Former Wildcat, Olympian Jennie Finch Looks Back At Career
By Ann Killion
When Jennie Finch was a budding softball star pitcher in Southern California, her father would sometimes let her skip school when a collegiate softball tournament was being held near her home.
Everything about the event inspired Finch: the uniforms, the sound of the players' cleats on the asphalt as they walked to the field, the level of competition.
And the best teams she watched were Pac-10 teams.
"If you wanted to play the best softball, you wanted to be in the Pac-10," said Finch.
Finch ended up being a part of that strong softball tradition, becoming one of the legends of the game during her years at University of Arizona, and playing for USA Softball in two Olympic Games.
In the 29-year history of softball as an NCAA sport, only six champions have come from outside the Pac-10, and only one (Michigan in 2005) in the past decade.
The West Coast has long been a softball hotbed. Players like Finch who grew up being exposed to the sport played at its highest level have helped propagate those West Coast bloodlines.
The first collegiate letter that arrived at Finch's La Mirada, Calif., house was from UCLA. That was where her softball heroine, Lisa Fernandez, played. When, a few years later, it came time for Finch to take recruiting trips, she took just two: to Arizona and Washington.
"I knew if I wanted to compete each and every day, and I wanted to shoot for the top, I needed to stay in the Pac-10," she said. "The history and tradition were there for softball."
Finch had already made up her mind that she wanted to go to Arizona and play for head coach Mike Candrea. But her mother encouraged her to take at least one other trip so that she wouldn't regret her decision when the going got tough - as it inevitably would. Finch liked Washington, but when she visited the U of A campus, she was ready to commit on the spot.
She never regretted it.
"I loved being part of something so much bigger than myself, being around the other Arizona athletes and feeling like we represented something important," she said. "McKale Center felt like my home away from home."
And she was comfortable in Tucson. She set an NCAA-record winning streak with 60 wins in a row. During that streak, she recorded three straight wins in the 2001 College World Series, leading the Wildcats to the championship, and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. She was twice named the Honda Player of the Year and was a three-time All American. Her No. 27 was retired by Arizona in 2003.
Finch helped the U.S. Softball team win a gold medal in Athens in 2004 and a silver medal in Beijing in 2008. She pitched professionally in the National Pro Fastpitch League. And she became an important crossover celebrity for the sport, hosting a regular segment on "This Week in Baseball" and appearing on other shows such as "Celebrity Apprentice."
Finch is married to Casey Daigle, a pitcher in the San Francisco Giants system. They have a son Ace, and are expecting another son this summer.
Though Finch retired from competitive softball in the summer of 2010, she remains an ambassador for the game, making appearances and running her own softball camps around the country. She is, in part, responsible for the growth of the game around the country.
"I think other conferences are starting to catch up," she said. "We're starting to see some, like the SEC, put a lot of money into their softball programs and get a lot of their games on television. That's going to help with recruiting tremendously.
"But week in, week out, the best softball is still in the Pac-10."
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