The No. 1 recruit in the nation. Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year. First-Team All-American. NCAA record holder. Olympic gold medalist.
Jennie Finch has literally done and accomplished everything there is to do on a softball field, yet her fire for the sport and the girls who play it continues to burn bright.
Today, outside of time spent with family, Finch focuses the bulk of energy on promoting the sport that has given her so much, and she continues to have a passion for helping younger players improve their games as well as their confidence. She also runs camps, tournaments and makes special appearances across the country, all in the name of fastpitch.
For most anyone else, the responsibility of all this may seem a bit daunting, but for Finch, now a mother of three, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Recently, Finch sat down with DICK’S Sporting Goods to talk about her past, her present and the future of fastpitch softball.
DSG: If someone asked you as a kid, “Who will you be?” What would your answer have been? A professional softball player?
Jennie Finch: “When I was growing up I had two older brothers and that’s who I wanted to be. I wanted to be just like them. We were big Dodgers fans, and we had season tickets. So if you had asked me what I wanted to be, it would have been an L.A. Dodger.”
DSG: So is that love of baseball sort of where you got your start with softball? Did it take you on that path?
JF: “Yeah. My love of softball started with my brothers playing baseball, and I wanted to be like them. I didn’t win very much growing up, having two older brothers. So, when I got to experience what winning was like on the softball field there was no turning back. It was similar to what my brothers did, but cooler, because girls did it.”
DSG: You were a three-sport star, playing basketball and volleyball in addition to softball. Which sport did you love the most? Was softball always your favorite? How did that play out?
JF: “I played all three sports in high school, and I loved all of them, but softball was my go-to. That was my year-round sport. That was going to be my ticket to play in college. It was my love, but it was so nice to be able to play volleyball and basketball with my school friends. It was fun to try and get my body to do different things. I really think playing the other sports helped me on the softball field.”
DSG: What motivated you as a player? Who or what really pushed you to stay on it every day?
JF: “I would say my dad had the most influence on my career, pushing me especially when I was younger. He always saw more in me. It was never good enough, but I’m so thankful that he never crossed the line to where I resented the game. He was always raising that bar for me and believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”
DSG: What made you want to pitch rather than any other position?
JF: “I just love the challenge of being in there every single pitch and having your teammates look to you as well. There’s nothing sweeter than being able to have that camaraderie with your catcher, and the game plan prior to the game and when you get out there — it’s you versus the hitter. Every pitch is a battle and you have a shot at winning or at losing. It’s a fun challenge.”
DSG: How does it feel to throw a no-hitter? What goes through your mind as a pitcher?
JF: “A no hitter is so much fun. You try not to think that you’re throwing a no hitter, but towards the end of the game you definitely know you’re throwing one. I don’t care who you are, if you’re a pitcher and you’re throwing a no hitter into the sixth, seventh inning — you know!
Looking back in some of those games, I felt like I didn’t have my best stuff and that’s the amazing part, you realize it takes a team. It takes the catcher and the defenders behind you as well to make it possible. But there’s nothing better than just being in the zone and getting out, after out, after out. It’s such a rarity that you definitely enjoy it once it’s over. Those last three outs you’re feeling the pressure, but you’re trying to just focus on this pitch — not the fact that you have a no hitter. So, trying to get that thought out of your head and just focus on the task at hand and that goal of winning the next pitch.”
DSG: You’re a strong advocate of bringing baseball and softball back to the Olympics in 2020. That vote happens in 2016. Can you talk about why you’re so passionate about it and make your case for women’s softball?
JF: “I grew up wanting to be an Olympic softball player. I think being a female athlete, it was amazing — especially in my time and career just to see the opportunities grow. The growth of softball, not only in our country, but 140 countries now play. I was so tremendously blessed to be able to experience so much and I want that for young girls. We belong in the Olympic Games, and I want young girls to grow up dreaming of wearing USA across their chest.”
DSG: How does winning a gold medal rank in terms of career accomplishments?
JF: “Winning the gold medal is at the top of my list for sure. It’s one thing to represent your hometown, or your state or your university, but to be able to represent your entire country. To be a part of such amazing tradition and just to be able to play with the women that I looked up to and now here I was sharing a dugout with them. It was surreal to be on that podium and to get that gold medal wrapped around my neck and to hear our National Anthem play.”
