MINNEAPOLIS -- The emcee was ready to wrap up the clinic, but Jennie Finch still had something to say. She was standing near the pitcher's mound of the diamond at Major League Baseball's T-Mobile All-Star FanFest, and behind her sat a group of girls from the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program who had just gone through a skills clinic with the softball legend.
"You guys have dreams, hopefully?" Finch said, turning to the girls sitting along the basepaths. "I dreamed of being a Major Leaguer. I wanted to be a Major League Baseball pitcher. As I got older, I started realizing, 'Wait, there's no women in the Major Leagues? How's this dream going to work?' You have no idea where your dreams will take you if you believe in yourself, make the sacrifices that you need to make and work hard. Don't let anybody tell you what you can't do, where you can't go."
Finch's words were apt for the group of youth, who had made the trip to Minneapolis to participate in the Jr. RBI Classic, a tournament for 11- and 12-year-olds during All-Star Week. In addition to the eight baseball teams participating, there were four softball teams, hailing from Austin, Texas; Little Rock, Ark.; Baltimore and Minnesota.
There were no tournament games on Sunday, but the athletes' morning was filled with a surprise clinic from the former Olympic gold medalist. Finch was an enthusiastic leader as she jumped from group to group, occasionally jumping in on drills and throwing soft toss. At the end, she did a pitching demonstration on the mound, giving the young players a chance to see one of the sport's all-time greats in action.
"For me, softball's one thing, and the fundamentals of the game, I love teaching that," Finch said after the clinic. "More importantly, it's those life lessons I've been able to learn, and that's what I want them to know. With them, off the field and into the classroom and into their home life, it's just about believing in yourself and making the right decisions and having dreams and going for it."
Finch, who retired from competition in 2010, regularly runs fundamentals camps for young softball players, but Sunday's clinic was special, she said, because she was able to meet athletes from underserved communities.
"I mean, their eyes are just filled with joy and excitement to be here," Finch said. "Just to give them dreams and goals and let them know that anything is possible if you want it bad enough. It's always great to be on the field, especially with those kids who may not have the opportunity to go to a Major League Baseball game every night, where they can just come here and feel like superstars for the weekend."
Though the athletes may have been tired from their nonstop activities -- which included playing in games, participating in charity events and socializing with other teams -- they looked thrilled to brush shoulders with a softball legend.
"I think they found out [Finch was coming] today, and it was a surprise," said Maria Ortega, a coach for RBI Austin. "They're excited. We're from Austin, so our favorite person is [former Texas pitcher] Cat Osterman, of course. But we love it. She's an Olympian. Can't go wrong there."
And other than the two-foot height difference, Finch looked just like one of the kids as she romped around the diamond.
"Nothing's better than being on the field with other young girls," Finch said. "I remember it was like yesterday -- it wasn't yesterday, it's been a long time -- but I still feel like it was yesterday that I was on the field, dreaming of doing things like this and playing college softball and playing beyond. This game's given me so much. It's my love. I'm blessed to be able to give some of it back."
Caitlin Swieca is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less