Former Arizona Wildcat softball great Jennie Finch not only won gold medals and national championships; she became the figurehead of the softball itself, leading a sport once dominated by those growing up in the warm West Coast into national and even international popularity.
Nearly two years after retirement, we caught up with Finch as she watches the Women's College World Series while on a Capital One Cup tour to chat about her current projects, the state of softball, and of course, her Wildcats.
Kevin Zimmerman: Obviously you're on this tour; how's life in general? Are you busy, are you hanging out with family a lot?
Jennie Finch: I've been kind of a road warrior lately. I've done a ton of stuff. I've been commentating for ESPN to working with Diamond Nation, my softball academy I have up in New Jersey. I have camps and clinics nationwide. I just came out with my book, "Throw Like A Girl" and an instructional pitching DVD as well, and I had my second son and he'll be a year next month.
Zimmerman: Do you have time to hang out with the kids and all that with these projects going on?
Finch: Oh, of course. My family is my priority and what comes first, and so I do travel a lot but luckily when I'm home I'm home. You know, my youngest son is with me right now at the College World Series. I travel with them as well. My 6-year-old just started tee ball. It's been an absolute thrill to experience with him and watch him on the field.
Zimmerman: I think it's been about two years since you announced your retirement. Do you ever get an itch to play anymore or are you content doing what you're doing?
Finch: I'm definitely content. I do miss it but my heart is completely fulfilled with my boys and being around them, and just having family time and investing in other areas, challenging myself in new ways. It's been a thrill ... this chapter just as much as playing. Of course there will be treasured memories for sure ... being at the College World Series and watching these athletes play.
You miss that camaraderie with your teammates, this competing 180 percent out there on the field and giving everything you can and walking off the field having nothing left. There's nothing greater than that feeling. But I'm at a good place.
Zimmerman: Can you talk about this College World Series, what you've observed? What do you think has changed this year, I guess in who's been on top? Obviously Arizona's not there. But who's going to come out in this one?
Finch: It's going to be a tough tough fight. I like Keilani Ricketts and Oklahoma. They definitely have the homefield advantage here. Then you have defending national champion ASU, who is very talented. And then you have Cal who also has great pitching, great defense and great hitting. Alabama is fighting for that first SEC national championship, and that's where I think it's awesome to see our sport grow and our game grow.
You know, all these programs -- multimillion dollar facilities popping up all over the country, new faces, and seeing the best in the game compete at this incredible stage here in Oklahoma City -- that's why I'm excited to be a part of the Capital One advisory board because it sheds light on female athletics and allows sports to shine ... and it supports them. The Capital One Cup, you know, gives away $400,000 in total scholarships for athletes. It's a great way to honor achievements on and off the field.
Zimmerman: Can you explain your role with them a little more? Are you more of a, I guess, figurehead for them or do you actually have some decisionmaking to do?
Finch: I'm on the advisory board, it's not so much decisionmaking but more of supporting college athletics, and as a (former) student athlete in the big scene of college sports, I'm excited to be a part of it. That's the reason why it's important for me to be on this board.
Zimmerman: How much has the parity changed since you were playing in softball compared to now? These smaller schools are more competitive.
Finch: When I went to school, it was UCLA, Arizona and the Pac-10, pretty much all of the schools were in the top-15. You know, now you're starting to see other conferences come up. You see the Big East represented with USF, and you have the SEC with Tennessee and Alabama. So much talent, I think, all across the board. You have Texas and Oklahoma here, and I think it's up for grabs for anybody. I think the Pac-12 has dominated the one, two spots with Cal and ASU.
It's great to see the game grow and like I said, the support for softball -- the stadiums are absolutely phenomenal and the weight rooms and the team rooms, the locker rooms. It's big league. And that's why collegiate athletics are just so awesome and important.
Zimmerman: On a wider scale, how much did it hurt a few years back the Olympics decided not to have softball and baseball? (Baseball and softball are) obviously trying to get those back. Are you involved?
Finch: We're petitioning right now for it to be reinstated for 2020 so we're working hard to get it back in. The International Softball Federation is campaigning and getting it together. Another vote is in August. So we'll find out what happens for 2020.
It was heartbreaking for us. That's really what put us on the stage in 1996 (softball's first Olympics) was the Olympic games and to see all these different countries finally get established and the funding be there. Japan winning the Gold Medal in 2008, Venezuela showing so well; these programs are finally getting their feet under themselves and putting together training programs and being able to compete at a higher level.
It's great for the collegiate platform and stage to showcase our great game. And then with the television and companies like Capital One supporting it, hopefully that will continue to help our game grow. First and foremost, your dream is to get a college scholarship and get your education payed for and be able to play also. Anything after that is icing on the cake. There still is USA Softball, there's World Cup, there's still a World Championship, so there's still the ability to play for your country. First and foremost ... go for that college education.
Zimmerman: I have got to ask you some Arizona questions. Have you kept tabs on Arizona, especially this year? Obviously a down year but had some youngsters step up.
Finch: Yeah, that's what it takes is a group of youngsters to come in and make an impact. And I'm not around them (all the time), unfortunately. I watched them at the Super Regional against Oklahoma. But there is a lot of talent there, and I look forward to seeing them compete and hopefully not making it to the College World Series will gain motivation and determination for them to work hard and get back to Oklahoma City next year.
Zimmerman: Just in general, what is it about coach (Mike) Candrea that just makes him be able to group a bunch girls together and bring them together to improve? Even this year, they had a solid ending to the season before the postseason.
Finch: Coach Candrea just has a way of bringing out the best in his players. You want so very badly to perform for him and for Arizona softball and the rich tradition that he's built there. He's so great at finding what each athlete needs as an individual but yet he does it in that team atmosphere and really getting the best out of everybody. And then, you know, having everyone buy in and get on the same page and compete at that level.
He's a guru in the game, and more importantly off the field, he truly cares about his players well beyond the playing field and you know that as you're playing for him. He's one of the best in the game. I've been truly blessed to be able to play for him at Arizona and then also on the USA team.
Zimmerman: Kind of have to ask you, Alicia Hollowell was a coach this time for the first time at Arizona. Do you see coaching in your future or have you not even thought about that?
Finch: As an alumnus, you like to see alumni come back in, and you see that with (assistant coach) Stacy Iveson, who was also brought back, and Alicia Hollowell. You know, I would love to coach. I think right now my schedule is a little too much, and I know if I were to coach I'd have to be completely invested and I think that kind of scares me, only because I know I'd want to give so much of myself.
At this point, my boys need me; I love doing camps and clinics. I'm in Louisiana now, and I get out and pitch BP to the local high school team as much as I can. McNeese State is also there, and I try to get out there as much as I can and support them. So I kind of get around the game at this point but enjoy it.