Nearly 150 girls sat in a horseshoe at Riverview Park Activities Center on Saturday wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with the Jennie Finch logo, many wearing headbands popularzied by Finch.
In the center, right at home plate, stood the Olympic softball player herself, sporting a red version of the headband over her own blonde ponytail.
“My dream was to be in the major leagues,” Finch told the campers on the first day of her two-day softball camp. “I wanted to be a Dodger.”
She continued to tell them how her dream was altered once she realized that girls did not play Major League Baseball. But as an adult and the top softball player in the nation, she’s gotten to pitch to some Dodgers through her job as co-host of This Week in Baseball.
“You never know where this sport will take you,” she said.
It took Finch from college to the Olympics. Twice. The first time she wore gold. The second, silver.
Saturday’s campers got to hold the gold medal while they took a picture with Finch.
“That gold medal’s really heavy,” said 8-year-old Savannah Koester, who came with her mom and teammate Taylor Perry, 8, both from Summerville, S.C.
It also led her to her husband, former major league pitcher Casey Daigle, with whom she is expecting her third child, due in January.
Finch said the camps – she presents about 10 a year across the country – are her way of giving back to a sport that has given her so much.
While many of their parents watched, campers learned pitching and catching fundamentals and hitting techniques, interspersed with encouraging words from Finch.
Campers came from North Carolina, South Carolina and even West Virginia, said Rick Meyer, director of North Augusta Parks, Recreation and Leisure Services.
Kylie Reid, 10, came from Lenore, N.C.. She said she had been looking forward to the camp for a “very long time.”
She is pitcher and plays third base for her softball team back home, and said she was enjoying learning techniques.
But her favorite part of the camp, of course, was “seeing Jennie,” she said.
Finch’s hope is that the girls take away lessons that not only help them in softball, but in life. She hopes to instill values like overcoming adversity and failure, and the value of hard work and sacrifice.
“I hope they’re just encouraged,” she said. “They’re learning from women that – we’ve brought in (friends and fellow champion softball players) Andrea Duran and Toni Mascarenas). We’ve played the game at all different levels. We’ve lived our dream playing it and now it’s their turn to go accomplish great things.”