Jennie Finch is the kind of girl women love to hate. Gorgeous, athletically gifted and armed with Olympic gold (and silver!) medals, the green-eyed California native has the hallmarks of a perfect life, record-breaking career, hot pro athlete husband, supermodel figure and all. Described by Time magazine as “the most famous softball player in history,” 29-year-old Finch has led Team USA to seven consecutive World Championships during her ten-year professional tenure. Which is why, on July 20th, sports fans across the country were shocked when she announced her retirement, stating that she wanted to spend more time with her husband, Houston Astros pitcher Casey Daigle, and child, four-year-old Ace. We caught up with the fast-pitching powerhouse as she finished up her last season with the Chicago Bandits.
We get it. Your life has to be absolutely exhausting.
Oh yeah. It can be an emotional rollercoaster because you look forward to the time you have together with your family and then all of a sudden it’s only two days. We all try to enjoy the time that we do have together and know that it’s only for a short while, but we’re making the most of it. Our only real time together is in a hotel room because we don’t really have a home. We just try to take it one week at a time and, when it gets crazy, one day at a time. We’re just trying to let the small stuff linger and enjoy that.
That’s got to be tough. You must miss home.
Yes, I do. At the same time, it’s a great lesson because we all find ourselves unable to get attached to any physical thing. It’s more enjoying what we have together, and I think that’s a good lesson for all of us.
How has Ace been dealing with it all?
We’re so blessed to have such a wonderful kid. He puts up with a lot. He’s on a plane two or three times a week, and he just rolls with it. Now that he’s starting to get more expressive and can ask things like, “When is daddy going to be back?,” it’s becoming a huge sacrifice to be away. I think it’s going to be a bigger challenge once he gets older. It’s very hard being away from him.
What’s been your biggest challenge with parenting thus far?
Aside from being away, the whole discipline thing. It’s easy once you see the benefits of it. It’s hard because you never know what is too young and where’s the line. You live and learn.
Is parenting what you expected it would be?
This is way more fun than I ever imagined. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but there’s so much joy involved that the challenges feel like nothing. Emotionally being so attached is wonderful and hard. Ace is this little sponge collecting and absorbing and learning everything about his world, and I’m learning so much from him.
Patience and understanding, for one. He makes me enjoy the moment and soak up every second I have with him. He also pushes me to be better. When I am away, I want to be the best that I can be because I know that I am sacrificing something so big.
Between the sacrifice and the insane competition that goes into being a pro athlete, you guys contend with a lot. Is this a career path you would want your children to take?
I just want Ace to enjoy what he does. Casey and I love what we do, and it happens to be sports. There are so many life lessons that I’ve gained in sports and so many incredible things that have come from being a part of athletics. I hope Ace experiences that and if not, I hope he finds his passion and pursues it. Right now he likes whatever his dad is into, and that’s baseball. He likes the uniform and he likes to hit the ball.
You’ve said that your son has “the 17 greatest aunts” in your teammates. What is his relationship to your team now that he’s getting older?
It’s awesome. Last night we had three girls in here hanging out with him and playing baseball in the halls and throwing the football in the outfield with him. He loves it. I feel so blessed that they’re so good to him, and they enjoy having him around. It keeps things in perspectiv,e because ultimately wins and losses are going to happen, but there are things greater than that. It helps me remember that softball isn’t everything. No matter what, I’m always going to be his mom, and he could care less if I win or lose, even though I think he likes it better if I do win. Either way, there are greater things in life.
But you’ve stated time and time again that you have a hard time losing and that you take it quite personally. How do you help Ace cope with loss?
When I look back on my life, my greatest lessons came through loss or heartbreak. I try to tell [Ace] to learn what you can from it and move on. You have to experience the losses and the failures to appreciate the victories and the wins.
What have you learned from losing?
That you keep going. There’s going to be ups and downs. The losses help keep you in check and they humble you. We aren’t perfect. You’re going to make mistakes. It’s how you respond to those great losses that builds the character and the person that you are.
Speaking of character, I heard that you turned down a lucrative Playboy spread. Why?
I kind of laughed at the whole Playboy thing, but it was a big decision. They were going to do a spread about softball, so it wasn’t just about me. My brother actually told me, “What if a girl wants to read that article and you’re on the cover? If she wants to get the magazine then somebody has to say, ‘No, it’s not appropriate.'” That stuck in my heart. I take being a role model very seriously and I appreciate and enjoy the opportunity to be a positive impact on kids, young girls especially. I felt like that’s greater than being portrayed in a sexual way.”
You’ve done a lot of charity work aimed at elevating young women and women’s athletics, including operating a series of softball camps throughout the US. How do you feel about athletes that do cross over to the sexier side of sports? Do you feel like it detracts from the game?
To each their own. I don’t want to judge others. I decided to stay clear of that and I hope to be a positive role model for girls. Girls are exposed to so much at such a young age. You can feel good about yourself and be pretty and sexy without showing everything. It’s so cool to see how society has turned the tables and now loves muscles on females. It’s a cool thing now to be a female athlete. If I can encourage girls to do that and play a positive role in their lives, that’s one of my many missions. It’s close to my heart.
What do you hope to impart on the girls who look up to you?
Be the best that you can be whether that be in the classroom, on the field, at home. Never stop competing. It’s only that little bit of extra that truly makes it your best.
It must be hard to stick with that message in a culture where female athletes get treated so differently than the guys.
It can be frustrating, but at the same time what is that bitterness going to get you? It’s not easy being married to a major league baseball player, seeing his paycheck versus my paycheck, how he travels versus how I travel. Ten years ago what I do wasn’t an opportunity and now it is. I’m playing softball professionally. It’s something that I never imagined for myself. I still joke with my girlfriends, “Oh my gosh, I’m 29 years old and a mom with a family and I’m still playing softball.” Our responsibility, as athletes, is to continue the growth of the sport. I wish we had more media coverage and attention, but we’re getting there.
You still feel that way even with softball getting cut from the 2012 Olympics?
That was heartbreaking. Our sport is at an all-time high. There are over 140 countries that play softball, and to have it cut without any real reason hurts. But again, the question is, “How are you going to respond?” To me, this is just another bump in the road.