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College softball Samaritans give fading sports ideals a lift

There are stories that are meant to be enjoyed. There are stories that are there to be endured.

Every now and then, there is one that should be embraced.

As it turns out, we are all fans of Central Washington University. Who knew?

And furthermore: Go Wildcats.

Theirs is a story we wanted to hear. Theirs is a story we needed to hear. Two strangers hoist an injured opponent, and it is as if they lifted the rest of us along with her. One wonderful trip around the bases, and it is as if everyone else followed along. One rare gesture of sportsmanship, and there was a new reason to believe such a notion still exists.

By now, you have heard the story of the softball Samaritans of Central. If so, you will not mind hearing it again. Last week, in one of those games-of-a-lesser-stage that go on beneath a nation's notice, a Western Oregon player named Sara Tucholsky hit the first home run of her career.

As Tucholsky rounded first, however, her right knee collapsed, and she was unable to circle the bases to complete the home run. She was told (incorrectly, it turns out) that if the team put in a pinch-runner for her, the runner would have to go to first base and Tucholsky would only be credited with a single.

As the coaches and umpires discussed it, Central Washington first baseman Mallory Holtman had an idea. What if she and teammate Liz Wallace carried Tucholsky around the bases? And in a journey that touched the bases and touched the soul, they did. Central lost the game, and it lost a Division II playoff berth, but it gained something much grander. The rest of us had, too.

After all, we live in Spygate nation, and we watch our games between arrest reports and drug suspensions and scandal headlines. Some athletes bite ears, some whack knees, some throw bats at each other.

By comparison, this was basic and fair and decent. How could it not touch you?

On the other hand, it was easy to wonder this:

What if this were the World Series? What if it were the Super Bowl?

In a million years, could this happen on a bigger stage with famous athletes and greedy coaches and rabid fans and national television and millions of dollars riding on the outcome?

Could you imagine an American League playoff game where Curt Schilling and Manny Ramirez volunteered to carry Alex Rodriguez around the bases? Could you imagine an NFL playoff game where Terrell Owens might turn to the referee and say, "That wasn't a touchdown, ref. To be honest, I didn't catch it."

Take it a step further. Even if you could imagine such a scenario, can you picture the fallout? Would an athlete who caused defeat in the name of sportsmanship be vaunted or vilified? Given the emotional involvement of most fans, given the justification some find whenever their teams are accused of cheating, it is easy to wonder.

It shouldn't be. Right is right and honest is honest no matter what the circumstances. And yet, have you ever seen a manager charge out of a dugout to argue a point that didn't benefit his team? I haven't, either.

Oh, sportsmanship happens. In individual sports, it happens all the time.

There is the story of Bobby Jones, who called a penalty on himself in a playoff of the 1925 U.S. Open. Jones said his ball moved. No one else saw it, and the marshals decided to leave it up to Jones. He took the two-stroke penalty and lost the tournament by a stroke. When some lauded his decision, he replied, "You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank."

There is the story of Australian runner John Landy, who had a chance to set a world record in the mile in 1956. Mid-race, however, Landy stopped and ran back to check on Ron Clarke, another runner who had fallen.

There is the story of Esther Kim, a tae kwon do competitor who, in 2000, forfeited her right to go to the Olympics rather than fight her friend, Kay Poe, who was injured.

There is the story of Bjoernar Haakensmoen, the coach of the Norwegian cross-country skiing team, who handed a ski pole to a Canadian athlete named Sara Renner after her pole broke. Canada finished second in the sprint relay final. Norway was fourth, just out of medal contention.

The list goes on.

Tennis players routinely correct line calls that go against them. Michael Thompson called a penalty against himself at this year's Masters that cost him a chance to make the cut. In 1988, Canadian sailor Larry Lemieux cost himself a shot at an Olympic medal to rescue two competitors whose boat had capsized. Italian bobsledder Eugenio Monti once loaned a bolt to an English team — the English finished first, and Monti finished third.

Team sports, particularly professional team sports, are different. Those athletes have more money. They have more fame.

Somehow, it seems as if a group of softball players at Central Washington have so much more.

College softball Samaritans give fading sports ideals a lift 05/05/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 2:20pm]
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