VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Olympians Jennie Finch and Natasha Watley are instructing nearly 90 of the nation’s top high school softball players this week at the Elite Development Invitational in Vero Beach.
However, only one participant is taking home the illustrious Jennie Finch Empowerment Award presented by Arm & Hammer: New Jersey native Jaelynn Barrios.
With her teammates sitting in the infield cheering voraciously, Barrios accepted the award at home plate, smiling broadly. While excitement flowed through her, Barrios admits feeling initially shocked.
“In my head I was ready to cheer for another girl,” Barrios said. “I didn’t think it was going to be me at all.”
That example of humility isn’t an anomaly; Barrios’ quick instinct to support others impressed Finch throughout the Invitational. Finch said when Barrios wasn’t encouraging her teammates in the batter’s box, she was removing trash from the field, trying to make a difference whenever possible.
Finch believes Barrios, who leads by example rather than with words, exemplifies the award perfectly.
“It’s not about talent -- and I think so often talent gets the recognition -- but it’s more than that,” she explained. “It’s the heart of a champion, it’s what it takes to be great on and off the field. And not just be great when you’re doing well, but be great when you’re down, being a good teammate, and I think that’s one of the most special gifts about this game is your teammates and the sisterhood that you have. And to be able to honor that and allow these girls to shine, it’s pretty special.”
Created this year by Major League Baseball and Church & Dwight, the award annually honors four young women who demonstrate powerful characteristics such as leadership, motivation, commitment, humility and integrity. Each of the four winners are chosen from the following softball-based events affiliated with MLB: Softball Breakthrough Series, Jennie Finch All-Star Classic, Elite Development Invitational and the RBI World Series.
The winners are selected by an MLB-led panel headlined by Finch, an Olympic gold medalist and collegiate softball champion who serves as an MLB Youth Softball Ambassador. Award winners receive a trip to the World Series presented by YouTube TV, where they will be accompanied by Finch and recognized on field prior to a Fall Classic game. Additionally, Arm & Hammer is donating $20,000 to the MLB Youth Foundation.
Winning an award at the Invitational wasn’t on Barrios’ radar before this week. In fact, she “almost did a backflip” upon receiving an invite, happy the star-studded coaching staff even knew her name. But, Barrios’ father, her “biggest supporter” and longtime coach, however, told her it was possible.
Now, Barrios gets to give her dad, who celebrated his birthday on July 12, the best present he could ask for: confirmation of that belief, in a phone call explaining her newly earned hardware.
“He’s probably going to cry on the phone,” Barrios said.