Finch: A 26.2 Mile Long Challenge
By Brian Price
Some might say her work is done. Jennie Finch is a three-time All-American, College World Series champion, Olympic Gold medalist and - some say - the greatest softball player to ever play the game.
But for this consummate competitor, there's always a hunger for a new challenge.
"It's great to have competitiveness back in my life after softball," says Finch, who gave birth to her second child, Diesel, just 14 weeks ago. She'll be competing in the ING New York City Marathon as part of a charitable initiative for Timex.
Finch's drive began at a young age under the tutelage of her father.
"My father was my backbone, my toughest critic, but also my biggest advocate," Finch says. "He believed in me when I didn't believe that there was more inside of me and he helped get it out of me."
The Finch's home became a softball institution. Finch's father, Doug, who was her personal youth pitching coach, provided the strong foundation that she built her career on.
"He set up a batting cage for me in our back yard. We got rid of the trampoline and anything else that got in the way of my softball career," Finch recalls with a chuckle. "We spent many hours a night, he'd sit on a bucket and I'd pitch to him."
Her connection to the Pac-12 also began early, at the age of five, serving as the batgirl for UCLA softball when they played Arizona State.
"I grew up around the [college] game and just tried to soak up as much information as I could," she says.
Coming out of La Mirada High School, Finch had thrown six perfect games and amassed an ERA of 0.15. She had tremendous power and an appreciation for the game, which landed her multiple D-1 scholarship offers. She decided to remain within the Pac-12 at the University of Arizona.
"Coach [Mike] Candrea was like a father figure and I just loved the feeling of being on Wildcat turf. I loved the colors, I loved the tradition of Wildcat softball and everything coach stood for on and off the field. It became my home and my family," Finch says.
Making the jump to D-I athletics is a challenge for any athlete and Finch was no exception; she was facing batters who could keep up with her speed. Nevertheless, as a freshman, she played a major role for her squad.
"It was a matter of trusting my abilities. At the beginning I questioned it," says Finch, who recorded 24 wins as a freshman. "Facing older and more mature players was a challenge so I went back to the basics. This was the same game I had always been playing. I did my time in the weight room and found ways to mix up my pitch selection in ways that I never had in order to keep the hitters off balance."
That also included refining her extensive arsenal of pitches, including her fastball, curveball, screwball, dropball and changeup.
It worked. Finch capped off her Arizona career amassing 119 wins and striking out a total of 1,028 batters. Her finest memory is the ultimate team accomplishment: pitching the winning game of the 2001 College World Series against familiar Pac-12 foe UCLA.
From Tucson to Athens, Finch's performance at the collegiate level made her a shoe-in to become a part of the U.S. National team for the 2004 Olympic games.
"It was tough, after college, not having my Wildcat family with me. [In Tucson] I had a [team] coach, a strength coach, a hitting coach, a pitching coach as well as my teammates beside me. With Team USA it's just me trying to make the team and then playing for just a short couple of months."
Finch went 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA to win Olympic gold.
Despite the joys of that victory, the success of Team USA was ultimately overshadowed by the International Olympic Committee's decision to eliminate softball -as well as baseball - from Olympic competition following the 2008 Games.
"I take it personally because it happened on my watch. Being a female athlete I had hoped to leave the game with greater opportunity for the next [generation] and not to be able to that, it hurts. It's devastating. All of these opportunities came so rapidly and softball was at an all-time high and then it was wiped away out of nowhere," says Finch. "All of our numbers were right there as far as world participation and ratings."
Getting the game reinstated has quickly become Finch's newest challenge.
"What's done is done, so now we have to find a way to get softball back as an Olympic sport, not just for the U.S., but for the world," she says.
Perhaps a return to the mound could help the cause?
"Never say never," admits Finch.
Regardless of where her career takes her, Finch is proud that her ability continues to inspire thousands of young athletes.
"The greatest thing, for me, is a little girl saying, 'I play because of you.' I was once a young girl chasing the dream of playing ball. It was amazing to see the platform that the Pac-12 gave me," Finch says.
"That's where it all began: at the University of Arizona, playing in the College World Series, which led to an opportunity to represent our great country."
In the meantime, look for Finch to cross the finish line in Sunday's marathon ahead of many. She'll be starting dead last and for every runner she passes, Timex will donate $1 to the New York Road Runners Youth programs.
Also, follow Finch on Twitter @jfinch27 and pick up her new book, "Throw Like A Girl: How to Dream Big & Believe in Yourself."