USA Captures World Cup
By Dave Utnik
Oklahoma City, OK. - The familiar red, white and blue uniforms were accompanied by glitter headbands bearing the words “Dream and Believe.”
In a tribute to retiring teammate Jennie Finch, every member of Team USA wore one as they took the field for the championship game of the 2010 KFC World Cup of Softball – essentially adopting their pitcher’s signature slogan as a way of saying thank you and goodbye.
On a historic evening in Oklahoma City, where nostalgia melded with devotion and, eventually, celebration, the U.S. transformed Finch’s final international softball appearance into a triumphant spectacle by defeating Japan, 5-1.
“I am sad that this was the last time I’ll wear this uniform, something that means so much to me, but I’m so happy for the chance to wear it,” Finch said. “I’m so happy that I could do what I love with these amazing women, who are not only my teammates but my best friends, and I am so thankful for how they have touched my life.
“I’m not sure what comes next for me. I just know that softball will always be a part of my life.”
With her husband, Casey Daigle, and son, Ace, by her side, Finch left her cleats at home plate after the U.S. clinched its fourth consecutive World Cup title.
“I have had a career that has far surpassed anything that I could have ever imagined. Just thinking about everything that has happened all I can say is ‘Wow.’ I’m incredibly blessed to have had all of these opportunities,” said Finch, a three-time World Champion who has been a member of the Women’s National Team for 10 years.
She helped the U.S. win an Olympic gold medal in 2004 and a silver medal in 2008.
“I don’t think Jennie will ever not be the face of softball,” U.S. pitcher Monica Abbott said. “I think that even though she’s retiring her on field skills, the limits are boundless for her. We should all expect the best from her. I think her impact on the game is going to jump up a level from here.”
“Obviously, USA Softball-wise, we’re going to need some people to step up. Everyone is going to go out there and do the best that they can.”
With Abbott in the circle, the U.S. remains a formidable team. Her complete-game, 10-strikeout performance against Japan resembled so many of Finch’s outings over the years.
Caitlin Lowe delivered a two-run triple, while infielder Natasha Watley went 3 for 3 and established a World Cup record with 12 singles during tournament play.
Finch, an adored icon who earned acclaim for her unhittable fastball and off-the-field generosity, occupied first base in her farewell appearance.
“I feel an outpouring of gratitude for so much and for so many that it’s really hard to put into words,” she said. “Playing USA Softball has been more to me than I ever imagined possible. I could never have dreamed what an amazing ride this has been.”
Finch made an entire generation of young players “dream and believe” during her decade of dominance.
And now many of those athletes are on the cusp of international stardom as well.
The USA Futures Team, which features pitchers Angela Tincher, Stacey Nelson, Jordan Taylor, Blaire Luna and Kenzie Fowler, captured the World Cup bronze medal with a 9-3 win over Canada.
“They are the future of USA Softball,” Finch said. “They are the best of the best.”
Valerie Arioto hit a sixth-inning home run and the Futures squad scored six runs in their final at-bat against Canada on two-run singles by Jenae Leles and Molly Johnson.
“It’s very exciting to just be here at the World Cup and a part of this team,” Tincher said. “We are taking steps everyday to get better.”
And facing Finch was part of the learning process. In her last pitching performance for Team USA, Finch struck out 12 and shutout the Futures squad, 3-0.
“I have been honored with so many amazing opportunities and I have to credit so many people — from the women before me to everyone at USA Softball to the fans and everyone involved in the sport who have made this such a special part of my life,” said Finch, who made her U.S. National Team debut at the 2001 Pan American Qualifier.
Along with her two Olympic medals, the 6-foot-1 Finch was named the 2009 USA Softball Player of the Year.
And she retired, fittingly, as a champion.
“To be a little girl, wearing USA stuff, watching the Olympics and then to grow older and to compete alongside the women you have admired is unbelievable. It’s so surreal that I was able to play with my role models in Leah (O’Brien-Amico), Lisa (Fernandez) and Laura (Berg),” Finch said. “There is so much history, pride and tradition with USA Softball and I feel extremely blessed to be a part of it for the last 10 years.
“It has taken me places I have never dreamt of and given me relationships that go way beyond the softball field. I am thankful to my teammates, coaches, USA Softball, sponsors, my friends and family who have allowed me to not only create my dreams, but to live them.”