Pitcher Perfect

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When you ask a Cal alumna to reflect on her years at Berkeley in the early nineties, memories of The Naked Guy and an ample supply of good restaurants don't seem like an unusual response.

When that alumna was the best pitcher ever to don a Bears softball uniform, however, you might think something is a little wrong.

But for Michele Granger, an Olympian and Cal Hall of Famer, watching all of the eccentrics walk through Sproul Plaza was as much a part of her collegiate experience as watching hitters walk back to the dugout after striking them out. And nearly as frequent.

"I enjoyed the whole atmosphere," Granger says. "The funny people on campus and the friends that I made were as much a part of my life as softball was."

At the beginning of the decade Michelle Granger dominated softball in the same way Dr. Dre and Snoop dominated the rap charts. They were West Coast killers who smoked the competition.

Granger was a power pitcher in the purest sense. According to the Bears softball coach Diane Ninemire, Granger may have thrown pitches that rose and sank, but a hitter could always count on seeing - or at least hoping to see - a swiftly approaching ball.

"Michele has been clocked at 72 m.p.h. pitching from 40 feet, which would be a 110 m.p.h. fastball in baseball," Ninemire says. "You're looking at a player who could throw the ball from 220 (feet) in dead-center across homeplate. She could throw the ball further underhand further than most women can throw the ball overhand."

As inhuman as those figures might seem, Granger compiled equally amazing numbers while at Cal. From 1989-93 Granger amassed 1,640 strikeouts and 94 shutouts in 183 games, both NCAA records.

The statistic that perhaps exemplifies Granger's dominance are her 25 no-hitters, five of which were perfect games. Granger broke the Bears' previous career record of six no-hitters in her sophomore year, and had six such outings against Stanford alone.

The jaw-dropping statistics continue when looking at the Bears' pitching records. Granger holds seven career records, as well as five single-season records.

Granger holds the top four spots in single-season strikeouts at Cal, and her 484 strikeouts during her senior year were a record at the time. When told that the record has since been broken, Granger was upset, but in that ‘Oh, shucks,' kind of way that typifies her easy-going persona.

"That was the one I was probably most proud of," the pitcher says. "I don't really pay much attention to my records, though."

If Granger does not pay attention to her amazing accomplishments, her alma mater certainly does. Last year, Granger was inducted into the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame in her first year of eligibility.

Nobody appreciated Granger's talent more than her teammates. Christy Calderon - a former Cal third baseman and Granger's teammate for the pitcher's first three years at Cal - recalls the attitude that the Bears and their opponents used to take when Granger was pitching.

"Her presence on the field always boosted our confidence level," Calderon says. "We were always glad that she was on our side, so you didn't have to feel that you were defeated before you went on the field - like the teams that we were facing seemed to feel."

Despite the presence of one of the most overpowering pitchers ever to play the game, the Bears failed to achieve the team success that they would have liked to have when Granger was there. No team Granger played on won the Pac-10, and the team finished fifth in its only appearance in the College World Series.

"For me, the biggest disappointment was that we weren't more successful," says Granger. "We just couldn't do what we needed to do. It seemed like we always had to play the one or two ranked teams in the country (in order to advance to the C.W.S.) and it was tough to advance. I wish we could have been more fortunate."

Calderon agreed with her teammate. "Michele was always the one to try and get us to do our part," says Calderon. "She was always vocal in the dugout, urging us on to score some runs. It's always a disappointment that we never won a NCAA championship."

If team success eluded Granger at Cal, it certainly came in Atlanta at the 1996 Olympics. Granger was the winning pitcher for Team USA in the gold medal game.

"It was the first time that we were in a game that had nationalistic pride," says Granger. "It was a new experience for our sport, it's just not the same game in the Olympics. We were very fortunate that we were playing in the U.S. The games were a lot closer than we thought and the home crowd really helped."

Another testimony to Granger's dedication was the fact that she pitched in the gold medal game while she was three months pregnant.

Ninemire reflects proudly on the 1996 Olympics. Not only did she have her former pitcher on the mound for Team USA, but Gillian Boxx - Granger's battery-mate for two years at Cal - was behind the plate as the starting catcher.

"That really says something about our program when you have two players starting in the gold medal game," says Ninemire. "Not only that, but these are the two players who are touching the ball every second of the game."

Boxx - who remains close friends with Granger - has fond memories of what it was like to catch Granger, both at Cal and in the Olympics.

"She was probably the best pitcher in college history, so it was just an honor just to catch her," says Boxx. "You knew what she was going to do, so it made it so much easier for me. Michele was the kind of person that you not only wanted to play with, but you wanted to play for."

Although she is now officially retired, Granger has parlayed some of the publicity that comes with an Olympic gold medal into a job at ESPN2 doing commentary for the Women's Professional Softball League. In addition, Granger participates in coaches clinics and speaking engagements.

"It's just something that I found really fun to do," says Granger. "I love keeping in touch with softball."

Today the 29-year-old Granger lives in Davis, Calif. with her husband, John Poulos, whom she married during her sophomore year at Cal.

Recently the former flame-thrower has had plenty of time to work on her change-up - that is, the diaper change-up. Granger is the mother of two young children, two-year-old Kady , and one-year-old John.

Not surprisingly, Granger has dedicated herself to her children in the same way she dedicated herself to softball.

"My children are my life, absolutely," she says. "They run my life, as much as I let them."

Editor's Note: This is the first in a weekly series featuring the top 10 Cal athletes and coaches of the century, in no particular order. Individuals are judged both for their accomplishments at Cal and for their impact on Bears athletics.


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