SIMI VALLEY — She was considered among the most potent softball pitchers in the country, one of a select few invited to try out for the 1987 U.S. team that would compete in the Pan American Games.
It was, at that time, the highest honor a softball player could achieve--the equivalent of being asked to try out for the 1996 Olympic team. Few would balk at that kind of opportunity.
But Kathy Slaten, a four-time All-American at Cal State Northridge, decided to pass on the offer. She was halfway to her personal goal and wasn't about to derail now.
"When I started softball, there were only two things I really wanted to accomplish in my life," she said, as she watched her three children at play in the back yard of her Simi Valley home. "One of them was a scholarship for softball and the other goal was to get married and have children."
Slaten, who owns all of the career pitching records at Northridge except hits allowed, married her high school sweetheart four months after pitching in her final college softball game in 1986, and she was pregnant with her first child a year later.
"That was Kat," said Lori Shelly-Castellano, a former Northridge teammate. "She was set on what she was gonna do and that was starting her life with Aaron [Ayala]."
Shortly after Slaten led the Matadors to their fifth consecutive Division II championship game, the hard-throwing right-hander with the funky windup walked away from the pitching circle and down the aisle with Aaron Ayala. And she hasn't looked back.
Well, maybe just a glimpse or two.
After an incredible high school and college career, it's no wonder Slaten had little difficulty walking away from the game. Been there, done that. That was her motto.
One the game's most-dominating riseball pitchers began in Newbury Park youth leagues at age 10. A year later, she was throwing windmill, which was altogether new in 1974.
By the time she reached high school, she was already grabbing headlines, leading La Reina High to three consecutive Southern Section Division 1-A championship games. The Regents came away with titles in 1980 and '81.
The honors didn't end there.
Slaten, who decided on Northridge because she wanted to stay close to home, led the Matadors to Division II titles in her first three seasons.
"It's unfortunate she was a Division II pitcher because she didn't get the recognition she deserved," said Gary Torgeson, Slaten's former coach. "She was right up there with the [Debbie] Dooms and [Tracy] Comptons.
"She had every muscle in her body working with the pitch."
Dominating doesn't seem a strong enough word to describe Northridge's finest.
Consider these record statistics:
Slaten pitched in 177 games, completing 145. Ninety-seven of her 123 victories were shutouts, 20 were no-hitters. She struck out 1,537 in 1,222 innings, more than twice as many as any other Northridge pitcher.
"She was dominating, without question," former teammate Nancy Lucero said.
"She was a hard worker. She put a lot of time and effort into the game.
"But when she left, she left."
And no one could make her change her mind.
Slaten has always been hard-nosed.
In fact, her unorthodox delivery in college was a direct result of her frustration with a rule that stated the pitcher must present the ball (show the ball outside the glove) before each pitch. In a grossly exaggerated move that became her trademark windup, Slaten stood on the rubber with feet together, arms stretched high above her head, the ball in one hand and her glove on the other. An annoying windup from a pitcher annoyed by the rules.
"She was very feisty," Shelly-Castellano said. "A true fighter."
She often dealt with people the same way. When she and Torgeson went nose to nose, which former teammates say happened with some frequency, Slaten made sure she held the trump card. Which, as it turned out, didn't always play in her favor.
Once, while facing Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in her senior season, she watched an opposing batter rip one of her pitches down the foul line and over the fence. Foul ball, no big deal, right? Not according to Torgeson.
"I remember Coach Torgeson yelling from the dugout, 'Why don't you throw her another home run pitch?' " Slaten recalled. "Well, that was the end of the game for me because I was like, 'Well, I'll show you.' And the next thing you know they had 12 hits."
And San Luis Obispo had earned a place in the Northridge record book for most hits by an opponent in a game. By day's end the Lady Mustangs had 16.
"[My teammates] were so worried he was gonna . . . kick me or something," she said. "I'll always remember that game."
For the most part, though, Slaten and Torgeson enjoyed an amiable working relationship. In fact, she lived with him and his family one summer because she had nowhere to go when her mother and father moved out of town. Torgeson even helped her get a job with at Northridge Park.