Jennie Finch led the Arizona softball team to the 2001 College World Series championship and won an Olympic softball gold medal with Team USA in 2004. With the Gophers playing in the NCAA regionals this weekend in Tucson, Ariz., Finch — who is married to and has three children with former Twins minor league pitcher Casey Daigle — took time to chat with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand:
Q Michigan has been the perennial Big Ten softball power, though a lot of traditional powers are from warmer climates. Is it possible for another northern program like Minnesota to consistently get into that national mix?
A I think so. Minnesota made a huge step forward last year, going into Oregon and giving them a run for their money. I think that will catapult Minnesota. They kind of proved that. But in the regional, it’s all about whose weekend it is. Anything can happen. We’ve seen it in the parity all over the country, and I think that’s pretty neat to see.
Q As someone who has competed at the highest level and won an Olympic gold medal, how did you manage the mental aspect of pitching on a big stage?
A For me, it was just a matter of trusting what I had done forever and not making it bigger than it was. Obviously it is bigger, but you’re trying to tell yourself that it’s not. It’s still 43 feet, it’s still the same catcher I’ve had week in and week it. It’s about not looking past one pitch at a time. … You just have to trust and believe in your teammates and the work that has gotten you to that point.
Q Softball wasn’t part of 2012 and won’t be part of the 2016 Summer Games. How hard was that for you to see, and what are you doing in an effort to get it reinstated for 2020?
A As an athlete, you hope for better things for the next generation to follow. With how far we came in such a short period of time, it was exciting to be a part of it — to help catapult the sport to that level. So it was heartbreaking, but one of the big life lessons I’ve learned through softball is to control the controllable. We have to do what we can to make sure we do all we can to get it back in. I’m currently active with the World Baseball Softball Confederation, doing everything I can … with the goal and mission to get softball back in for 2020. With the new President of the International Olympic Committee, I think we have a good shot.
Q You’re an advisory board member for the Capital One Cup, which measures the success of all the programs at colleges. Can you speak to the importance of a well-rounded athletic department?
A That’s one of the main reasons I’m so proud to be part of the Capital One Advisory Board, because I see the importance of it and love how it shines a light on some of the other sports that might not get into the limelight.
Q During your career, you also drew attention for your appearance — landing in 2004 on People’s “50 most beautiful people” list, among other things. How does a great athlete handle attention for things unrelated to sports?
A It was more about trying to be an example on the field and whatever else happened in addition to that happened. If I could try to use whatever platform to bring it back to the sport and my teammates, I always tried to do that.