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Pitching Business

Melanie Olson interviews softball star and Chicago Bandit Jennie Finch

By MELANIE OLSON
    Jennie Finch is a celebrity. Eachmonth four hundred girls flock to her softball camps in towns from Folsom, California, to Binghamton, New York, to improve their skills and learn to be competitive in all they do—but also, just to see Finch. Softball’s best-known player, Finch has pop status off the field. She’s posed for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and had the “amazing opportunity” to be a contestant on “The Celebrity Apprentice.” And she seems to have learned somewhere along the way the importance of being guarded.
    “I always have a game face on, on or off the field,” she says in reference to her life’s achievements, from serving as vice president of her high school student body to running her camps and interacting with fans. And, apparently, this goes for talking with journalists, too.
    When I ask what it’s like to run a camp, she tells me to look at her website. When I ask what it was like to unexpectedly become a celebrity, she says that it has been “amazing to have this platform to inspire young girls.” When I tell her I’m a pitcher, too, and have always followed her career, she says nothing. Apparently, she wants to get on with it.
    A crying child on her end of the line, who I assume is her son Ace, with husband Casey Daigle, who pitches for the Houston Astros, serves as a reminder of where her true focus likely is. I opt to not waste her time with the fact that I met her father at a softball tournament, that I know a couple of her teammates on the Chicago Bandits, that it was a thrill when I got to see her play live with the USA team in Southern California.
    Finch throws five different pitches, all developed by the time she was 10 years old. I marvel at the fact that the same pitches she was using at such a young age have carried her through two Olympic games, winning gold and silver medals. At 29, she says she’s still trying to perfect them. Surprised that she doesn’t yet feel her pitches have reached the precision she wants, I ask if she thinks she’s the best now that she’s ever been, wondering if she thinks she was better in college, perhaps her junior year, when she went undefeated and led the Arizona Wildcats to a national championship. She pauses and then tells me her dad always says to strive for a perfect 10, just like in diving.
    I suppose Jennie Finch has nothing to gain from volunteering any personal information in this interview. It’s not going to affect attendance at her camps or sales of the Finch Windmill—an arm and shoulder exerciser that I first learned of from her father, the inventor. His sales pitch comes out of his mouth as quickly as his name.
    The topic Finch seems most genuine about is returning to softball after giving birth to Ace. She tells me that she pitched in the USA Olympic tryouts just five weeks after he was born, and the pregnancy affected her stability and balance. The complication wasn’t permanent, however—it took a year, but she overcame it. Then she adds that she’d like to be a role model for mothers, to show them that “they can do anything.”

Published: October 12, 2009
Issue: November 2009 Sports Issue