Q&A: Jennie Finch on her recent whirlwind and pioneers

By Charlie Snyder // usolympicteam.com // August 6, 2003

Jennie Finch is the most famous softball player in the world. The fame roller coaster all started with her softball talent and accomplishments, but along the way she reached new audiences by winning ESPN.com popularity polls and by striking out Major League Baseball players on the national weekly television show, “This Week in Baseball;” she’s an on-air correspondent, doing interviews with ballplayers. Finch has been on virtually every TV talk show; she’ll be on the “Late Show with David Letterman” the week of Aug. 23. She has famous fans, Barry Bonds and LaBron James, to name two. She goes to baseball’s All-Star Game and the crowd chants her name. She’s come a long way from those days on the tee-ball field.

Q1: What was it like at the All-Star Game?

JENNIE FINCH: “It was amazing. I don’t think I really realized what it was until I watched, ‘This Week in Baseball’ after. I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, look who I’m sitting by. I’m on the field during the Home Run Derby. This is amazing.’ It’s kind of just been so crazy and such a blur that I haven’t been able to sit back and think, ‘Jennie, like, are you serious? Look at where you’re at. Look at who you are meeting.’ Who would have though a softball player would be on the field at Dodger Stadium where I had season tickets growing up … I would go to the games with my mom … I found myself on the field beside Tommy Lasorda, pitching to Paul Lo Duca on the field. I mean, you can’t get any better than that.”

Q2: And Barry Bonds came up to you …

JENNIE FINCH: Yeah, Barry came up and started talking a lot of trash. He said, ‘They say you’re the best, but you’re not the best until you face the best.’ And I said, ‘Well, you’ve never seen my rise ball.’ And he said, ‘You’ve never seen my top hand.’ Then before he went out for batting practice, he said, ‘Hey Finch, here’s what I’m going to do with your rise ball.’ Then he hit three balls to each field for home runs. (Next month, Jennie will face Bonds for the TV show.)

Q3: How crazy is it that Barry Bonds knows your game?

JENNIE FINCH: “It’s exciting and it’s neat. I think that’s the best thing about the ‘This Week in Baseball’ experience. I’m not just a normal interviewer coming in. They’ve seen me on the TV. They’ve seen me pitch. There’s that level of respect there. And then, when they get in the box, there’s that extra level of respect. It’s been fun.”

Q4: Any other favorite fan encounters?

JENNIE FINCH: “At the All-Star Game, having my name chanted by the crowd … that was pretty cool. I was kind of excited about that. At the ESPY Awards this past year, LaBron James tapped me on the shoulder and he’s like, ‘Hey Finch, I can pitch too.’ And I said, ‘Oh, you can huh?’ I was kind of nervous. I didn’t know if he knew who I was, but obviously I knew who he was. I wanted to introduce myself, but it was kind of cool how he broke the ice like that.”

Q5: What’s it been like for you making all of these TV appearances?

JENNIE FINCH: “It’s pretty humbling. I can’t really … I mean I go into these situations, like … ‘wow, look where I’m at’ … I get so nervous and so worked up that day that I don’t even think I enjoy it. When it’s over, it’s almost like it’s a relief. I’m so nervous about … what are they gong to ask, what’s the situation like. It’s been great. God’s truly blessed me. Really this whole experience has helped out sport get to the next level. I know each of us individually are doing our own certain things out there and hopefully it can bring our sport to that next level.”

Q6: One day, you were the big fish in the softball pond and then a half-million people voted on epsn.com, most of them for you …

JENNIE FINCH: “It’s pretty flattering. When I first found out about, my dad called me, he’s like, ‘Jennie, I’ve been getting all these phone calls, you’ve got to check out espn.com.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘You’re up for ‘Best Dressed’ (from the ESPY Awards). I’m like, ‘What, no way’ and that’s how it all started. “I was at the Canada Cup to compete … the whole softball team got on … we were all excited. I was up against all these well-known celebrities, I’m like, ‘there’s no way I’m up there.’ It’s almost as though it’s not me up there. I think the neatest thing is they saw me because ESPN was at Arizona before all of this happened and that’s really where it developed … what I’ve done on the athletic field. If I wasn’t on this USA team, I don’t know how far my looks would take me.”

Q7: How has your involvement with the Cal Ripken Foundation progress?

JENNIE FINCH: “We have had one camp in Baltimore. We had girls out there and they didn’t know what their glove hand was or what hand they threw with … for them to get interested in the sport of softball … it was great. Just to be able to be out there and say, ‘Let’s go, let’s play ball.” You don’t have to be a girl, you can be an athlete.”

Q8: How did your color commentating debut for the 2003 Women’s College World Series go? Was it like playing softball?

JENNIE FINCH: “Oh gosh … I was playing tee-ball when it comes to commentating. I had no experience whatsoever. They just kind of put me in there and said, ‘Go for it.’ I did the best I could. To be honest, it was overwhelming. I ended up crying in my hotel room. It was one of the hardest experiences of my life. I really commend the media and respect them so much more. I mean broadcasting is so tough … to be able to listen to the guy in your ear, watch the game, listen to the girl next to you and try to take it all in and make sense out of it … it’s tough.”

Q9: How have your teammates responded to all of this?

JENNIE FINCH: “They’re great. They’re so supportive. I think they realize everything is helping our sport out. What Lisa Fernandez does, helps me out. What Leah O’Brien, Lori Harrigan, Stacey Nuveman … all the notoriety they are getting helps ourselves and our sport and helps all those little girls hoping and dreaming to be a softball player. It’s truly amazing to think that Lisa Fernandez was the only one with an apparel sponsor and now you look and almost our entire team has a sponsor. It’s truly amazing what they’ve done and now myself, coming out of college at just the right time, is reaping all of the benefits from their hard work … Dot Richardson, Joan Joyce, Bertha Tickey, who really worked hard to get our sport here. Thank you, I’m getting all of this attention because of you.

Q10: Those players and the program have been so successful …

JENNIE FINCH: “They couldn’t be any more dominating. They couldn’t do any more on the softball field then they did. They just kept coming out playing for the love of it. Some of us were watching a show on baseball history and we’re like, ‘Yeah, they played for $6,000 in the day; they had to sacrifice their families and everything. And we’re like, ‘See, maybe in 20 years we can be making millions.’ We’re getting our eyes open and we’re taking slow steps.”

This interview originally appeared on usolympicteam.com.
To follow U.S. Olympic athletes today, visit teamusa.org.

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