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updated: 6/10/2012 12:36 AM

Bandits honor softball legend Finch

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  • Jennie Finch

    Jennie Finch

By Caitlin Swieca

When Jennie Finch stepped into the pitching circle at The Ballpark At Rosemont on Saturday night, she threw one pitch high and inside, then stepped back off.

Finch, who has been the face of American softball since the 2004 Olympics, was making her first stop at the new facility -- as the Chicago Bandits retired her number in a pregame ceremony.

It was a night that highlighted the best the sport has to offer.

Finch watched from the front row as former Olympians Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman dueled, with Abbott firing a no-hitter for the Bandits in a 1-0 victory over the USSSA Pride.

Finch's appearance was another stop on a never-ending string of promotional events she has attended over the last two years. Since retiring, she gave birth to her second son, ran the New York City Marathon for Timex, published a book, worked on the ESPN announcing crew for college softball and done several speaking engagements.

For Finch, it's all about using her prominence to advance the sport, which has taken a step back since being eliminated from the 2012 Olympics.

"In my career, it was nothing but growth," Finch said. "The opportunity was only greater. For something to be taken away, it was like, 'Wait a minute, this is not supposed to happen.'"

With only four teams in the National Pro Fastpitch league, Finch said it is crucial to be proactive about trying to grow the league now.

"We don't want people complaining about the professional league in a couple years if it doesn't make it," Finch sad. "Now is the time to support it."

Finch, who lives in Louisiana with her husband and two children, said she had no regrets about stepping away from the game, with motherhood and promotional engagements filling her time.

Although Bandits president Bill Sokolis expressed regret that Finch was never able to play in the new stadium in Rosemont, Finch sees it as positive that the team now has a permanent home.

"It's our first stadium, and I think that's what it takes," Finch said. "We talked about serving filet mignon on a paper plate, but now you have the stadium to serve up that amazing talent. It's the beginning of giving the fans an experience that they want to come back to."

Finch said she does see positive steps being taken, with the women's College World Series breaking attendance records and ESPN televising the entire event in addition to several games throughout the regular college season.

"ESPN's willingness to put it on more and more proves that people are watching it," she said. "I think it's important for (young athletes) to see it on TV because it'll keep them in the game, versus choosing soccer or other sports that you will see in the Olympics."

Finch is currently campaigning to get softball back for the 2020 Olympics, which she calls "an uphill battle." Eventually, Finch sees herself back in the game in a different capacity.

"I would love to get into coaching eventually, but I'm kind of scared of committing myself because I know once I do it I'll be in with both feet," she said.

As for now, Finch said she would encourage any player drafted into professional softball to take the opportunity despite the sacrifices.

"There's only four teams. It's an honor to play in the national fastpitch league, so I would say just give it a try for three months," she said. "I would say, 'You only live once. Play while you can.'"

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