Mariners honor inspirational softball trio
Women throw ceremonial first piches before Friday's game
SEATTLE -- One simple act of sportsmanship has become one of the feel-good stories of the year, and Friday night the three young women who took part in this special story were honored at Safeco Field before the series opener between the Mariners and Padres.
"I think this is an honor," said Sara Tucholsky, one of the three women being honored. "It's a little nerve-wracking at the same time, but all of us are honored to be here to throw out the first pitch."
The story took place about 100 miles from Seattle in Ellensburg, Wash., on April 26 in the second game of a women's softball doubleheader between Western Oregon and Central Washington University, with the winner of the game going on to the Division II NCAA softball tournament for the first time in its school's history. In the second inning, with two runners on base, Tucholsky, a seldom-used senior outfielder for Western Oregon -- who had never hit a home run in her college career -- connected on a shot over the center-field wall. In her exuberance, Tucholsky didn't touch first base and as she turned around to go back and touch the bag, her right knee gave out -- she crawled back to first base in agony.
"I was just clinging to the base, just trying to breathe," said Tucholsky. "I was in so much pain, I really don't remember much."
At the time, no one was sure of the rules regarding such an injury after a home run, but the umpire made it clear that none of Tucholsky's teammates or coaches could aid her in rounding the bases. Up stepped Central Washington first baseman Mallory Holtman, who unlike the 5-foot-2 Tucholsky, had set numerous home-run records for her school in her four-year career.
"I just knew how much pain she was in," said Holtman. "I heard her coach ask her if she could move around the bases and having knee problems myself, I knew how much pain she was in and I just wanted to help her and then instinct just kicked in. I knew we were on the opposing team and I knew we could touch her, so I asked the umpire and coaches if we could carry her."
Holtman looked at her roommate, shortstop Liz Wallace, who knew exactly what she wanted to do and the two carried Tucholsky around the bases, letting her touch each base with her left foot and allowing Tucholsky, whom neither of them knew, fulfill her dream of hitting a home run.
"At the time, I was a little clueless just thinking about the pain," said Tucholsky. "We made it around the bases together, just laughing as we touched the bases."
Western Oregon held on for a 4-2 win and went on to the NCAA tournament, and despite losing the game, Holtman and Wallace's act of kindness and sportsmanship has reverberated, not only around the state of Washington, but the country as well. Videos about the story made the rounds of network and cable television, the girls were featured on ESPN -- which has nominated them for an ESPY Award -- and NBC's "Today." They were also guests on Ellen Degeneres' show as well as hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.
"I'm just very grateful for what they did," said Tucholsky. "What happened afterward has shown that America loves this story and wants to hear good things in sports."
The three women reunited at Safeco Field to be honored by the Seattle fans and throw out the first pitch to three separate Mariners. That small act of kindness that two opposing players did for one young woman has created a bond among the three.
"It's turned into a friendship," said Holtman. "We text each other every day and talk on the phone. Liz and I, of course, talk across the hall. I think it's more than just a connection, it's a friendship that we wouldn't have had unless this happened, so I think it's cool."
The big moment arrived and the three were introduced to a full house of Safeco Field fans, who cheered the video of the incident that was shown on DiamondVision. All three threw strong pitches to the three Mariners, who posed for pictures with them afterward.
"I'm a little nervous now," said Tucholsky as she came off the field.
"Me too," said Holtman. "There were a lot of people, I mean a huge crowd -- you don't see that on TV."
Perhaps the three will go on their own ways after this evening, but it was nice that baseball honored a selfless act of sportsmanship and for one last time, Sara, Mallory and Liz can stand on a field together and drink in the applause for a moment that will link them together for the rest of their lives.
"I think this was a good lesson about never being bigger than the game," said Wallace. "Always doing what's right and I think that's a universal thing that can live on forever."
Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.