With a Pitch Clocked at 70, Michele Granger Is Softball's Dr. K
10/20/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT
At 16, Michele Granger is already on her way to being the Dwight Gooden of softball, women's fast-pitch division. Her "rise ball" bullets in at up to 70 mph and then seems to zoom upward microseconds before the batter tries to swat it. In the amateur major league in which she performs this sleight of hand, older, far more experienced batters are left dumbfounded. "It jumped right over my bat!" one recently protested to her coach. This summer, her first in the majors, Michele boosted her team, California's Orange County Majesties, to fourth place (of 26) in the national competitions by striking out 103 of 190 batters. Raves Majesties coach Shirley Topley: "If her first year is any indication, she will probably be the greatest pitcher there ever was."
A lanky 5'10" and 149 lbs., Granger, who lives in Placentia, Calif., picked up her first softball tips at 8 from her dad, Mike, an insurance marketer. She pitched her first full game in sixth grade, then worked her way up the amateur ladder to the Santa Monica Raiders, national champs in the 18-and-under division. Playing for her high school varsity, the Valencia Tigers, earlier this year she struck out all 21 batters (seven innings at three batters per). In January the perennial world champion Hi Ho Brakettes of Stratford, Conn. needed a replacement and picked up Granger. She helped them take the title in New Zealand by pitching a shutout against Indonesia and saving a 2-1 win over Canada.
In the somewhat recondite world of women's softball, Granger is often compared with pitcher Joan Joyce, the best anybody remembers, who left to become a golf pro. Michele's speed derives from a left-handed, windmill windup. Her personal pitching coach, Don Sarno, says, "I've handled a lot of pitchers, including men, and Michele's fast ball is the most difficult to catch. I think even the umpires blink." Michele thinks her strength is her cool, even though she clenches her jaw whenever she wings one in. "I don't crunch under pressure," she says. "I just forget about it. I take a deep breath and throw the ball." Then the batter takes a deep breath and misses.