So here we are slipping into a terrific baseball August. Three teams in three divisions are within a weekend series of each other, and the Expos are moving swiftly on the Cardinals in the fourth.

In training camps scattered about assorted obscure locations, National Football League players sweat harder than we do. Golf's fourth major tournament gets settled this week, and you know that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are somewhere staying finely tuned.

Guess what? With all this activity, America is getting ready for a summer splash that occasionally will nudge the rest of sport off center stage for 16 days starting Saturday. The Pan American Games are at hand.

In most times, the Pan Ams serve as sort of a dress rehersal for the biggest sporting show of them all -- the Olympics. That's still true, to an extent.

The glorious thing about Olympic-related sport these last several years is how America has gotten hooked on them. True, the Red Bud Open (for archers) is not something we eagerly await. But never have America's kids had such chances to compete at the highest levels of their sport.

It has gotten so hectic that the U.S. Olympic Committee, central coordinating body for our amateur sports, lists a calendar of events in its brochure that runs 33 pages (from ski jumping in Germany in early January to a European tour for wrestlers in late December).

U.S. athletes have so much from which to choose that the big-deal Pan Am Games are second rate to some. Our best swimmers will be competing in the conflicting Pan Pacifics, in Australia. And some track and field athletes will pass the Pan Ams for the world championships, Aug. 29-Sept. 8, in Rome.

Enormous strides have been made in funding gifted athletes, in giving them a chance to excel worldwide, and for as long as possible. But the gargantuan leap, say, in the last 15 or so years has been made by . . .


These Pan Am Games, in Indianapolis, affirm that. The best illustration is the career of a woman about whom you should know more, Anita DeFrantz.

At the Pan Am Games 12 years ago, DeFrantz could not participate. That was because the Pan Am Games had no rowing competition for women. The Olympics admitted women rowers a year later -- and DeFrantz won a bronze medal in Montreal.

Now 34, she grew up in Indianapolis "with the furthest thing in my mind being a career in sport. Nobody could have predicted that. And yet that is clearly where I am, and likely where I will stay."

She is one of the two American members of the International Olympic Committee and one of five women on the 91-member IOC. This after having progressed through the USOC, from being a member of the Athletes Advisory Council to currently serving on the executive committee and chairing the eligibility committee.

The Indianapolis of her childhood "had no sports oppportunities for me, but I was an expert in spectating. When I got to {Connecticut College} and had a chance to try out for the basketball team, I didn't have a clue.

"The coach would say he wanted me in the high post. I'd sort of look around and find a spot where nobody else was and go to it. I made the team, primarily because they needed a fifth player."

Naturally, young black children in Indianapolis do not dream of becoming world-class rowers.

"I was minding my own business one day at Connecticut College," she said of her introduction to rowing, "walking across campus, and there was a man standing in front of this large object. Long and large. I asked him what it was. He told me it was a rowing shell and that I'd be perfect for the sport."

Turned out, she was.

"It's an out-of-door sport. It's a sport that involves a team in a way no other sport does. You are absolutely tied to the fate of your boat. There's no other sport that bonds {teammates} together so, in the ultimate result.

"Also, there's nothing else you do in life sitting down and going backwards. So everybody starts out even."

Perhaps a DeFrantz, athletic and articulate, will blossom in her hometown. Mining for stars is a worthwhile exercise at any global event. A couple of possibilities include Cuban Roberto Hernandez, in the men's 400-meter run, and American Pam Marshall, in the women's sprints.

From her perch near the summit of Olympic sport, DeFrantz likes a good deal of what she sees. Still, there is a sad paradox: more athletes compete at higher levels of sport, but fewer youngsters actually get into sport.

As the new president of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, she is trying to make that entry level more open. Hers is the group founded and funded with Southern California's surplus from the 1984 Olympics.

DeFrantz sees a sporting future with more clubs for athletes and with more corporations learning about how their bottom line can accommodate underwriting sports. Too much money still is directed toward too few athletes, she said.

"My generation is ready to take on responsibility {as coaches and administrators}," she said, referring to women helped immensely by Title IX and frustrated by its death. "The number of events and the length of time women are staying in sport has increased greatly.

"It once was unseemly to be a woman coming out of college and not having a family or, if she wanted, a career. But an 0lympic athlete!" Here she mocked the once-prevailing attitude: "Give me a break. You're supposed to be an adult."

For as long as she can imagine, DeFrantz plans to be involved with athletes, young and mature. She will not be bashful about presenting her point of view, having openly criticized President Carter for his boycott move before the 1980 Olympics.

Short term, DeFrantz will attend the Pan Am Games and stay "until the noblest sport is completed."