Country living is a hit with softball legend, Olympian and mom Jennie Finch.
By Sharon Selz
You’d think competing in two Olympics would be challenge enough for anyone. But not for Jennie Finch. Born in the suburbs of Los Angeles, the star softball pitcher moved to rural Louisiana to raise her growing family. And she’s discovered country life fits her like a well-conditioned glove.
“In summer, we’re outside practically from the time we wake up until dark,” she reports from Sulphur, the hometown of her husband, former Major League Baseball pitcher Casey Daigle. Their property offers their kids—Ace, 7, Diesel, 2, and 5-month-old sister Paisley—100 spacious acres to explore, plus easy access to their grandparents, right across the road.
Both now retired from competitive sports, Jennie and Casey are happy with their new positions in the bleachers, cheering on their oldest son. “When Ace has practice or a game, we roll up in the truck with our whole family in tow,” she says. “I remember when I was his age how important it was for me to look up and see my mom and dad’s faces.”
The lanky baby sister of two athletic brothers, Jennie seemed destined for the diamond. “I wanted to do everything the boys did,” she says. Her parents signed her up for T-ball at age 5, but it was during a winter visit to her grandparents’ Iowa farm that she heaved a snowball out of sight. “I started pitching when I was 8,” she says, “and from then on, there was no turning back.”
From Gold to Gumbo
Her passion for the sport, and her 70 mph fastball, carried Jennie to the U.S. national team and on to the Olympics, where she earned a gold medal in 2004 and a silver four years later. “It was absolutely incredible to be able to represent my country,” she recalls. “My whole career has been more than I ever imagined.”
A marriage proposal from Casey (delivered on the softball field at the University of Arizona, her alma mater) and Ace’s birth convinced Jennie three years ago that it was time to set aside her glove. “I’d been feeling a strong tug at my heart to be with my family,” she says. “I knew I was ready.”
Life on a quiet bayou is a whole other ball game from the hectic, competitive world she knew. “My hobbies and interests are changing,” Jennie says. She regularly joins her boys as they tend to their goats, calves, horses and chickens—and recently learned to drive an excavator. “I helped Casey clear land for the bass pond he built,” she says. “Our family loves to fish. And we’re living in seafood heaven!
“Since Casey was raised on wonderful Southern food, I’m learning to cook Louisiana style,” Jennie says. “We’re hoping to plant a vegetable garden this year. I’d really like to get into canning.”
A League of Her Own
Still, Jennie hasn’t hung up her cleats for good. With help from her family, she runs softball camps for young girls around the country.
“My mother-in-law coordinates all the details, and I get to have fun working with girls who love the game, giving hitting and pitching clinics,” Jennie says. “We cover subjects that are important on and off the field—from self-esteem and keeping up their grades to having a good work ethic.
“Softball taught me about teamwork, leadership, discipline and balance, lessons that translate into everyday life. I share what I’ve learned with the girls. We also talk about getting through the trials and hard times, and not giving up.”
Her book, Throw Like a Girl, turns the classic schoolyard put-down into something young women can aspire to. “When I was 12, a coach told me I’d never be a champion pitcher,” Jennie recalls. She kept the comment in the back of her mind, determined to prove him wrong.
Jennie regularly sends words of encouragement to her over 100,000 Twitter followers, most of them young girls. “As a mother, I appreciate how important it is to be a good role model,” she says. “Every one of these girls is important to me and the future of the sport.”
An active ambassador for women’s athletics, Jennie found it “heartbreaking” when softball was dropped from the Olympics after the 2008 games, and is actively campaigning to get it back. A vote in September will determine whether to include softball in 2020.
Having a Ball
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Jennie has plenty of bases to cover. Besides running her online store (selling everything from jerseys to gloves to her signature glitter headbands at jenniefinch.com), she does motivational speaking and sports commentary and offers pointers to local girls’ softball teams. As for priorities, faith and family come first.
“We’re blessed to live in the country, where we can get on our four-wheelers and be out in nature every day,” Jennie says. “I enjoy just soaking it all in with our little ones and watching them discover their passion.”
And if that turns out to be playing competitive ball like Mom and Dad, or cattle ranching like their granddad? “If their heart is in it, I’m fine with whatever they choose,” Jennie says. “Just as long as they don’t move too far away.”
What Jennie loves about the country:
- Privacy. “I’m a social person, but I love being at home, where it’s just us, the land and our animals.”
- Family values. “It’s a blessing to be surrounded by family who love our little ones as much as we do. I get teary-eyed every time I have to be away.”
- Nature. “Our children are getting a special upbringing. The country is a great place to raise kids. They’re learning so much from nature.”
- A slower pace. “It’s nice escaping traffic and all the busyness of the city. Our nearest mall is 20 miles away.”
Photography by Jim Wieland; styling by Pam Stasney