Finch motivates softball players at EDI camp

July 15th, 2019

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Softball star Jennie Finch is one part instructor, one part motivational speaker.

And both of the parts add up to a sum the Elite Development Invitational campers at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex this week can look up to and admire.

Finch and fellow Olympic gold medal winners Jenny Topping and Natasha Watley were among a handful of instructors training approximately 90 elite prep softball players at the complex formerly known as Dodgertown.

On Monday, the third full day of camp activities, all four fields at the softball facility, nestled behind the third-base side of legendary Holman Stadium, were in full use for the players, who traveled from all over the country to spend a week learning from some of softball’s best and most iconic figures.

“Life is great if you’re playing softball!” Finch belted out while standing in front of her group as they listened attentively to the former Arizona Wildcats star.

Motivation is certainly one of Finch’s strong suits.

Finch, 38, pointed out technical tweaks and offered advice on pitchers’ deliveries, but any criticism also came with a healthy dose of positive reinforcement, which has much to do with the California native being a mother of three children.

“I think [the game] is just as much mental and psychological as it is physical,” said Finch, who led the Wildcats to the 2001 Women’s College World Series title and won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

“Now that I’m through the game and I’m a parent, I realize how crucial it is. We always say, ‘It’s 90 percent mental,’ right? But yet we’re always yelling these physical things to them. Like, what are we doing to them? If it’s mental, let’s talk them up and build them up and encourage them as well.

“I think that’s what we all love and know about the game -- the life lessons that tie in. Any time you can incorporate that, it’s a win-win.”

Pitcher Sherrell Matthews, who will be a senior in Wetumpka, Ala., in the fall, took instruction from Finch on Field 7 and improved as she listened to Finch throughout the session.

Firing fastballs to former Oklahoma Sooners standout Jessica Shults, Matthews zipped a final pitch that both Finch and Shults estimated was 5 mph faster than Matthews’ previous offerings.

“I could feel [the improvement],” said Matthews, 17. “She told me to push harder and stop going at 80 percent. She really motivates me.”

The camp will culminate with the presentation of the Jennie Finch Empowerment Award presented by Arm & Hammer on Wednesday morning.

Topping developed a strong reputation for her prowess at the plate in college, swinging a mighty bat at the University of Washington before transferring to Cal State Fullerton after her freshman season in which she set multiple offensive school records for the Huskies.

Her batting exploits carried over to the Olympics as well, where she hit a team-best .666 and helped Team USA beat Australia to earn gold.

Topping, who, like Finch, is working in her third EDI, said she likes that the camp allows her and the rest of the coaching staff to help grow the game.

“We see that our sport is getting more and more expensive, and we’re starting to see sort of a gap with girls that can afford it and can’t,” Topping said. “So the greatest part about this is getting to expose more knowledge to girls who wouldn’t necessarily get the experience.

“This is my third year, and the talent has gotten better and better every single year. They’re super excited to be here and attentive. You can see the desire in their eyes for knowledge.”

Watley battled both Finch and Topping during their Pac-12 Conference playing days, but the trio became teammates in the 2004 Olympics, where Watley led the team in at-bats, hits and stolen bases and also hit .400, third best on the club.

She also broke the Olympic record with five stolen bases in nine games.

A standout at UCLA, Watley was in awe after arriving at the complex named after Jackie Robinson -- a Bruin like her -- for the first time.

She said Robinson and his efforts to break the color barrier were an inspiration during her days playing at their alma mater and added that the girls in camp were “super engaging" and different than her generation.

“They pull you aside and ask questions, and I think they’re tuned in more and are focused more,” said Watley. “I never had an opportunity like this. I just think they’re different and have no shame in asking a question.

“I think they get it.”