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THE WAY IT SHOULD BE
THOMAS LAKE
June 29, 2009
THE STORY OF AN ATHLETE'S SINGULAR GESTURE CONTINUES TO INSPIRE. CAREFUL, THOUGH, IT WILL MAKE YOU CRY
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June 29, 2009

The Way It Should Be

THE STORY OF AN ATHLETE'S SINGULAR GESTURE CONTINUES TO INSPIRE. CAREFUL, THOUGH, IT WILL MAKE YOU CRY

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CLARE KING, WEST ALLIS, WIS.

Mallory Holtman sleeps in a king-sized bed with seven pillows. Mounted in a plastic display case above her head is a Louisville Slugger engraved with her name, and under the bed are two 41-quart storage bins full of fan mail. Pictures surround her bed. There she is with Rudy Giuliani at the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. There she is with Justin Timberlake at the ESPYs. There's the proclamation from the day she was honored by Congress. There's the baby in Surprise, Ariz., whose mother made her Mallory's namesake.

To millions of people who know the story, Mallory Holtman is defined by 40 seconds of her life. But what about the rest of it? Who is she, and what gave her that wild idea?

Her first name says nothing about her. Mallory comes from the Old French maloré, which means "unfortunate." The name was her brother's idea. He got it from a character on the 1980s sitcom Family Ties.

Her nickname is not much help either. One softball teammate used to call her Heifer, which, despite her ability to eat a cheeseburger for lunch and a top sirloin for dinner, does not accurately describe her appearance. To at least one male fan, she looks like Ashley Judd. ("You really could be her little sister," he wrote.)

It would be convenient if Mallory's tattoos had rowdy stories behind them. They do not. The dragonfly on her left ankle was applied when she turned 18 because she wanted something girly that was not a flower. She had a flame put on her lower back to match her older sister Amanda's flame. And then, on a trip to Fort Myers, Fla., with her best friend, Kelli Spaulding, she walked into a tattoo parlor, looked through the available images and chose a flower after all, for her left wrist.

The diamond-studded silver cross has promise. She has worn one around her neck for five years, including the four she played first base for the Wildcats of NCAA Division II Central Washington University. Was it a gift from a special young man? No. Mallory is fixated on James Dean, judging from the posters hanging in her bedroom, but she has never had time for a serious relationship. She just loves diamonds, and she figured it would be a long time before anyone gave her any, so she bought the cross for herself and wore it as she methodically chopped down Central Washington's career records for home runs, RBIs, hits, runs and doubles. After a while she had to keep wearing it, if only out of superstition.

Mallory lives in Ellensburg, Wash., population 17,000, an old rodeo town 110 miles southeast of Seattle. She shares a house near the Central Washington campus with two other assistant softball coaches. They keep an arsenal of plastic yellow Nerf guns in the top of a closet, next to a string of Christmas lights, and they mix pale-green margaritas in a deluxe Cuisinart blender. Their head coach is Gary Frederick.

To explain why Mallory works for Gary Frederick, you could talk about the time he brought in a barbershop chorus to serenade his players on Valentine's Day, or you could talk about the priorities he lays out at the beginning of each season (family first, academics second, sports third), or you could tell a story, from many years ago during his days as a baseball coach, when his team was in the district playoffs. They had won the first game of a best-of-three series. Then rain came and turned the field to mush, and the rules said if another game couldn't be played, the Game 1 winner would automatically advance. But Frederick got on the phone and found a playable field, and his team played two more games and lost them both. "I'm sorry you feel that way," he said to his players when they grumbled, "but I don't want to back into a championship."

On April 26, 2008, the brilliant Saturday of Mallory's last regular-season home games with the Wildcats, Central Washington faced the Western Oregon Wolves in a doubleheader. The Wildcats lost the opener 8--1, putting themselves one loss from elimination in the race for the NCAA playoffs. Mallory was hitting above .360 for her career, and she held the Great Northwest Athletic Conference's career record for home runs. But her failing knees were already scheduled for surgery after the season, and she would not be going pro. None of her college teams had made the playoffs. This was her last chance.

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