Jennie Finch: From L.A. to LA
…as in Louisiana La Mirada’s Olympic Gold Medal Girl
By Laura Costadone & Greg Nilan
There is no such thing as a great baseball team without great pitchers. Jennie Finch was the pitcher you wanted if you had to win a game. Considered by Time Magazine as the most famous softball pitcher in history, two-time Olympic medalist, Jennie has won championship after championship, set records and brought women’s softball into the national and international spotlight. All eyes were on Jennie at the 2004 Summer Olympics, when she pitched Team USA all the way to a gold medal victory. This 32 year-old woman from La Mirada (California) seems to have it all, success, sex appeal, two kids, a husband (who was a professional baseball pitcher too) and a house and farm in the prairie!
LAX Magazine had the pleasure to interview Jennie Finch, and we cannot deny that the first thing that stands out is her great amazing figure and beachbunny good looks. (She has been named by People magazine as one of its “50 Most Beautiful People” for a good reason!). She also appeared in the 2005 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue featuring sexy Olympic medalists and was a contestant on Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice…so plenty of star appeal and experience.
But Jennie struck us as a down-to-earth woman who isn’t comfortable playing the part of the sex symbol or pop icon as she is so dedicated to her family she chose a total unique lifestyle living in the middle of rural America on a farm with her two kids and husband. Having grown up in La Mirada and hanging out on the baseball diamonds and Huntington Beach, Jennie now makes her home in the gulf coast region down in Sulphur Louisiana…population 21,000.
LAX: Lets talk a little softball first. Tell us about that five year old pitcher taught by her Dad, the eight year old UCLA batgirl and superstar at La Mirada High School? What are your favorite memories of that period you spent growing up in Southern California?
J.F.: I have so many big memories, most on the baseball diamond. I have two big brothers (five and ten years older than me) that were playing baseball and since I was a little girl. I always wanted to be with them and playing with them. I have so many memories competing outside with other girls and winning most of the time, which made me feel good because I was always losing against my big brothers. Then I started traveling all around, tournament to tournament. Softball dominated my life, the games always came first with almost no vacation time, but it was fun. We went to a lot of Dodgers games at Dodger Stadium. I have always been inspired by them. In our family, my mom was the sports nut, she was the one in the family always wanting to go see the Dodgers. She always made us listen to Vin Scully on the radio for every Dodgers game and Chick Hearn for every Laker game. She was very intense and she was the huge sports fan in my family. But my Dad was the one who taught me how to pitch and he was my individual coach spending hours and hours with me on my skills. It was fun. A few memories when not on the baseball diamond were our favorite beach hangout place at Huntington Beach. I also have memories of my parents swinging by In-N-Out Burger many times on our way home from the airport when we returned to LAX.
LAX: So you were a Los Angeles area high school phenomenon. What made you choose the Arizona Wildcats and Tucson?
J.F.: I love Arizona and the traditions out there, plus some other girlfriends and a few teammates were also going there with me, so I didn’t feel alone. I respected what Coach Candrea and his staff had accomplished and what they were doing. It was a truly special place to play, not too far away from home. I could drive home in seven hours. My goal was to compete in the PAC Ten Conference and Arizona was a good place to play.
LAX: You have the all time record for a collegiate softball pitcher with 60 straight wins, but you also hit .309, .327 and .370 in your college days, played a solid first base, and in one game against the University of Oregon you had nine RBI’s in one game? What were the driving forces that led to this amazing level of success?
J.F.:Yeah, I always wanted to be that athlete that was well rounded and could contribute to her team in many ways: pitching, hitting and fielding. I worked very hard on my batting. I enjoyed pitching and always looked for the great opportunity of helping my team anyway I could. I was so lucky and blessed to be able to both hit and pitch well.
LAX: You were 2-0 in the 2004 Olympics and won a gold medal. Tell us about your favorite highlights of that experience?
J.F.: Absolutely amazing, such an honor, everything and more than I ever dreamt it would be. That team was amazing and it was a dream come true. It was so special to represent the country, be surrounded by different colors, diversity, great athletes and most of all to be in Athens, where the Olympic Games began. We traveled the world together and lived through so many experiences together. The camaraderie amongst the teammates is something you never forget. We are still in touch thanks to social media because we are true friends, sharing so many memories. We will have a big reunion in Chicago this year and that will be fun.
LAX: From the high of 2004 Gold Medal to the low, we then move head four years to 2008 and your team loses in the final to Japan and you’re not even in the game box score? What memories do you have of that tough day for Team USA?
J.F.: It was tough to watch and experience especially if you want nothing but gold! It was very hard to be on the sidelines and experience that game from the bench. But keeping things in perspective you usually are excited and thrilled to go to the Olympics and get a medal of any kind. We learn from our mistakes and to keep your perspective as a competitor. Our coach that day after the loss told us to keep our heads held high for all the great things that we had accomplished. He also said life will throw you many curve balls and getting an Olympic Silver Medal will not be the biggest disappointment in your lives. I wanted to be in the lineup that day but as a team member you have to be a team player and support your team any way you can. It was frustrating being on the sidelines but I tried to pour my energy into supporting my teammates. Baseball is such a team sport!
