For the finest female softball players of el salvador there was, in a minimal way, hope. Certainly not for a victory over the U.S. in this Pan Am Games opener, and hardly for a hit. But somewhere in the Indianapolis twilight on Aug. 9 lurked the chance—if bat and ball somehow swept across the same plane at precisely the right instant—that a Salvadoran hitter might actually put the pelota in play.
The cause of such meager optimism was at the center of the pitching circle, 40 feet from home plate: 5'10" Michele Granger, a lissome, green-eyed 17-year-old with a mop of auburn hair, a left arm created to do wondrous things and a credo Koufax could love. "The second somebody touches the ball," she says, "then you know you could have done something better."
That evening Michele suffered two major disappointments: There was a three-hopper to short in the second inning followed by a one-hopper to first in the fourth. Alas, a Salvadoran even reached first, on a walk. Otherwise, out of a windmilling windup with a whipsaw finish, Michele, in a 10-0 victory shortened by the mercy rule, struck out 16 of 19. Ho hum, another no-hitter. Her coach, Carol Spanks, allowed, "She pitched well." Said Michele, "I just didn't feel in the groove."
Enough euphoria. Who is this empress of the mound with the ridiculous standards and a sublime ability to realize them? Well, she's a senior at Valencia High in Placentia, Calif., and the best women's softball chucker in the world at an age a decade younger than the usual prime. Beyond that she's an honors scholar, a frenetic talker, an all-league volleyball spiker, a student body veep—a well-adjusted kid who was every bit as nervous about the senior prom as she was about pitching in the junior nationals. "I was worried the deejays I hired would forget," she says.
The prom went without a hitch, like her softball career. Last season, when only 16, she was named the 1986 Sportswoman of the Year in softball by the U.S. Olympic Committee. In her first two Pan Am appearances she pitched a one-hitter, in addition to the no-hitter against El Salvador, and struck out 30. She throws a changeup, curve, drop and fastball, but her most dreaded pitch is the riser, which zooms in at about 80 mph while performing a befuddling half-foot climb. "She's the best prospect I've seen at this level in my 23 years," says Bill Plummer, director of communications for the Amateur Softball Association.
Michele started playing softball in the third grade as a righthanded shortstop. When she was in the fifth grade her parents, Mike and Mary, took over the management of her team, the Bob-Ettes. Michele wanted to pitch and the folks wanted to win—which made for a happy home. But since the sport came rather easily to Michele, Mike occasionally tried to remind her that she was human by catching her bare-handed. ("He would mention that," says Michele. "He's such a nerd.") Still, success has been kept in perspective. "If Michele pitches a perfect game," says Mike, "my wife still makes her clean her room."
Michele will have her pick of college scholarships this winter, and figures to keep on chucking until the Summer Olympics of'92, when softball should be a medal sport. But she'll still be looking for improvement. "Unless you strike out 21 of 21 and hit a home run—no, a grand slam—there's always something better you can do," she says. "Always." Maybe, but in Michele's case, not much.