unlimited season. Like most people, I came into the league with high hopes and a few questions. My hopes were exceeded and my questions were answered. Athletes Unlimited softball has a bright future and I look forward to other AU Sports debuting.
For more info on the AU Softball league and their future plans, go to The fun has just begun!
Thank you to all involved with Athletes Unlimited for the access and hospitality all season. It has been a great experience.

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