BY BRIAN BESCH
LIVINGSTON -- When teaching a subject, it does not hurt to have the field's top name as a guest speaker.
Texas Slam Academy is in the business of teaching athletics at their 15,000-square foot facility just off Highway 59 in Livingston.
Jennie Finch has been the top name in softball over the past decade and Saturday provided an opportunity for area youth to soak in knowledge from a premier source.
She is an Olympic gold and silver medal winner, and has appeared on and in countless shows, magazines and endorsement deals. She conducts camps across the country and has her own softball academy in Flemington, New Jersey.
"I think they were listening and learning all at the same time, but she is very direct with the girls," Texas Slam General Manager Kurt Kristynik said. "She talked a lot about their mentality and competition, how to be a good teammate, and other things we preach. But, I think coming from the top of the top when it comes to softball, it gets in their brains a little bit. That's what we want.
"Her big thing to having things that they can take with them when they are not here and keep working on them and correcting themselves. Everything that they have done has been very hands-on. The coaches that are helping Jennie are doing a really good job," he added.
The wet weather did not deter many from attending the clinic. At the end of the day, over 100 learners filed through to improve their game. It is the biggest individual camp the local business has had.
"I think it'll be something that down the road we'll be able to do again," Kristynik said. "But, the biggest deal with her is getting to be one-on-one with every girl at some point, which is difficult, but that's what they want to do. The good thing is all the other coaches that are in here have helped in camps, they've all been to camps, so they immediately knew what to do to help with everything and it really has run smooth."
A Texas Slam softball coach and former Sam Houston State Bearkat standout, Ashley Isbell, was Finch's catcher in the offseason a few years ago when Isbell was performing in Huntsville. She made the call to Finch and once the dates worked for everyone involved, Saturday was made possible.
Though her 2015 schedule isn't completely booked yet, just about every weekend for three weekends out of the month Finch is on the road.
"When my husband (pitcher Casey Daigle) got called up to the Astros, that's when I met with Ashley and she said, 'hey, I've got this great facility, I would love for you to come'," Finch said. "It's so neat, the relationships we've been able to build and the lives that we've been able to impact across the country. The game has given me so much and now that I have retired from playing, this is the way that I can hopefully inspire and encourage them, and share what I've been able to learn through the sport. Not only the fundamentals, but also those life lessons I have learned along the way."
A mother of three, working with kids and those wanting to sharpen game skills is something Finch says she enjoys.
"I love it. Hopefully it shines through, but they are my passion and I am so incredibly blessed to call this my job. To be able to do what I have done, I brought my medals with me and the coolest thing about having them is to hopefully inspire and share them with little lives all over."
Finch makes time for charity as well, through The Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, the 'n play foundation, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Project HOTSHOTS, and The Women's Sports Foundation.
From Southern California, she was a big Los Angeles Dodger fan, with a favorite of pitcher Orel Hershiser. As she grew older, softball star Lisa Fernandez was someone she watched, saying she "exuded excellence no matter what she did."
Finch smiled when saying she originally aspired to be a major league baseball player, but knew there were no women in the major leagues.
"That wasn't going to work. There really wasn't professional softball and there wasn't Olympic softball. But, when it came, it was like, wow. It kind of developed before my eyes and in my experience, because it wasn't there before then. So, I am extremely blessed to be able to be a part of the growth of the game, the growth of women in sport and being able to experience what the women before me fought for. I am a Title IX baby, and my World Series game was on TV my senior year. Every single game in the College World Series was amazing how much it grew in those four years."
The California native helped lead Team USA to the gold medal in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece and to the silver medal during the 2008 games in Beijing, China.
During her junior year at the University of Arizona, Finch lead the Wildcats to the national championship at the 2001 Women's College World Series. She was named MVP for the series and set an NCAA record by pitching a perfect season capped with a national title.
Texas Slam hosts similar events throughout the year and has a league for youngsters in the area. Two training camps are presently underway.
"We're in the middle of our high school boot camp right now for baseball and softball, and we've had one former big leaguer in here for the baseball side," Kristynik said. "It's getting them ready for the season. It's not just for Livingston; it's for anybody that wants to come in. It's everything — hitting, pitching and defense. We'll work them out three times a week and the baseball starting in December, but that's the biggest that we have."
Livingston High School will play all of its home games at new fields constructed at Texas Slam. Coldspring will play Woodville in a non-district matchup and Lufkin Hudson will play twice against a school from The Woodlands. In softball, Livingston will also have its entire tournament on the nearby field.