The odds of Tucholsky hitting a home run were less than miniscule. Her own coach, Pam Knox, said, “Sara is small—she’s like 5-2, really tiny, so you would never think that she would hit a home run.”
But hit a home run is exactly what Tucholsky did. What should have been a joyous moment took a tragic turn. The next thing anyone knew, Tucholsky lay injured, crumpled in the dirt, a few feet from first and a long way from home plate.
Umpires said the only available option by rule was to replace Tucholsky at first base with a pinch runner and have the hit recorded as a two-run single instead of a three-run home run. Tucholsky receiving help from coaches or trainers while she was an active runner would be ruled an out.
Without any apparent options, Knox prepared to make the substitution, taking both the run and the memory from Tucholsky.
So, if you were Mallory Holtman, a player on the other team, what would you do?
You could stand and watch the player get carried off the field. In other words don’t do anything. You could walk over and express words of consolation. After all, no one likes to see a teammate or opponent injured.
Or, you could do what Holtman did. As Knox prepared to make the substitution, she heard Holtman say, “Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?”
What happened next will cause even a veteran and occasionally cynical columnist like me to reach for the nearest Kleenex. Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace lifted Tucholsky off the ground and supported her weight between them as they began a slow trip around the bases, stopping only to let Tucholsky touch each one.
It was quite likely the longest and most crowded home run trot in the game’s history.
Accompanied by a standing ovation from the fans, the trio finally reached home plate, and the two Central Washington players passed the home run hitter into the arms of her own teammates.
“I guess that maybe because compared to everyone on the field at the time, I had been playing longer and knew we could touch her, it was my idea first,” Holtman said. “But I think anyone who knew we could touch her would have offered to do it, just because it’s the right thing to do. She was obviously in agony.”
Western Oregon won the game 4-2, depriving Central Washington a spot in the playoffs.
But the loss on the field is more than overshadowed by the class and sportsmanship shown by Central Washington.
Knox, the winning coach, said, “It kept everything in perspective and the fact that we’re never bigger than the game. It was such a lesson that we learned—that it’s not all about winning. And we forget that, because as coaches, we’re always trying to get to the top. We forget that. But I will never, ever forget this moment. It’s changed me, and I’m sure it’s changed my players.”
As for Holtman, she said, “They won’t talk about who got hits and what happened and who won; they’ll talk about that (moment of helping an opponent around the bases). And it’s kind of a nice way to go out, because it shows what our program is about and the kind of people we have here.”
It also shows us the best that sports has to offer.