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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Two from Hawai'i blazing ahead

By David Shapiro

Thirty-nine is turning out to be a good number for a couple of young Hawai'i athletes this summer.

Jerome Williams, of the San Francisco Giants via Waipahu High, is blazing through the National League with his 95-mph fastball, paying the Giants big dividends for selecting him 39th in the 1999 draft, the highest Hawai'i pick ever.

Williams, 21, is 4-1 since being called up from the minors in June, including his second complete-game victory Monday against St. Louis.

Thirteen-year-old Michelle Wie, meantime, continued to dazzle the golf world by finishing 39th in her first U.S. Open, overcoming unpleasant encounters with veteran pro Danielle Ammaccapane and her father.

It's no wonder Ammaccapane was grumpy. Even her psychological warfare couldn't stop the Punahou freshman from beating her by a stroke in each of the two rounds they played together. Wie became the youngest player to make the cut in a U.S. Open.

Williams and Wie capture Hawai'i's imagination because we sense that we're watching extraordinary feats performed with power and style. Both have the potential to impact major sports in a way no Hawai'i athlete has done since Duke Kahanamoku ruled Olympic swimming more than 75 years ago.

U.S. Open director Tom Fullmer says fans find it hard to take their eyes off of Wie — something special might happen at any moment.

National League batting leader Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals says the same of Williams, against whom he is 0-for-7. "He's only 21, but he doesn't pitch like he's 21," Pujols said.

Williams and Wie are taking different routes to the top, but in important ways they are the same.

Williams made his first trip out of Hawai'i at 17 when his mother took him to California to sign his $800,000 contract with the Giants. Wie has traveled extensively at a young age golfing in amateur and professional events.

Williams patiently worked his way up the minor-league ladder one rung at a time over four years and is modest about his success.

Wie is always eager to move quickly to the next step and is not so modest. She relishes being compared to her hero, Tiger Woods, and doesn't just talk about making it to the top of women's golf — she wants to play with the men in the Masters.

You start to see the similarities when you watch them compete.

At 6-foot-3, Williams is an imposing figure on the mound. But what impresses most — and hints so strongly of a bright future — is the unusual control he possesses for a young pitcher.

The 6-foot Wie also amazes with her power — 300-yard drives she blows past top women players. But she, too, is special for her control. She keeps her long drives in play and hits deadly accurate iron shots. If her putting were at the level of her long game — and it will be — she'd already be in the top echelon of women players five years before she's old enough to compete full-time on the LPGA Tour.

You never know what can happen in sports, but Williams and Wie both seem to have the maturity, healthy perspective and fierce determination to conquer the rough spots that inevitably will come up.

Look for them to excite and inspire a generation in Hawai'i in ways that go far beyond sports as we celebrate the serendipitous beauty of seeing two great local kids find the thing they were born to do — and get to do it on some of the world's greatest stages.

David Shapiro can be reached at dave@volcanicash.net.