DSG: In your own words, explain why sports matter to you? How have they made a difference in your life, from an early age up until now?
JF: “Sports matter to me because they have truly allowed me to appreciate who I am. I was always the biggest girl out there, and I never really fit in, because I was always just so big. Then I started realizing like, “Wow, I’m big — but I am strong and I am powerful and I can shoot a basketball, and I can jump for rebounds and I can throw fastballs. It made me appreciate my skillset and the gifts I’ve been given and not look at them as flaws.”
DSG: So, how have sports made you a better person?
JF: “Sports have shaped, created and molded who I am today. Playing on a team sport, realizing that there’s so much more to life than me. Teaching me to be the best teammate I can be. Going through failure and feeling loss and feeling frustration of the game and then realizing that you have to turn that frustration into determination. Turn it into fuel for your fire.”
THE FASTPITCH FAMILY
DSG: Lots of young athletes are out there trying new sports, trying to find a game they enjoy. Why should a young girl choose softball, and what made the sport stand out to you?
JF: “I love the diversity within our sport. It’s not one body type. Everyone can play and succeed. Plus, there’s so many ways to get better at it. There’s offense, there’s defense, there’s hitting, there’s base running, there’s fielding, pitching, catching, so many ways to improve your game.”
DSG: Talk about the fastpitch family and the special bond that develops from being on a team.
JF: “The fastpitch world is a small-knit community, and I’m so thankful for all the coaches and teammates I’ve had all across the country. I didn’t have sisters growing up, but I developed them through this game, and I’ve gathered so many treasured memories. It’s so great to see now how tight we are and how we’ve become one big sisterhood.”
FINDING YOUR NEXT LEVEL
DSG: What kind of advice do you have for a middle to high school player thinking about potentially playing softball in college?
JF: “Just make every single workout count. I think that’s where I saw my game truly elevate to that next level was every practice. I went out there like this was the state championship game.
You can’t practice at 80% and then expect to go 100% and make the plays in the game with the uniform on and the adrenaline and the pressure that the game brings. You have to find a way to put that pressure on yourself in practice and elevate your game when nobody’s looking and when there’s no scoreboard. You have to go that extra distance then so when you do get on that field you’re going to be able to reach 102%, 103%.
It’s a matter of just keeping that foot on the gas pedal and pushing for more. Keep pushing for more, don’t cruise. I think so many athletes just cruise through life and it’s like, “Man, let’s truly live life and be the best that we can be.”
GROWING HER OWN TEAM
DSG: You have two little ball players at home now, what it’s like being on the other side of the fence and being in the stands instead of out on the mound?
JF: “It’s so much fun being a parent now and watching our little ones play the game. Our nine-year-old has fallen in love with baseball. It’s so neat to see that it’s his passion, and he wants to get better and he looks forward to practicing and he’s begging us to hit him groundballs or throw him BP and it’s truly, truly fun. It’s great for the whole family just to be active and to be around baseball and softball like when we were growing up.”
DSG: Some parents struggle a bit with patience when teaching/coaching their kids how to play sports the right way. How does an Olympic gold medalist like yourself handle those situations?
JF: “It’s not easy being a sport parent. You want your kids to experience everything you experienced. For me, I just want them to find whatever they love and enjoy it and appreciate it. But at the same time — give everything they have.
It made me appreciate my parents so much more because I realized truly how much they did sacrifice allowing me to play softball year-round, not only financially, but just the amount of time that they put in for me. I’m so grateful, and I hope that we can do that for our kids. Ultimately, I just want them to experience those life lessons that we learned through sport. If they do go on to that next level that’s great, but we want them just to enjoy what they love and find out what they’re good at and be the best they can be at that.”
DSG: Finally, talk a little bit about your relationship with Mizuno. What made you team up with them, and what should we look for gear-wise this coming season?
JF: “Coming out of college, to be honest, I could have kind of chosen who I wanted to partner with. And Mizuno was a smaller, conservative company — but that’s what I loved about them because they truly cared about the equipment. They weren’t just trying to sell a ton of gloves. They were wanting to make a fastpitch-specific glove for the female athlete.
(This year) I’m in love with the Nighthawk Bat. We’ve always had the best, most comfortable cleats out there and now we’re going to be able to compete with anybody out there in the bat market. It’s exciting.”
Shop Mizuno products here.