As ambassador for sport, Finch saddened Olympics dropped softball
Jennie Finch’s heart breaks a little each day during the London Olympics.
Only four years ago, she was a star pitcher for Team USA in the Beijing Olympics, knowing that she was on the last softball team that would compete for a gold medal.
The United States, which had won the previous three gold medals — Finch pitched for the winning team in Athens, Greece, in 2004 — took silver in the final appearance of softball in the Olympic Games.
“Reality has set in,” said Finch, who is in town conducting a two-day softball camp at Canyon View Park, attended by more than 200 young softball players. “Obviously it’s the Olympics and you never want to take anything away from the athletes or the sports that are there and playing and representing the United States and their countries. It is that fine line.
“My heart breaks for those women who should be there and our sport should be. I think it’s a mixture of emotions and feelings and the reality of knowing it’s not there.”
Baseball, which became a medal sport in 1992, and softball, which gained Olympic status in 1996, were dropped after the 2008 games. Finch has been an integral part of the effort to bring her sport back, but so far that’s been unsuccessful.
“We knew we didn’t have a chance when we lost the petition (for 2012) and tried again for 2016 and fell short again,” Finch said. “Once (the Games) are finally here and there is no softball, it’s here and it’s hit.”
Recently, baseball and softball decided to join forces into one international federation to try to get the two sports reinstated for 2020.
When the sports were dropped, one reason given for softball to be cut was that the USA was too dominant and that the tournament wasn’t competitive. Then came Japan’s upset of the USA in the gold medal game in 2008, proof that other countries were improving.
By then, though, the decision had been made, via a secret ballot in 2005. With a cap of 28 sports in the Olympics, adding a sport requires one to be dropped.
Baseball and softball were the first sports to be dropped since polo was eliminated in 1936.
“I don’t buy that,” Finch said of the notion that USA softball was too good. “That’s what the Olympics is about, excellence. I don’t think dominance had anything to do with it.
“I think politically yes, there were some issues there. Jaques Rogge (the International Olympic Committee president) is a rugby player and in order to get rugby in, you had to have two team sports eliminated, and what do you know? In 2016, rugby is in.”
Golf will also be added in 2016.
“There’s a European presence in the IOC and softball and baseball aren’t big sports in Europe and that was against us as well,” Finch said. “Ultimately, talking about it at this point is talking about the past. Now we have to move forward and keep campaigning and keep trying to get it back. We’re petitioning for 2020. You do what you can do.”
Even more than losing the sport in the Olympics, Finch feels for the players in the countries who relied on their federations for financial support.
“You take away a team sport and a female sport that truly put the sport on the map,” she said. “It only gave us 20 years to build programs. These countries finally were getting established and governing bodies were in place and now that funding is wiped out. It’s completely gone.
“My heart breaks further for the third-world countries and the countries that don’t have the college game like we do here. That was their one ticket to get their sport on the map. Young girls all over South America and Asia were hoping to be an Olympian and it’s not there.”
Still, she’s been watching the Olympics with her husband, former minor league pitcher Casey Daigle, and their two sons.
She gets a kick out of explaining the Games to their 6-year-old, Ace, who was 2 when Finch was pitching for the USA in Beijing. And yes, that is Ace starring in Finch’s new Chobani Champions yogurt commercial. Their younger son, Diesel, just turned 1, and Finch is expecting their third child in January.
And maybe, if they have a daughter, by the time she’s old enough, Olympic softball could be an option for her.
“I would love her to (pitch and play softball),” said Finch, who only recently announced her pregnancy and doesn’t know yet if she’s having a third son or a first daughter. “Ultimately, whatever makes her happy.
“With the boys, everyone says, ‘Oh, baseball,’ but it is what it is. We’ve lived through it and know the pressures, and it’s great. You want them to be part of a team sport.”
Finch is the face of softball in the U.S., and loves doing anything she can to further the sport that opened up so many avenues to her.
“It’s not something you think about, but you’re grateful for every opportunity you have,” she said of her fame in the sport. “You know how far we’ve come and you appreciate the women who have come before us and paved the way and provided these opportunities. I think it’s important to share that history and let these young kids know, hey, it wasn’t free.
“What I got to do was because of the women before me and hopefully you will get to do things even greater than I was able to do. We have to keep pushing forward with Title IX.
“They’re wanting to cut anything and everything, but we need to keep educating and still keep pushing forward, because if not, it’ll be taken away just like (Olympic) softball was.”