LAX: From growing up in Los Angeles to the Olympics and now to a very rural and remote Louisiana farm? This is a very unique lifestyle choice and change of pace!
J.F.: I grew up in California and there is nothing like California for me. There is nothing better than flying to LAX and feeling like home. My husband is from Louisiana. I travel a lot and we were not spending enough time together, so I decided to move to Louisiana last August to stay as close as possible. I love the sense of small community and I love to be able to do all the country stuff. We live in a farm with over 350 acres of land. It is so peaceful. We enjoy fishing, hunting and doing all the activity outside. It is my escape and it keeps me in balance! We don’t go very often, but I also enjoy the beach there in the Gulf. Although they are nothing like the California beaches. The sand is not so white and the water not so blue but I enjoy it.
LAX: Tell us about your book “Throw Like a Girl: How to Dream Big & Believe In Yourself”
J.F.: I think I have been so privileged. I was able to do so many things. I got so many opportunities, so many life experiences from traveling around the world that I felt the need to share them. Every time I put my uniform on I felt blessed. I wanted to inspire many girls on how to turn frustration into determination. It is incredible when young girls just say “thanks for sharing your life journey with us”. I think it’s about being the best you can be and try not to get lost in comparing yourself to others. Looking inside instead of around you to figure out your gifts and to let them shine! Everytime I look back 20 years ago those opportunities were not always there for girls. Today I feel I can be a mom and so much more. Many women now follow their dreams and go for the Gold. Softball is amazing that way as a sport. Everyone on the field has a slightly different ability that makes them perfect for their position. It’s a great life lesson too.
LAX: How do you stay in such great pro athlete form? Any workout or diet tips to share?
J.F.: Balance and moderation! Try to move whenever possible. I really prefer to start my day getting my workout in early. I love running because it is good for my mind, soul and body. I also go to the gym to mix things up because it is good for your body to have a variety of workout regimes and keep mixing it up in different ways. I love being outside with my boys, (Jennie has two sons, five year old Ace and Diesel who is one) playing tag or trying to keep up with them. I try to not be too hard on myself regarding my diet. Living in Louisiana I am surrounded by so many good foods. Splurging is important but again balance is the key. Keep your body moving and in balance both emotionally and physically and enjoy what you have.
LAX: What do you do when you feel you need a change in routine, a break in schedule?
J.F.: In my life I have been able to go to amazing places from Bora Bora to Italy. Unfortunately sometimes when you travel for work it is different but I travel a lot and have visited amazing places. Now I simply want to be with my family. I really want to be where my family is. Home is my sanctuary and where I love to be.
LAX: You did a “magical Marathon” where you committed to a marathon soon after delivering your son and 25 pounds overweight. What kind of challenge was that?
J.F.: It was something I always wanted to do, especially after softball. It was a good way to put competition back into my life. I wasn’t planning on it being within a year and a half of retiring and four months after giving birth to my second child! I was asked by Timex and the main reason for saying yes was that for every person I passed Timex would donate $1 to the New York Road Runners Youth Program. That added to the challenge. It wasn’t enough just to run 26.2 miles, I would have to pass as many people as possible. It was like running for a bunch of kids in the New York City area and trying to raise money for them doing something I always wanted to do. I met so many people running. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and experience.
LAX: Time Magazine defined you as the most famous softball player in the world. How did you feel about it? How did you translate from sport icon to a pop icon?
J.F.: My family keeps me grounded. I know that the opportunities I have were not there for my mom. I try to be the best I can be especially as a role model. I feel so lucky because I could be everything I wanted to be: a mom and playing softball. I live one day at a time. Sometimes I freak out when I see my schedule but I try to keep everything in perspective. I keep my priorities in order and my life in balance to be the best I can be. My mom was my example I had a great role model, my mom!
LAX: Do you still play softball? What do you miss the most?
J.F.: No, unfortunately have little time to play softball. After competing at such a high level I don’t know if I can compete in the local adult league slow pitch! But I’m lucky because I do get out on the field by doing my Jennie Finch Softball Camps around the country. I love being out on the diamond, sharing my passion for softball with others. I love to inspire young girls about the game that gave me so much and it is good to have a chance to give back at least part of what it has given to me. I do miss playing, though. I miss competing and being around my teammates.
LAX: Anything else you would like to add?
J.F.: Yes, I just want to say I love LAX so much. So many of the sky caps I have gotten to know over the years, as I have done so much traveling out of LAX my whole life. Many of them are incredibly sweet and even though it is a big town, it feels like home and a small town when I’m at LAX. When I walk through the airport there are so many who know me or my parents from the many camps, clinics, games and travels and they ask “Hi Jennie, how is it going?” I love the fact it feels like home for me and it will always be home. Some of the sky caps even flew with their family to see me play in Arizona and I have many great LAX stories and memories