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The Softball Team: Blazing Its Own Trail

By Joanne Nelson, Crimson Staff Writer

As the Harvard softball team heads into today's cross-town contest against Boston University, it will have fingers crossed.

Not only has the Crimson compiled an impressive 14-8 record so far, but Harvard's road trips have been remarkably free mishaps this season.

It hasn't always been so peaceful.

In recent years, road trips have been complete with tales of missing players, bizarre injuries, near-road collisions and apocalyptic weather patterns.

The trail of misfortune began with the team's 1990 Spring Break trip to Houston.

The trip left a legacy now carried by the survivors, including current seniors Julie Fromholtz and Liz Resnik and juniors Chris Carr, Katie Fitta and Nancy Johnson.

During the team's match this year at Princeton, softball alumna Jen Clawson '91 exhibited the typical denial syndrome: "Unit I visited California last summer, I'd never been west of the Mississippi."

"Uh, Jen," a former teammate asked. "what about the nine days you spent in Houston?"

Oh, yeah...

Houston had been suffering a drought for four weeks prior to the softball teams arrival. Nice weather for softball, right?

As soon as the squad touched ground (and incidentally discovered that its vans had been rented from the wrong airport) it started to rain.

The rain didn't really stop the whole time Harvard was in the Lone Star State.

While suffering through rain delays, Harvard seldom left the hotel long enough for the maid to change the sheets. Occasionally, team members wandered aimlessly around a local mall or sat through multiple viewings of Pretty woman.

On the field, the Crimson didn't fare much better, dropping most of its games by wide margins and losing future All-Ivy pitcher Carr to a season-long Injury.

Clawson ("never been west of the Mississippi" Clawson) also fell victim to tumbleweed cleverly disguised as an outfield fence. While chasing a fly ball, she flipped over it and suffered a severely bruised hip.

The very next weekend, the Crimson traveled to Pennsylvania and Princeton for the biggest weekend of the 1990 season. Saturday games were snowed out this time.

Yes, snow.

In April.

As Ivy League regulations mandate, Harvard remained in the Garden State through Monday, waiting for the sun to come out. Players called teaching fellow and tutors from the hotel lobby asking for various extensions and a disgruntled coach Barry Haskell threatened to plow the parking lot and hold a practice.

When all was said and done, the Crimson returned home with a disappointing 1-3 record.

"I don't think we ever fully recovered from the Houston and Penn-Princeton trips that season," current Co-Captain Carr said.

The following season brought a fresh crop of talented players (Amy Belisle, Ann Kennon, Becky Poicus, Chris Vogt), but it didn't end the misadventures.

Though the 1991 Crimson finished a more promising 21-17, mishaps continued. Seconds before Harvard's takeoff to its new spring break destination, Fort Meyers, slugger Bev Armstrong had not yet boarded the plane.

As Haskell fumed over her where-abouts, she ran onto the plane, almost knocking over the attendant land is perfectly positioned to make a killingin the '90s.

But Wonderland has fallen upon some toughtimes. the track is on a pace to handle $170million in wagers this year, far short of its $200million target. "Nationwide, the paramutuels aregetting beaten up pretty good and New England hasbeen the hardest hit," Bucci says. "People justdon't have the leisure money they had in the late'80s. Hopefully, the economy will turn aroundsoon." Even if it does, Wonderland will have tocontend with stiff local competition for thegambling dollar. there are dogs at Raynham Parkthoroughbreds at Rockingham Park. there's thelargest state lottery in the country. There's alsoSuffolk Downs just a mile away. In Vader's 1989canine boom/equine bust article Suffolk Downsplayed the Yesterdayland foil: "At Suffolk Downsthe paint is peeling, the windows are splatteredwith pigeon droppings and the pitted asphalt islittered with hot-dog wrappers from the sad littlesnack bars." But Suffolk Downs has undergonerenovations of its own, and is presently enjoyinga mini-resurgence.

Bucci's solution is simple: legalizeout-of-state simulcasting in Massachusetts. Thenwonderland could attract additional customer bytelevising closed-circuit racing events, as italready does with high- profile boxing matches androck concerts. "This is the electronic age," Buccisays. "You've got to let us bring the product tothe people."

Problem is, the logical extension of Bucci'ssolution is to bring the product directly to thepeople. Beam high-profile races into their ownliving rooms. Let them phone in their bets fromhome. Technologically, it can be done. And thatcould be the end of the Wonderland. If peoplecould stay home and bet, why would they want tocome to the track?

Not to experience the awe-inspiring spectacleof live dog-racing. Come on, most of Wonderland'sclientele already watches the races on closed-circuit TV. There just isn't that much toexperience. As Vader wrote, "there are no manesand tail blowing, no bright silks, no sweat nobloodlines going back centuries, no Old Kentuckyhome," Wonderland runs ads featuring abasset houndnamed Buck-O with a rocket strapped to his backbeneath the legend, "The Basic Idea BehindGreyhound Racing." They're supposed to betongue-in-cheek. But that is the basic idea behindgreyhound racing. It's too damn fast. by the timeyou've figured out which dog is the one you beton, the race is over.

Not to see their friends, either. Wonderlandbrochures are full happy young people inbright-colored collared shirts hanging out withtheir best Wonderland buddies. Truth is, nobodyhas any Wonderland buddies. "I mean you recognizepeople, but you don't make friends," Wayne says.There's nothing communal about wonderland. Peoplego, bet, watch the races on a TV screen, cash in,go home. if they could do it without goinganywhere, they would.

Not even to eat off crisp tablecloths at arestaurant as good as any in downtown Boston.

FOR NOW, though Wonderland continues tosurvive. Every night--and four afternoon matineesa week--a few thousand men and women come towonderland to bet the dogs. More on specialpromotional nights. Fewer on nights when RogerClemens is pitching for the Sox. they're notbeautiful people, wealthy people, famous people,or powerful people, but they're people. "Averagefolks, the kind of people you'd meet at thedrugstore," says Larry Rooney, a 19-year veteranof the Massachusetts racing Commission. they'vegot nothing better to do than risk some cash, noone better to see than each other, So they comeback to the end of the blue Line. They keep comingback.

I've come back to Wonderland a few times. Afterthe first time, I stopped noticing the dogs'names. I stopped noticing the names of theirowners, kennels, trainers sires, dams. I stoppedthinking about the cruelty of the sport. I learnedto play the numbers, the percentages. I realizedthat I wasn't betting against the track--Whichtakes it cut no matter who wins-- but againstWayne and the rest of the Wonderland masses, and Ibet accordingly.

A couple months ago, I boxed a four-dollar 7-2perfecta. The 7 dog won. The 2 dog lost a photofinish for second place. Another two inches and Iwould've won a hundred bucks,

Fuckin' Shame.

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