Jennie Finch helps pave the way for four softball standouts
Finch personally recognized each of the four empowerment award recipients.
Jenavee Peres plays catcher and utility for UCLA. An All-American at San Diego State, Peres transferred to UCLA after taking 18 months off from softball to give birth to her son, Levi. Below, she discusses being a new mother while smashing home runs for the No. 1 team in the country.
My son’s name is Levi and he is 19 months old. He’s just starting to talk. He said his first two-syllable word a week or two ago when he was watching one of our games while I was in Florida. He was with my mom and my family, and I guess the announcers were talking about me on TV as I went up to bat, and they said “she looks so happy,” so Levi said “happy.”
I feel like it was just kind of like any regular experience in college. I made a lot of friends and connections, and was just trying to enjoy each day because I knew that eventually it would come to an end like all athletic careers do. Of course, I didn’t expect it to end the way it initially did, but I’ve come to terms with that. I loved my teammates, and we still keep in touch. My coaches were just amazing, especially after I told them I was pregnant. They tried everything to see if I could come back for my fifth year before we ended up deciding that it was just a little too far away from home. But it was really cool to be a part of the foundation there and help build the program up. Even though we only made it to regionals once, I feel like that program is on its way to competing in the College World Series. Unfortunately, I won’t be a part of that, but I’ll always know that I helped lay the foundation. They’re still an up and coming team, and I don’t think anybody should sleep on them.
Initially I was just terrified. It took my boyfriend and I completely by surprise. I had gotten pretty sick but I just thought it was stress. And then I went to the doctors one day because it just felt like I was on my deathbed, I felt terrible. They had me do a urine test and they took some blood samples. And then they came back and said, “you’re pregnant.” This was in 2017, when I was a senior at SDSU. I was three months pregnant when I found out, which I just couldn’t believe.
While I was still pregnant I was actually thinking about going to Long beach State for grad school and then playing my last year there just because it was a lot closer to home in LA. It’s maybe a 20 minute drive from my house, which I knew would make raising Levi a lot easier. But eventually I decided, you know what, I just don’t think I can fully dedicate myself to being both a softball player and a grad student and a mom. Just being a mom felt overwhelming at the time, so I talked to the Long Beach coach and said, thank you so much for the offer, but I don’t think I can do this, which she totally understood. And at that point, I just kind of just came to terms with feeling like that part of my life was over. I was ready to just focus on being a mom. I’d come to terms with the fact that my transition to adulthood had been a lot quicker than most other student athletes.
Well, I got my first adult job, which I actually still work when I have a few hours to spare. My boss is totally accepting of my schedule and is really inspired by my story. I’m a security dispatcher at the Irvine Spectrum. And before UCLA reached out, I had just gotten into my routine. I felt like I was really living my big girl life. I was like, it’s time to step away from softball and just get my career set up. I was still giving lessons at the time, so softball was fresh in my mind. I hadn’t given it up entirely, but it was definitely just a hobby at that point.
I remember seeing a call from a random number, and I usually don’t answer random numbers, but for some reason I just felt like I should answer this call. And then she’s like, hi, it’s Lisa Fernandez. And my heart just about fell out of my rear end. It was insane.
Every softball player knows the name. I definitely fangirled for a second, and then I was like, wow, she’s calling me — wait, why is Lisa Fernandez calling me? And she’s just like, here’s the low down. We need a catcher and someone who can hit… are you interested? Initially, I was just like, how the heck am I going to make this work? First, I had to get into the school. Then I would have to figure out babysitting and commuting. There were so many things that had to fall into place, and fortunately they did. I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing if it wasn’t for my support system at home, my family, my boyfriend, my boyfriend’s family. I’m beyond grateful for all of them.
They’ve just supported me in every single way they can. Our program’s mantra is family, school, softball. As far as priority wise, my teammates and coaches just constantly remind me that if there’s something that I need to do with Levi or just something that’s going on at home that I need to focus on, then I am more than welcome to handle it because my family is my main priority. And my teammates just always ask me like, Hey, how are you doing? They’re constantly checking in on me, making sure I’m okay, because they are very aware that I have a lot on my plate. They also just love Levi, but he’s very picky with who he likes to talk to. My teammates are funny, they all still try to get on his good side.
It was just surreal. I remember going to the bookstore to buy him UCLA gear beforehand thinking that he would need to look pretty fly, because we were for sure going to be taking a lot of pictures that day. It meant way more than the world to me to have him there for my first home game as a Bruin, seeing him wave at me from right above the dugout. I know he’s too young to remember it when he’s older, but that’s a memory that will be in my brain for the rest of my life. I can’t describe how full it made my heart feel. He kept waving at me, and even started crying because he wanted to come see me out in the field.
There’s definitely a stigma around being an athlete and having a baby, and everything just going downhill from there. I think we need to break that stigma and show that having a baby is not the end of your life, your athletic career, or you as a person. I want to be an advocate to show other moms, or really anybody facing adversity, that if you change your mindset anything is possible. It’s definitely hard, and there are moments when being a mother and an athlete kicks your butt. But just being more confident has made me happier as a person at home. It gives me energy, which helps me take better care of myself. And ultimately, being the best version of myself makes me a better mother.
Honestly, I’m just trying to live in the moment now because I know what it feels like for a career to come to an end. It’s so rare for anybody to come out of retirement and play for the best team in the country with the best players, the best coaches, the best facilities, the best public school, the best everything. So I’m just trying to make sure that I appreciate every single minute of it because I know what it feels like to be without it.
Finch personally recognized each of the four empowerment award recipients.
Gasso is the highest-paid NCAA softball coach.
The catcher won in her second season in the league.
Hutchins led the Wolverines to 29 NCAA tournament appearances.
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