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Jennie Finch talks with participants at her softball clinic on Saturday at U.S. Cellular Community Park. - Jamie Lusch

Finch guiding youth with her star

There was Beverly Finch at the merchandise table, surrounded by T-shirts, hats, softballs and photographs bearing her last name.

There was Doug Finch out on a field, preaching the teachings that made his girl great to a group of young softball players and their parents.

There was baby Diesel, sleeping comfortably underneath a canopy as his mommy's voice filled the air from a nearby laptop.

And there was retired softball star Jennie Finch, prospering while encompassed by some of the people whom she loves the most.

This is exactly where Finch, the Olympic gold medalist and one of the world's most famous female athletes, wants to be: with her family, near youth, around the sport that has given to her and, in turn, allowed her to give back.

"It's a family program," the former University of Arizona pitcher said. "It's family and teammate and friends, and that is what I wanted, for the girls to really get to know who I am."

Finch, assisted by several of her former teammates, family and the Southern Oregon University softball team, offered personal instruction to a couple hundred girls at U.S. Cellular Community Park. The two-day camp, making its only West Coast stop in Medford this year, covered all aspects of softball.

The clinic, which was open to girls in the third grade and up, wraps up today. It will move to New York in two weeks and then conclude in Georgia in late October.

The 31-year-old Finch, who began playing softball when she was 5, led Team USA to the gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics and to silver at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Time magazine described her as the most famous softball player in history, and with good reason: her resume includes five-time ASA national champion, NCAA champion in 2001, Women's College World Series Most Outstanding Player, winner of 60 consecutive college contests and two-time national collegiate softball player of the year.

"It just blows my mind sometimes," said Beverly Finch, Jennie's mother. "It's beyond my wildest imagination to just think of all the places we have gone following her playing softball. It's amazing."

Finch made time to share anecdotes, give words of inspiration, sign autographs and pose for pictures with her medals.

Scenic Middle School sixth-grader Talli Van Wey waited patiently for her chance to share a moment with her hero.

"I was surprised," the 12-year-old Van Wey said. "The medals were actually heavier than I thought."

The photograph was just the icing on the cupcake for Van Wey.

"Well it's really cool because I am used to just playing ball and having fun with my friends, but now I got the opportunity to meet world champion Jennie Finch and I also have a couple friends here, so it was really fun," said Van Wey, who is a catcher and outfielder. "And I can't wait for tomorrow when I get to see her again."

Softball standouts Leah O'Brien-Amico, Andrea Duran, Mackenzie Vandergeest and Toni Macarenas helped run various stations. Meanwhile, Beverly and Doug Finch, Jennie's father, did a little bit of everything to ensure a smooth and successful stop.

Finch imparted plenty of wisdom throughout the day, telling her clusters of engrossed listeners things like: "The mind is a powerful, powerful thing," and to "fill it with positive things;" that confidence comes with preparation; and that we can control two things — attitude and effort.

Last year, Finch retired from softball to focus on her family, which includes 5-year-old Ace and 3-month-old Diesel. She is married to Casey Daigle, a professional baseball player.

"It's been nice to be the wife and be the mom that I hoped to be and have the time," Finch said. "Of course I miss playing, I miss my teammates, but it's great to be able to do other things and promote the game in other ways."

Ace and Daigle were at their home in Sulphur, La., this weekend.

Doug and Beverly have three children, each five years apart. Their two sons are now 41 and 36.

"Doug and I had a saying: The good Lord knew what he was doing giving us Jennie last because I don't know how moms and dads do it when they have kids who are younger and they are at the ballfield all the time," said Beverly. "We were at the ballfield every weekend with Jennie, but the boys were older so they were usually on their own. She was 10 or 11 when we started playing travel ball, but it was consuming."

At one point on Saturday, a camper — perhaps going through some of the same things that Finch did when she was younger — asked her role model, "What are you going to do now?"

"Continue to change diapers and bottles," Finch replied, drawing laughter.

Jokes aside, Finch understands her influence. Fueled by the strength that her loved ones provide, she plans to use it to spread the love of the game.

"It's been an honor to have the influence that I have and the best thing about being who I am and doing what I've done is being able to share that with these young girls and hopefully being a positive encouragement to them," Finch said. "I think this world has enough negativity, and sports has given me so many life lessons and so much. I want these ladies to feel the empowerment of being involved in sports and encourage them on their journey, because it's not easy."

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com

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