Jennie Finch, who led the U.S. softball team to gold and silver medals in the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics, addresses the crowd at the 9th Annual Bearcats Celebrating Women’s Athletics Luncheon and Auction on Feb. 3.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Softball great Jennie Finch stresses positivity, preparationTweet
When Olympic gold medalist Jennie Finch was 12 years old, a coach told her that she would never be a championship pitcher. Eight months later, she beat that coach’s team, and the rest is history.
“There’s always going to be people who are going to tell you what you can’t do, or who you’ll never be, or what you won’t do,” she said to more than 500 people at the 9th Annual Bearcats Celebrating Women’s Athletics Luncheon and Auction at the Events Center on Feb. 3. The annual event recognizes the achievements of Binghamton University’s female student-athletes. “If we don’t believe in ourselves, we’ll never make it.”
Finch, who helped lead the United States women’s national softball team to the gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens and a silver medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, was the guest speaker at the luncheon. All proceeds from the event go toward the Binghamton Bearcats Athletic Association Women’s Scholarship Fund. Other speakers at the event included University President Harvey Stenger, Celebrating Women’s Athletics Luncheon Chair Patty Bloomer, Director of Athletics Patrick Elliott, BBAA Board President William Orband Jr., M&T Bank Regional President Peter Newman and student-athlete Grace Vickers.
Stenger praised Bloomer for turning an event attended by just 50 women in 2006 into the high-profile event it is today, echoing a sentiment he expressed in his State of the University address on Jan. 31.
“As I said on Friday and I will say every day if somebody asks, ‘bigger is better,’” he said. “You can get bigger and not get better, but Binghamton University has been getting bigger and better at the same time, and this event is certainly a signature of that.”
He went on to praise student-athletes, saying that great athletes exemplify the qualities of great students.
“Athletes represent more than just their athletic skills at these events,” he said. “They represent qualities that are characteristic of athletes but I believe are characteristics of students in general. The concepts that this event brings to us are exactly the same concepts that we want to have throughout Binghamton University.”
One of those student-athletes, senior volleyball player and 2012 Binghamton Co-Female Athlete of the Year Grace Vickers, wanted to attend a college with a deep appreciation for both academics and athletics. After researching different colleges, she found these qualities in Binghamton.
“On the plane ride back to California, I knew that Binghamton was the place for me, even if it was 3,000 miles from home,” she said. “The best decision I ever made was coming to Binghamton University, a place where I could pursue my education and my collegiate volleyball career.”
When she graduates in May, Vickers plans to pursue a career in intercollegiate athletic administration.
“I hope to inspire other young women to pursue their goals without hesitation,” she said.
Finch, a three-time All American Pitcher at the University of Arizona, also believes in the life-altering power of college athletics.
“We need the support and we need to keep building incredible, powerful women like Grace and many more who will come out of this Bearcat program, to help further society and help further our communities one by one,” she said.
A softball player since childhood – as a young girl, she wanted to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers – Finch said that college gave her the opportunity and platform to succeed.
“It helped me not only be the best athlete I could be, but most importantly, shaped the person that I am today,” she said. “I would not be where I am today if it was not for that opportunity to play in college.”
In her quest for softball greatness, Finch missed a lot of birthday parties, slumber parties and vacations. When she started playing for the University of Arizona in 1999, she realized all of it was worth it, especially the “cool clicking sound” her metal cleats made on the cement.
“That was a goal of mine – to get my own pair of metal cleats and be able to make that cool sound,” she said.
A fierce competitor, Finch credits her two older brothers, who were constantly beating her up and winning at everything when she was growing up, for fueling her drive to succeed.
“I blame them for this crazy competitive fire deep within me, because I grew up losing at everything,” she said.
Despite her phenomenal success, Finch certainly knows what it’s like to lose. The lowest point of her career, she said, came when she lost to Arizona State University during her sophomore year. Shattered by this loss, she kicked her game up a notch and began what would become a 60-game consecutive winning streak.
“My lesson is: You can be at your lowest of lows, but tomorrow can bring you the highest of highs,” she said. “You never know what that next pitch is going to bring or what that next day is going to bring.”
There are always things that will be out of your control, said Finch. To combat this, she urges players to “control the controllables”: attitude and effort.
“The game doesn’t know the name on the front of the jersey,” she said. “The game doesn’t know the rankings. When you step on that field, it’s zero-zero; you have a shot.”
Finch, who pitched for 25 years, said while that negative voice inside that tells you you’re going to lose never goes away, it’s possible to turn down the volume.
“The more I prepared, the more I sacrificed, the more I walked out there knowing that I gave everything I had, the quieter that voice got,” she said. “You’ve got to knock that negative voice out as soon as it pops in.”
The kind of preparation it takes to succeed doesn’t have to be overwhelming, said Finch, who ran the New York City Marathon two years ago. It’s about taking one step at a time.
“It’s all about the little steps,” she said. “It’s one pitch at a time. It’s the little things that you’re willing to do that others won’t.”
Those little things – that extra preparation – helped Finch and her team win a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics. She said that she couldn’t believe she was in Athens, Greece, winning a goal medal with the same people she had asked for autographs just eight years prior.
“It’s about having dreams, believing in yourself and going for it,” she said.
Finch, who has co-hosted “This Week in Baseball,” pitched against major leaguers, authored a book, appeared on late-night shows and won numerous awards, is amazed where the game of softball has taken her.
“I’ve been able to travel the world with a ball in my hand,” she said. “I’ve played in places I never even knew existed. And here I am, playing them. It’s absolutely wild to see where life has taken me and where the game of softball has taken me.”
To Finch, softball is more than a game; it’s transformative.
“Ultimately, this is a game, but this game is a pretty amazing game, and it has taught me a lot. It has shaped and built the person, the mother, the friend, the daughter that I am today, and I’m so grateful for that opportunity.”