DALLAS -- Olympic gold medalist Jennie Finch boasts one of the most impressive resumés in softball/baseball history -- at any level -- and has amassed countless awards on her path to becoming a National Softball Hall of Famer.
Only one player has won an NCAA-record 60 consecutive starts, led their alma mater to a National Championship win, helped spearhead three World Cup victories and represented their country on a gold medal-clinching Olympic team -- Finch.
Now, just over two decades removed from winning the 2001 College World Series that kickstarted her continued stardom, Finch, MLB’s youth softball ambassador, is paving the way for the next generation of softball stars.
On Wednesday evening, the pitching phenom turned MLB ambassador hosted a clinic at the Texas Rangers Youth Academy, where she trained and inspired roughly 20 youth softball athletes, all of whom were pitchers and catchers.
“It feels great to be back here,” Finch said, standing on the Kershaw’s Challenge Field grass. “I’m super excited. I came [to the Texas Rangers Youth Academy] in 2018 when it had just opened and did a clinic here, so I’m glad to be back.
“It’s a beautiful facility, and the Texas Rangers Youth Academy has done amazing and incredible work. This program changes lives and makes an impact. It creates athletes and encourages them on their way.”
Located in West Dallas, the Academy provides free year-round baseball and softball instruction to athletes ages 7-18 and summer ball for athletes ages 13-18 through Major League Baseball’s RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) League.
Part of this year’s busy slate of programs at the Academy is Finch’s pitching tour, which stops at eight MLB Youth Academies across the country, including Wednesday evening’s clinic in Dallas, its fourth stop of the inaugural nationwide tour.
During the clinic, Finch, the former All-American and Pac-10 pitcher of the year, spoke with the Academy’s youth softball athletes, offering mental guidance as well as on-field techniques.
With Major League Baseball’s Nike RBI Southwest Regional Tournament being held at the Texas Rangers Youth Academy this weekend -- in which many of the camp attendees will compete -- Finch’s visit could not have come at a better time for the youth athletes.
“[Finch] has always been a big role model that us pitchers look up to,” said 17-year-old Giovanca Frias, who will be starting in the Nike RBI Southwest Regional Tournament. “Everything she said had to do with mechanic -- sticking through a pitch and relaxing our shoulders -- as well as stepping on to the pitcher's mound with confidence. Saying to ourselves, ‘I’m a beast,' and ‘I can strike her out.’ Hearing those words means a lot and helps you out mentally while pitching.”
Though she no longer uses it to win Olympic titles or torment baseball legend Albert Pujols in front of his Major League peers, Finch displayed an impressive array of pitches during the clinic at the Academy, including her electric fastball that still carries plenty of zip.
Finch also gave the youth athletes in attendance an up-close look at her finger placement for her fastball, curveball, changeup and riseball.
“We really wanted to carve out time and really tap into the art and fundamentals of pitching,” Finch said. “I just want to encourage them and teach them new pitches, how to spin and just kind of share my knowledge of the game, basically be a resource for whatever they need on their pitching journey.”
One of the biggest lessons Finch conveyed to the pitchers was to remain relentless on the mound and to not wear their emotions on their jersey.
“[Finch] told us to keep the same face when pitching,” said 14-year old pitcher Kayla Clemons. “Even if someone hits a home run off you, keep the same face. Don’t get rattled, and have confidence.”
Finch stressed the importance of winning the mental battle before conquering the physical one throughout the clinic, and the youth athletes were incredibly receptive to the Softball Hall of Famer’s advice.
“My biggest takeaway was the mental tip [from Finch] to not be in your head during the game … keep the same mentality all the way through,” said 14-year old pitcher Hailey Zuniga. “Even if you're losing by a lot or winning big, stick with the same mentality.”
After the clinic, Finch posed for pictures and signed autographs for camp attendees. Though she is accustomed to being an icon to many, the feeling of giving back to the community and raising up the next generation never gets old for Finch.
“It's a dream to be able to do what I love and to share the game that I’m passionate about,” Finch said. “It’s a dream to be able to inspire and encourage the next generation. I know that I usually come to be the one inspiring, but I always leave just as inspired by these athletes and their journeys, and just their hunger and love for the game.
“It's contagious and I love being around it, and so it's a true privilege and honor to be able to share what I love with them.”