I had an opportunity to spend some time on Friday afternoon talking with softball star Jennie Finch, who is in Oklahoma City to cover the Women's College World Series, where the No. 4 Longhorns square off with No. 1 Oklahoma tonight at 8:00 p.m. CT. Jennie Finch became a national star as a pitcher at the University of Arizona, where she had one of the most brilliant careers in the history of the sport. In her four years as a Wildcat, she compiled a ridiculous 119-16 record as a starting pitcher, a tally that included an NCAA record 60 consecutive wins. She was also named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2001 College World Series after leading the Wildcats to the title.
You married baseball player Casey Daigle, who played in the major leagues with both Arizona and Houston, and spent two years playing for the Round Rock Express. Did you live in Austin while he pitched for the Express?
I did -- I spent two great years there. We rented a place and had a terrific experience. I loved Austin, loved Dell Diamond, and loved Nolan Ryan -- they really do it right there. Casey said playing at the Dell Diamond for Nolan Ryan is the closest experience there is to the big leagues that you can get. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Austin.
And now for the next week you're in Oklahoma City for the College World Series. I keep hearing about what an amazing crowd is on hand up there. What's it like up there?
Oh my gosh, it's amazing how many people are here. I flew in last night and everyone has been raving about how many people are here. I saw an amazing stat on Twitter this morning: there were more people here yesterday than there were for the entire 1990 College World Series. It's amazing to see how it's grown and the tremendous job that Oklahoma City has done in hosting it.
Why do you think the sport's popularity has grown like it has?
I think exposure has a lot to do with it. There were 46 games televised during the regular season, and it's just so much easier to follow the sport now than ever before. You can really follow the storylines. ESPN has done a great job showcasing the game, and there's a reason they continue to expand their coverage of the sport; the ratings are through the roof.
Well it's certainly great to see Texas in the tournament this year, and even better to see them get off to a good start yesterday. The Longhorns have struggled to hit the ball this year, but the bats came alive yesterday for a 6-3 victory over Arizona State. Do you think they can keep that going tonight against OU?
They just need to try to continue to build off of yesterday's success and keep taking things one pitch at a time - let the game come to them. And they need to relax and remember that they've got Blaire Luna pitching for them. Texas is going to have a chance to win every game that she takes the mound. Speaking as a fan and observer, Blaire is fun to watch and has had just an incredible career. It's great to see Texas back in the World Series after struggling to match the success they had while Cat Osterman was there.
You went 3-0 and dominated the 2001 College World Series. What's the key to playing in such a high pressure environment?
It's all about preparation. From the moment you walk on campus, you're working around the clock towards this goal, and you just have to know that you're ready for it now that you're there. It's a matter of trying not to make the stage bigger than it is, because it's the same game you've played all year. And it's a matter of trusting your teammates, as well. The moment you try to put it all on yourself is when you tend to break down.
In researching your bio, one thing that became very obvious to me very quickly was how competitive you are. I was going to ask you if it's been difficult for you to be retired from the sport, but then I saw that you're swimming with alligators and thought to myself, "Of course she is."
But I know that one way that you’re staying involved with competition is through your involvement with the Capital One Cup. Tell us a little bit about how you’re involved.
I'm privileged to be serving on the Athlete Advisory Board of the Capital One Cup, and have really enjoyed the opportunity to continue my involvement with collegiate athletics. The Capital One Cup is a great way for fans to support their schools, and winning is a big deal not only for the nice trophy and bragging rights but because Capital One provides $400,000 in scholarship money to the winning schools. In the standings right now, Duke is leading among the men, and UNC is tops among the ladies. And your Lady Longhorns are right there in the mix at No. 8.
The other thing that you’re doing is trying to bring back baseball and softball to the Olympics. How is that going?
We'll find out in a few months. I'm serving as an ambassador for the sport as a member of the Athlete Advisory Board for the World Baseball Softball Confederation, and we're doing everything we can to try to get softball and baseball back into the Olympics -- promoting the game, meeting with IOC members - anything that will help us in advance of the September vote between us, wrestling, and squash. Only one will be added, and we're working hard to try to make that softball and baseball.
Nobody wants to watch squash or wrestling. You're fine.
(Laughs) You'd be surprised!
Well I hope you're successful. And speaking of the Olympics, I have to ask you about Cat Osterman, who you played with on Team USA in both the Athens and Beijing games. Who's the better pitcher?
Between me and Cat? Oh wow. You know, she's so awesome. The thing with Cat is that she can move the ball like no other. It's been such a blast to play with her over the years. She's just an incredible pitcher.
I'm not sure if that's an answer or not, but I'll let you off the hook. Alright, before I let you go, just one more question. My favorite of Cat Osterman's many ridiculous stats is her career average of 14.4 strikeouts per 7 innings pitched, which is just insane. Well, I was looking at your resume today and -- this just blew my mind -- you went 32-0 as a junior and your career included a win streak of something like 55 games in a row?
Incredible. So my question is this: what did it feel like when you finally lost a game?
Horrible! Absolutely terrible! Thankfully I didn't experience that very often in my career because I did not handle that feeling well at all.
I imagine not. And here's to hoping that Blaire Luna and the Longhorns don't have to experience that feeling tonight. Thanks for taking some time to chat, and hook 'em!
For sure. I enjoyed it! Best of luck in the College World Series!