COMPTON, Calif. -- For Jayden Clark, the opportunity to showcase her skills and learn from Olympic gold medalist Jennie Finch at the annual Softball Breakthrough Series helped the Florida prep athlete achieve her dream of playing college softball.Clark was on the verge of giving up on the game before attending
COMPTON, Calif. -- For Jayden Clark, the opportunity to showcase her skills and learn from Olympic gold medalist Jennie Finch at the annual Softball Breakthrough Series helped the Florida prep athlete achieve her dream of playing college softball.
Clark was on the verge of giving up on the game before attending a Softball Breakthrough Series event last year, where Finch delivered a pep talk that steered the teen back into the sport she loves.
"I was quitting, because it just wasn't sticking with me and I felt like I was going into a slump," said Clark, who is now committed to playing softball at South Florida State College. "But when I met Jennie -- she has the best personality all the way around. She just told me to not get down on myself. She understood what I was going through.
"She also gave me her glasses, and ever since then, I haven't dropped a ball in the outfield with them. That's my good-luck charm."
Clark was one of 60 high-school softball players from 18 states and Puerto Rico who were invited to participate in this year's Softball Breakthrough Series, held at Major League Baseball's Youth Academy in Compton. It's a special development camp operated by MLB and USA Softball that serves as a showcase for college recruiters.
"For these young ladies, it's just being out here meeting girls from all over the country and sharing the struggles, sharing the excitement for the game," said Finch, the youth softball ambassador for MLB. "Sports are so important. For these girls to have this opportunity to come out and learn from the best, it's way beyond the softball field. It's life lessons, it's an experience they will never forget."
Finch and her fellow softball Olympians know all about success and struggles, but it's important for the next generation of athletes to understand that failure can lead to triumph.
"We're all going to fail, and that's what we tried to tell them: We're Olympians, yes, but we've failed, we've probably failed more than you've tried," Finch said. "That's what it takes and that's what builds and shapes the character that you are. Don't be afraid to fail."
An extension of the Baseball Breakthrough Series, which was established in 2008, the Softball Breakthrough Series is completely expense-free for participants. Attendees showcase their skills to college recruiters while receiving on-field instruction and presentations from some of the nation's top softball figures.
Friday's workouts, part of a five-day program, featured defensive and offensive drills and breakout sessions with instructors, including baserunning, situational offense and defense and hitting. The workouts continue through Sunday before the participants play in exhibition games.
In addition to the on-field action, participants receive daily presentations from notable figures connected to baseball and softball. The presentations provide mentorship, tips on the collegiate recruiting process and information about careers within the baseball industry.
"Ultimately, we use this game for a bigger, better purpose," Finch said. "It's the determination, it's the grit, it's the sacrifice, it's the teamwork, it's the leadership skills, all of those things that will help them beyond softball and in life, no matter if they're playing or not playing."
Austin Laymance is a contributor to MLB.com based in Los Angeles.