Few can say they’ll get a response message back from former Olympian softball pitcher Jennie Finch.
Fairfield’s Karley Clark is one of them.
“If I DM her on Instagram, she will DM me right away,” the Indians senior said of Finch. “I’m kind of close to her. Having that kind of relationship with her is so cool.”
Clark has played five years under the Cincinnati Reds RBI Youth Academy’s select softball program and said she’s had some fortunate opportunities because of it. That includes her established connection with Finch.
She’s traveled across the country for camps and to compete in national tournaments.
But it was at the Elite Development Invitational in Kansas City this past June that Clark coined as “one of the most incredible things that has ever happened to me.”
Clark received one of four Jennie Finch Empowerment Awards, which consists of a $10,000 scholarship, tickets to Game 2 of this year’s Major League Baseball World Series and a plaque.
“I’m still in awe, honestly. I’m so honored,” Clark said. “It still doesn’t feel real. The scholarship doesn’t feel real. I remember when I got it. It still feels like a dream.
“I was out of state, so nobody was with me,” Clark added. “I remember calling my mom and telling her and us bawling our eyes out. It’s just crazy to think that if I never joined the Reds RBI organization, I wouldn’t have been able to have gotten to do the stuff that I would have gotten to do. It’s a great experience, and I’m beyond grateful to be able to do what I was able to do.”
Fairfield softball coach Brenda Stieger said Clark receiving the award and recognition is no surprise.
“Karley is the epitome of a student-athlete,” Stieger said, noting that Clark serves on Fairfield’s Hope Squad which helps students in need scholastically or emotionally.
“She is very giving of herself. Karley’s fit was exactly the right person for the Jennie Finch award. She is a sweet and kind kid that will run through the fence for you.”
Clark has played nearly every position throughout her career on Fairfield’s softball team. She was put behind the plate — to catch the legendary Finch — during a pitchers and catchers camp tour at the Reds youth academy fields last week.
“I guess I was nominated to do it because I won her award,” Clark said.
The three-time world champion Finch threw everything she had at Clark.
“She went all out,” Clark said. “My fingers still hurt from it.”
In front of 50 campers, Clark caught Finch’s screwball, riseball, fastball, curveball and changeup — five pitches of each.
“She showed everyone how to hold the ball,” Clark said. “We got to see all of her different pitches and her mechanics and what she does with each pitch.
“Even the parents said her breaking balls were crazy when I was catching,” Clark added. “Her riseball is the most beautiful riseball I have ever seen. I mean, she’s the best pitcher in the world — so she should have a good riseball. It’s the best riseball I have ever seen in my entire life.
“It was an unbelievable thing to be a part of. This entire experience.”
Clark said she’s not taking the rest of her senior year — especially her final season on Fairfield’s softball team this coming spring — for granted.
She’s been fighting through cellular instability in which her kneecaps don’t sit in the socket well and constantly pop in and out of place.
Doctors told Clark, 17, that if she caught or played softball in college, she’d likely have to have knee replacement at 21 years old.
“This is going to be my last school year playing softball,” said Clark, who will be able to use her scholarship regardless of what she does in college.
Clark said she’s eyeing the University of Kentucky, where she plans to study business and marketing with a minor focusing on ASL interpreting.
“I’m extremely fortunate to be where I’m at right now and to experience everything I’ve experienced,” Clark said. “You never know where hard work and dedication will take you.”