Grantham pitches in for 11th-ranked Howard Softball: Lions second baseman Rachel Grantham, who pitched in all but two games last year, would prefer to be on the mound but says she'll play the position that makes the team stronger.

April 13, 1997|By Stan Rappaport | Stan Rappaport,SUN STAFF

They have handled similar situations the only way they know (( how -- with class.

One is rich, famous and a future Hall of Famer.

The other is a senior at Howard High.

Say hello to Cal Ripken and Rachel Grantham.

"Cal Ripken would rather be playing shortstop, there's no doubt about it," said Howard coach Dave Vezzi. "But Cal's playing third base and helping his team. Rachel's the same way. She's not going to come out and say, 'I don't want to play second base, I want to be pitching.' She's going to help the team whatever way she can, and if playing second base is where she's going to help, that's what she'll do."

If Grantham, a four-year starter for the 11th-ranked Lions (6-1), could play any position on the field, it would be pitcher. She likes the control it offers, and the discipline and strategic mind it takes to be effective.

"It's like a power position," Grantham said.

Grantham pitched all but two games last year for the Lions, who reached the state semifinals for the first time in school history. Only an injury kept her off the mound.

This season, however, is different. Although she has thrown in four games, including complete outings against Hammond and Long Reach, Grantham is not pitching against stronger teams. She's at second base, a position she played as a freshman.

"It was definitely tough on her because she loves to pitch," said Howard first baseman Lisa Foster, who co-captains the team with Grantham, her best friend. "But she's accepted it. She always puts the team ahead of herself."

And that is what Vezzi asked her to do.

"Rachel worked real hard [throughout the year] on her pitching, and I can understand, like any kid who puts that much time into something, that she would rather show what she's accomplished by pitching as opposed to playing second base," Vezzi said. "But we're a better team with her at second base and Kelly [O'Neill] pitching."

Grantham, a National Honor Society student with a 3.8 grade-point average, likes and trusts Vezzi. She insists she is comfortable with his decision.

"If the team is stronger with me at second base, that's where he should put me," she said. "I'm not going to complain about it. I like second base, too."

And she's very good at it. "She's made some great plays this year," Vezzi said. "I think she's the smoothest second baseman I've seen this year."

Grantham, who played slow pitch until she came to Howard, played a few infield positions her freshman season. As for pitching, Grantham said she "couldn't hit the broad side of a barn."

After her freshman season, Grantham and Vezzi decided she should concentrate on becoming a pitcher. The team needed one, and Grantham wanted to try something new and enjoyed the challenge.

"She's the kind of kid I knew would work hard and do things on her own," Vezzi said. "She had a pretty decent arm and was willing to work at it."

Grantham became the team's top pitcher late in her sophomore season after sharing the duties with Omi Moore. Grantham's father, Rich, started a fastpitch league in the Elkridge Youth Organization following her sophomore year and she pitched for his team.

Grantham, who's taking Spanish 7 at Howard and plans to major in foreign language at Winthrop (S.C.) College, can throw five different pitches: fastball, curveball, changeup, drop and rise. Her strength is accuracy; she is not overpowering.

O'Neill, a sophomore who plays second when Grantham pitches, throws harder. And she's maturing rapidly. "Kelly has come on and has shown she can pitch in big games," said Vezzi.

Grantham stands only 5 feet, but her teammates look up to her.

"They respect her, and she's definitely earned that respect," Vezzi said. "She definitely plays beyond her size, that's for sure."

And as for not pitching all the time, Grantham, who is hitting .300, said, "it's not really a big deal. I didn't come here expecting to pitch. I'm just happy to play. It's been a great experience to play for Howard."

Pub Date: 4/12/97

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