SOFTBALL

Winding up a career

UA legend Finch, 'face of the game,' retiring in August
2010-07-21T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:15:57Z Winding up a careerPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 21, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Of all the benefits of being the world's most famous softball player, none was more pleasing - or painful - to Jennie Finch than traveling across the globe with her teammates.

There was "no better" feeling, the former Arizona Wildcats All-American said, than joining with teammates to become a family.

The sacrifice was leaving her actual family - husband Casey Daigle and occasionally her 4-year-old son, Ace, whom Finch once joked had more frequent-flier miles than any other baby.

Tuesday, citing a need to stay close to and perhaps expand her family, Finch announced her retirement from softball.

Finch, 29, will play her last games with Team USA this week at the World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma City.

Next month, she will finish her career with the Chicago Bandits of National Pro Fastpitch.

She and Daigle, a pitcher in the Houston Astros system, will return to Tucson.

"It's very, very emotional," Finch told the Star. "I knew it was going to be, but you can't prepare for a moment like this. It's all I've known my entire life."

In 10 years of international competition, including two Olympic appearances, Finch arguably became the sport's only crossover star.

UA coach Mike Candrea called Finch an "icon" who garnered interest from fans across the globe.

"She's been the face of the game," he said.

The La Mirada, Calif., native became a star in Tucson as a freshman. The right-handed pitcher won 24 games in 1999 and 29 the next year.

In 2000, she began a stunning streak, winning 60 consecutive games as a pitcher. A 32-0 record in 2001 earned Finch the Honda Award, given to the nation's best player. She repeated in 2002, going 34-6.

As a batter, playing first base on occasion, she hit 50 career home runs. At the time it was the fourth-most in school history.

Candrea said her athletic ability was remarkable, from the weight room to the field.

"There are a lot of pitchers that can pitch, but I can't say that they're truly athletic," he said.

With her hitting and pitching, Finch helped the USA win a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics and earn a silver in 2008.

"I think, as an athlete, there's no greater feeling or honor than playing for your country, wearing your country's colors," Finch said. "I couldn't have dreamt of a career to be better."

Finch was launched into celebrity status as the Wildcats appeared on national television at the Women's College World Series each of her four years at the UA. She was named one of People magazine's Most Beautiful People in 2004 and appeared on "Celebrity Apprentice" in 2008.

Former UA teammate Erika Barnes, nee Hansen, said Finch "made the sport cool for girly-girls." Still, Barnes' favorite Finch moment came when she dived facefirst for a batted ball at the WCWS.

Candrea pointed to the game's current fashion - from headbands and gloves - as having Finch's influence.

Caitlin Lowe, a former UA star center fielder who plays alongside Finch on the national team, called her a role model. Lowe said teammates already have joked they want her to come out of retirement a la Brett Favre.

"She really has it all," Lowe said. "She's not just the greatest athlete, she's got a great personality. Little kids can identify with her.

"Hands down, nationwide and worldwide, she's probably the most famous softball player and one of the most respected in the game."

Finch will continue running camps and the Jennie Finch Softball Academy, based in New Jersey. In October, she signed a multiyear contract extension with Mizuno.

She wants to stay active in the sport.

"I'm so extremely blessed for the incredible opportunity and the incredible fans and support I've been given," Finch said. "I was a wife, a mom and a professional athlete.

"It's truly a dream. I've lived that. I look forward to the future and what that holds."

Leading the Wildcats

A look back at Jennie Finch's four years at the University of Arizona:

Jennie's big numbers

50

Career home runs hit at Arizona - at the time, the fourth-most in UA history

60

Consecutive wins from 2000 to 2001

2

Honda Awards for the NCAA's best player in a season, in 2001 and 2002

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