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.