By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Auburn softball coach Mickey Dean has a fan on a farm in Louisiana. A fan who happens to be the sport's most recognizable ambassador: Jennie Finch.
A 2001 national champion at Arizona and 2004 Olympic gold medalist for Team USA, Finch and Dean first teamed up in 2005 when he coached and she starred for the Chicago Bandits in National Pro Fastpitch.
"I couldn't be more excited for Coach Dean and the success he's had over the years," Finch said. "It's just been such a thrill to watch and to be a part, and to cheer for him, from the Bandits to Radford and JMU, the success he's had up there. I'm excited for this opportunity for him on a big stage."
Finch played for Dean for five seasons in Chicago, developing an appreciation for his coaching style.
"Very straightforward, which I appreciate as a person and an athlete," she said. "You know what you're going to get. Just the consistency that he brings every single day, and the love for his players and the game. It's fun to be a part of it and to be around."
Finch and Dean have kept in touch ever since, with Mickey hosting Jennie's softball camp each summer, first at Radford, then at James Madison.
"He's hosted it for 10 years," she said. "He's like a second father and I just know that he's completely dependable and honorable. He's a great guy. I'm excited for this huge opportunity for him."
After dominating at JMU, including four consecutive conference championships and a 52-8 record in 2017, Dean brings his straightforward style to the Southeastern Conference.
"One of the biggest stages in our sport, and it will be of his career, but I look forward to him stepping up to the challenge just like he has in the past and having great success doing so," Finch said.
"He has all of the tools to succeed and being at Auburn, he's going to be able to tap into all of the resources that the SEC and Auburn have to offer. I look forward to seeing him compete this first season and what he's able to pull off down the road."
A Southern California native who played in the Pac-12, Finch now resides within the SEC footprint, on a farm about halfway between LSU and Texas A&M, making a reunion on the Plains a possibility.
"I would love to," she said. "We live in Louisiana now so it's not too far away. Hopefully, I'll be able to make a game and see him compete as an Auburn Tiger this season. That would be fun."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer