She's being hailed as a 21st century goddess, and Jennie Finch
isn't in Greece yet.
Once there, not far from the country's ancient ruins but ages
removed from its mythology, this modern-day Athena with a
devastating fastball will compete for an Olympic gold medal in
She's a 6-foot-1 California blonde and a devout Christian with
a pitching repertoire that would get Roger Clemens' attention.
And though she isn't a household name just yet, her face is
One of four pitchers on the U.S. team, Finch, 23, was on
People magazine's list of the "50 Most Beautiful People'' this
year. She shattered windows from a rooftop as a guest on David
Letterman's "Late Show'' and co-hosted "This Week in Baseball.''
"People think she's out there because of her looks,'' U.S.
outfielder Laura Berg said. "But it's not a beauty pageant.
Jennie's a great ballplayer.''
And just maybe the one who helps save women's Olympic softball,
making its third -- and most important -- appearance as a medal sport
in the 2004 Games.
The International Olympic Committee, which has its doubts about
softball's global reach, planned to review the sport's precarious
future this summer.
"This is a crucial time for our sport,'' said U.S. coach Mike
Candrea, also Finch's college coach at Arizona. "But we're lucky
to have some very good ambassadors on this team.''
None better than Finch, who has become the face of America's
After some initial reluctance, Finch embraced her role as a
spokesperson for the game. She's been a natural at it since picking
up a ball as a little girl in La Mirada, Calif., wind-milling her
right arm and making batters swing at air.
"When she was about 10, people would come up to us and say,
'She's good,'" her mother, Beverly, recalled. "Every parent feels
that way about their kid. But then they'd say, 'No, she's REALLY
good.' Things kind of took off from there.''
Although the spotlight has been mostly on Finch during a
pre-Athens tour by the U.S. team, she does her best to share the
"Anything I get to do is only because I play on this team,''
said Finch, who has brought several of her teammates along on TV
appearances. "Whatever attention we get for the sport helps. I
love being a role model and connecting with young girls.''
The squad, whose stiffest medal competition in the eight-team
Olympic field will come from Japan, Australia, China and Canada,
have played in front of sellout crowds everywhere.
And at each stop there has been a sizable contingent of
ponytailed young girls who scream Finch's name and trace "We Luv U
Jennie'' in the dust on the team's chartered bus.
"It's like we're rock stars,'' pitcher Lori Harrigan said. "We
call it 'The Jennie Factor.'"
While she's flattered by her growing legion of admirers, Finch
is uncomfortable with some labels.
"I'm not sure I like sex symbol,'' she says, embarrassed. "I
don't know what a sex symbol is. I think of a pop star, like
Britney Spears. That's so not me.''
During the interview, she politely apologizes as her cell phone
rings -- again. Taking it out of her purse, the recognizable strains
of the "Star Spangled Banner'' fill a portion of the tranquil
hotel lobby in Charlotte, N.C.
"Beyonce,'' Finch said, identifying the pop singer as well as
her Super Bowl rendition of the anthem. "I love that version.''
On Oct. 30, she'll marry Casey Daigle, a pitcher in the Arizona
Diamondbacks' organization who blindfolded Finch before proposing
to her on a pitcher's mound.
"He said, 'You've been the queen of the diamond for four years
and now I want you to be the queen of my heart,''' Finch said. "I
know, it sounds super corny, but it was cool.''
While Finch's life seems to be part fairy tale, it hasn't
affected who she is or how others treat her.
To the star-studded U.S. team, which includes six members from
the 2000 squad that captured gold in Sydney, Finch is just one of
"She hasn't let all the attention get to her head,'' third
baseman Crystl Bustos said. "She's really grounded. She's very
"And,'' Bustos added, "she's good. People ask me, 'Is she
really any good?' And I'm like, 'No, she's great. She can throw.'''
On the mound, Finch is all business. Before each pitch, she
recites a passage from the Bible -- Philippians 4:13 -- greets
strangers with a warm smile and jokes with teammates.
Staring at catcher Jenny Topping's glove, Finch, who went 32-0
as a junior at Arizona and won 60 straight games over two seasons,
rocks back before beginning her windup.
Then, as if fired from a cannon, Finch blasts forward off the
rubber (43 feet from home plate), releasing the ball and a small
yelp as the yellow projectile rockets toward its target at 70 mph.
Because of her long stride, Finch is just 35 feet away by the time
the ball leaves her right hand.
"That's why she's so tough,'' Topping said. "She's standing on
top of you. She also has pinpoint accuracy. She can put the ball
anywhere she wants.''
Through June, Finch was 13-0 with 180 strikeouts in 82 2-3
innings and an absurd 0.08 ERA for the U.S. team, which is 42-0 on
its North American tour and unbeaten in its last 156 pre-Olympic
games since 1996.
Things won't be so easy in Greece. Four years ago, the U.S. team
took a 110-game winning streak to Australia before losing three
straight and nearly missing the medal round.
Finch knows what lies ahead.
"Every country has gotten better,'' Finch said. "Italy has
three American pitchers. The Greek team has 15 Americans. We know
going onto the field wearing "USA'' that we're going to get
everyone's best game.
"We're the team to beat, and we wouldn't have it any other