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Softball star Finch leads girls' clinic in Miami

MLB youth ambassador promotes keeping positive mindset
MLB.com

MIAMI -- "Practice like it's competition. Compete like it's practice."

Two-time Summer Olympics medalist and softball Hall of Famer Jennie Finch emphasized this mantra on Saturday at Play Ball Park in downtown Miami's Bayfront Park.

MIAMI -- "Practice like it's competition. Compete like it's practice."

Two-time Summer Olympics medalist and softball Hall of Famer Jennie Finch emphasized this mantra on Saturday at Play Ball Park in downtown Miami's Bayfront Park.

Finch, the MLB youth softball ambassador, and USA Softball held a clinic for about 60 All-Star Youth Classic softball players from four teams across the United States and Puerto Rico.

"Every day in practice, it's got to be game speed, game mode, then when you get in competition in the game, it's like practice because you've done it every single day," Finch said.

It's a lesson that resonated with Brooke Rebhan, 11, a second baseman on the Marlins' RBI softball team. She also plays for a local travel club.

Rebhan, who took up softball as a 4-year-old, called meeting Finch one of the best experiences of All-Star festivities.

"It's really fun to compete in tournaments and win rings and trophies with your team," Rebhan said. "You should practice as if somebody's watching and as if it's competition. Once you get into the game, it's not as much pressure because you already practiced hard."

:: Complete All-Star Game coverage ::

Play Ball Park, in its second year after a successful run in San Diego in 2016, is a free interactive All-Star Week attraction created by Major League Baseball to provide opportunities for youth from ages 4-17 to play baseball and softball in a fun, welcoming setting. Play Ball Park measures about one acre in size and includes a youth-sized turf diamond featuring daily scheduled programming and open play as well as batting tunnels, pitching inflatables, MLB sponsor activation zones and a new "Stickball Alley."

Each young person who participates in Play Ball Park activities will receive a plastic or foam Play Ball bat-and-ball set made by Franklin and a Play Ball-branded T-shirt. Programming partners for 2017 Play Ball Park include USA Baseball, USA Softball, The Positive Coaching Alliance, the Marlins, Boys & Girls Club of America and generous Play Ball supporters such as Chevrolet, Scotts, Nathan's Famous and New Era.

Play Ball Park, which is accessible to children and parents through Tuesday, has free admission, after signing a required participation waiver.

Prior to breaking up the girls into stations -- pitching, hitting and kickball -- Finch took questions that ranged from the best advice she ever received ("Be the best that you can be") to why she became a pitcher ("I loved having the ball in my hand").

"We're not guaranteed tomorrow. We better make today great," Finch said. "We have two choices: We can cling to the negative or cling to the positive. I hope that you dig and claw and bite to cling for the positive. Even if it's your breathing; that's a positive. I don't care what your record is, your ERA is. If you're alive, you're playing ball. Life is good.

"If you want to look for the negatives, trust me, those negatives will find you. We have to be strong enough and know today is a gift."

That advice, of course, can be difficult to follow. Keeping things in perspective is crucial.

Nuturing the mind, which Finch called the "strongest tool," means shaking off the doubt and negative voice in one's head.

For a newcomer to the sport like Sarah Rodriguez, 12, that is important to remember. When she moved back to Puerto Rico after living in the United States, she gave up soccer and took up softball.

"This is a unique experience, because not many people get to do this and meet as many people and get great experiences," said Rodriguez, who lives about an hour outside of San Juan. "The clinic they gave us and the practice they gave us helps me get better and stuff."

Tweet from @AllStarGame: Olympic gold medalist and All-American @JennieFinch takes questions from fans at All-Star #FanFest! pic.twitter.com/GRIEUrwTnq

On Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET, tune in to the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX, and during the game visit MLB.com to submit your choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2017 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote. The 88th All-Star Game, in Miami, will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB.com, MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.

Christina De Nicola is a reporter for MLB.com.