Satchel Paige used to say about his fellow Negro Leagues player, “Cool Papa” Bell, “He was so fast, he could turn out the light and jump in bed before it got dark.” The same could be said about Jennie Finch, arguably the greatest female softball player the sport has ever seen.
At the University of Arizona, she was a three-time All-American pitcher and first baseman. As the leading pitcher on the USA Softball Women’s National Team, she won a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens and a silver at Beijing in 2008. Softball and baseball have been dropped as Olympic sports by the International Olympic Committee beginning with the 2012 Games in London, but Fitch is an ardent supporter for their reinstatement for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
From 2005-2010, Finch pitched for the Chicago Bandits of the National Pro Fastpitch League. Off the field, she appeared in the 2005 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, participated in the 2006 season of Pros vs. Joes on Spike TV and was on The Celebrity Apprentice in 2008 (she was fired by Donald Trump). In 2010, she pitched in the Legends and Celebrities Softball event as part of the All-Star Game festivities.
Finch, married to pitcher Casey Daigle (currently in the San Francisco Giants farm system) and the mother of two, retired in 2010. But that has not slowed her down. Her book, Throw Like a Girl: How to Dream Big & Believe in Yourself (Triumph) was just published. And she currently is in training for this November’s ING New York City Marathon, where her sponsor, Timex, will donate $1 for each runner she passes to youth programs under the auspices of New York Road Runners.
Big Lead Sports: Any regrets that you didn’t play a sport in which you could have advanced to the pro level, such as tennis, golf or volleyball?
Jennie Finch: Absolutely not. I love the game! I grew up watching the Dodgers play and to have the opportunity to play like them but with girls and women was amazing. There are so many great aspects to softball — being a part of a team, the diversity of shapes and sizes of the girls who play, having offense and defense. There are so many skills required within the game – fielding, catching, throwing, hitting, bunting, pitching. I love that about it. I could go on and on.
BLS: What is your favorite memory from competing?
JF: There are so many . . . standing on the Olympic podium was one of the best memories. Wearing red, white, and blue, representing our great country, standing along side women that I looked up to growing up.
It was incredible. Most of my favorite memories are just hanging and training with my teammates. . . . When its just us working together towards one common goal along with off the field memories.
BLS: Softball and baseball are not in the Olympics, which is a black eye for the IOC and American sport. One of the biggest issues was softball and baseball’s inability to combine efforts. Do you think if it increased the chance of getting both in the games that they should combine efforts?
JF: Baseball and softball are so very similar but yet two different games. We are in a much different position than baseball. Softball does not have the Major Leagues, there are over 140 countries that play softball, Softball has never had a positive drug test. I feel we need each other but yet we are separate entities.
BLS: Did you ever consider playing baseball rather than softball when you were growing up?
JF: No, my parents signed me up to play Tee ball (softball) when I was five and have been playing softball ever since. There were some baseball teams however growing up trying to convince me to switch over. I love the game of fast-pitch softball and the main goal was to get my college education paid for and play at the collegiate level. Softball was my best chance for doing that.
BLS: How has the impression of being a female elite athlete changed from when you started playing to now?
JF: That’s hard to answer because my perception of elite athletes hasn’t changed. I always wanted to be like the women I looked up to, like Dot Richardson and Lisa Fernandez. It’s cool to be a female athlete, I love it! Its so empowering. I think there is more diversity than ever. Women have the opportunity to play so many sports, and it takes so many different types of women in terms of shape, size, character, personality. You don’t have to be one type. It’s much more acceptable to be who you are, and just play.
BLS: What advancements do you still think should be made?
JF: There still needs to be collaboration and more support for female athletes. We have come a long way but have a long ways to go. I’d love to see equal opportunities and recognition for female athletes who work as hard as anyone else, and are so talented and sacrifice so much just to be able to play the games they love. Its a work in progress, an uphill battle and we are climbing it!
BLS: Who were your role models growing up and how did they influence you?
JF: My brothers, great older siblings, awesome men, great examples for me to look up to. Lisa Fernandez, she was the best of the best and not just on the mound, offensively and defensively. Her work ethic was indescribable. She brought our game to the next level.
BLS: What is the biggest obstacle young girls in the U.S. face with regard to elite athletics?
JF: I think themselves. So often we doubt ourselves and give in. We have to encourage young women to go for it, empower themselves, believe in themselves.
BLS: What is your biggest regret with regard to competing in softball?
JF: My only regret is wishing I could’ve done more to keep softball in the Olympics. As a female athlete you hope to leave the game with more opportunity for those behind you…So now its a matter of continuing to do what I can to help the growth of the game all across the world.
BLS: How are you training for the ING New York City Marathon in November?
JF: Marathon training is going great. The Timex GPS watch has helped me a great deal; it has simplified my training. It’s great to have a goal and to work hard toward it. My motivation is the New York Road Runners Program that Timex is going to generously donate $1 for every person I pass. The hardest part is finding the time as a mom of two but I’m getting it done.