THE 1987 PAN AMERICAN GAMES : SHOW STOPPER : Michele Granger Has Held Pan American Softball Opponents Without a Run in Four Games; U.S. Advances to Title Game

Times Staff Writer

Michele Granger already has her face on a Wheaties box. At least, she had her face on the Wheaties box that her teammates gave her at the softball field before the Pan American Games semifinal here Tuesday night.

Paste and newspaper clippings had done the trick, and there on the orange box was Michele, caught in that classic pose, whipping her left arm around to fire another underhanded pitch about 80 m.p.h. for another strikeout.

At first she said she had no idea why a newspaper had written a story tipping off her teammates that one of her dreams was to make the cover of a Wheaties box. But then she remembered: "Oh, yeah. I told People magazine that one time."

At 17, Granger has had so many stories written about her that they kind of blur together.

Everywhere she goes, from Auckland, New Zealand, to Fargo, N.D., Granger wows the crowd one day, draws a crowd to the press box the next and then reads about being compared to softball legend Joan Joyce.

She's all the rage at the Pan Am Games, where she has pitched 4 games, striking out 59, giving up just 3 hits and walking 6 in 27 innings. She has yet to give up a run, earned or otherwise.

Her one-hitter in a 4-0 victory over Puerto Rico Tuesday night put the United States in the gold- medal game Thursday night.

Opponents got the ball out of the infield only six times as she beat El Salvador, 10-0, and Belize, 6-0, and then, on back-to-back nights, beat Canada, 1-0, and Puerto Rico, 4-0.

The U.S. team is 8-0 and assured of at least the silver medal.

But the crowds that are coming out to see Granger night after night, averaging more than 2,000 for the late games, like the idea of a gold. Fans in the outfield bleachers hung a U.S. flag and posted a row of K's as she chalked up strikeout after strikeout.

They're calling her Ms. K.

"It's fun to play when the fans come out like this and get excited," Granger said. "Anytime I play in a big tournament like this, I get all kinds of attention."

And back home in Placentia?

"I think people are getting kind of used to me," she said. "It's not a big deal for me to win."

At Valencia High School, the 5-foot 11-inch Granger holds the career strikeout record with her senior year remaining. She struck out 677 batters in her first two years as she finished 11-7 as a sophomore with an ERA of 0.10 and 16-9 as a junior with an ERA of 0.22.

Obviously she doesn't have the kind of support on her high school team that she has with the national team.

On the Pan Am team, her catcher is Suzy Brazny of Long Beach, who coaches the La Quinta High School team.

Brazny says that as good as Granger is now, she has the potential to be much, much better. Brazny calls Granger "a superior-type" pitcher.

Granger was a last-minute addition to the U.S. team that played in the Women's World Fast Pitch Championships in New Zealand. That was before her birthday, so she was listed on the roster as 16.

Her contributions to the United States' 13-0 record en route to the title were a perfect game against Indonesia and a no-hitter against New Zealand.

Last summer at the women's major fast-pitch national tournament, she struck out 103 of 190 batters and won the Bertha Tickey Award as outstanding pitcher.

Yet Granger seems to be the only one knowing all those statistics who isn't too impressed.

"Michele does a pretty good job of keeping things in perspective," Brazny said. "She's not too cocky. We wouldn't allow it."

If she has any fault at all, it's a carefree air that sometimes produces lapses of concentration. As far as she's concerned, this is a game and the object is to have fun.

She has said that her father, Mike, won't let her get too full of herself and lose perspective. He also has played a major role in this evolving legend.

Stories have been told in Southern California about how he tied a rope to her waist and to a tree to be sure that she didn't take too many steps forward, about how he placed a board in front of her when she practiced to be sure she turned her hips enough and got the steps right, and about how he tied a pole to her back to make her stand upright.

The image of a little girl all trussed up may be unsettling. But she shrugs it off with a smile and says, "The end justifies the means."

And she is known for her willingness to work hours each day at perfecting her pitches. She said she started in the third grade and practiced for three years before she ever played in a game.

She'll throw 200 to 300 pitches a day. Right now she gets most of those K's with a riser that Brazny estimates rises two or three feet.

She has speed and control but she's still working on her dropball and changeup.

Considering what she can do now, it's a little scary to think what she will do with more weapons.

Granger is looking at softball as a way to have a good time, probably a way to get a college scholarship, maybe a way to get an Olympic gold medal in 1992. The sport has not officially made the lineup yet.

As for college preferences, Granger says: "I'm sorry. I really don't know yet."

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