Until these Olympics, Dani Tyler's worst moment in sports had
occurred 15 years ago when she was playing T-ball in River
Forest, Ill. She struck out and threw her bat, hitting the bat
girl on the foot. "My dad picked me up by the shirt, made me
apologize and buy her a Slurpee," Tyler says.

As the third baseman for the U.S. women's softball team, the
21-year-old Tyler did something else she would rather forget.
After hitting what would have been a game-winning home run
against Australia in the fifth inning of what was then a
scoreless tie, she missed home plate in her rush to high-five a
teammate. The Aussies appealed. The umpire called her out. The
U.S. lost in extra innings 2-1, only their second international
loss in 10 years.

Afterward, Tyler gulped hard. She said she didn't know if she
had touched home plate--replays showed she hadn't--but she took
full responsibility for blowing it. "I'm the one who lost the
game," she said.

Against China in the semifinals the next night, Tyler got a loud
ovation from the fans. Then after the U.S. won 1-0, she bounded
happily off the field, as she usually does. I asked Tyler why
the mistake hadn't become a ball and chain.

"Well, I didn't want to get out of bed the next morning, but
this is sports," she said. "One play doesn't make a game, and
one play won't define my life. I've never been the best athlete,
but I try to have the best attitude and work the hardest. What
happened here was a freak thing. It's over. If I whine about it,
or make excuses, or argue, what happens? I look like a jerk."

I told Tyler that many professional athletes could learn from
her. I told her that my 10-year-old daughter, Mary Beth, who
also plays softball, attended the Australia game and that she
felt an immediate bond with Tyler. "She's number 12," explained
Mary Beth, who also wears that number. When Tyler made her
blunder, Mary Beth was anguished. Not so much for the lost run,
but because her new favorite player would be feeling bad.

"Stay here," Tyler said to me outside the stadium. The rest of
the team was waiting for her to board the van, but she ran into
the locker room and came out with her wristbands and batting
glove. She stuffed them into my hands. "Give these to Mary
Beth," she said, turning to run away. "Tell her I'm sorry I let
her down."

No, you didn't.

--PETER KING

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO [Dani Tyler and teammate celebrating]
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)