Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 2. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. For more essays, click here.
There is a tacit assumption that SI's Sportsman of the Year carries himself with honor and dignity, ennobling his sport. Then along come two remarkable women who carried someone else, restoring faith not only in sport but in human nature.
You already have forgotten their names, assuming you knew them in the first place. They were "those softball girls" who played for some D-II school "out West." You couldn't have picked Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace out of a police lineup, let alone out of the Central Washington University batting order, and their subsequent appearances at Major League Baseball's All-Star Game and on The Ellen DeGeneres Show didn't really change that. In the year of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, the women had their 15 minutes of fame this spring and summer, although looking at the video on YouTube now, their indelible moment seems to have lasted about 50 seconds.
Let's rewind the tape and remember why we still cling to the notion that sports can reveal character and, in some cases, even build it:
On April 26, Sara Tucholsky, a Western Oregon part-time outfielder who had had three hits in 34 at-bats in her senior season, turned on a pitch and slammed it over the fence in left-center. In her surprise and delight at hitting what appeared to be the first home run in her college career, Tucholsky missed first base. As she pivoted to touch the base, she tore her right anterior cruciate ligament. Tucholsky collapsed. At that point there were two apparent options: She could be replaced by a pinch runner and be credited with a two-run single or she could be assisted off the field by a trainer or a coach, thus recording the loudest out in softball history.
Holtman, the Central Washington senior first baseman, the school career leader in homers, had another idea. After obtaining the approval of the umpires, she and Wallace, the shortstop, locked their arms under Tucholsky, hoisted their diminutive opponent -- Tuchosky is 5-foot-2 -- and carried her around the bases. When they came to a bag, Tucholsky would delicately extend her left leg and tap it. They circled the bases, this wholesome trinity, Tucholsky finally touching home plate and Holtman and Wallace leaving her to the care of her applauding Western Oregon teammates. Not one of Ryan Howard's home runs in 2008 was remotely as impressive.
The names of Holtman and Wallace have faded, but their act of uncommon grace and exemplary sportsmanship should live forever, preserved in amber along with the SI Sportsman of the Year Award. (I would have considered Phelps -- but only if he had resuscitated French swimmer Alain Bernard before the 4x100 freestyle relay.)