Stephen Ponzio has never played professional baseball, but this winter, he took a swing at it.
Mr. Ponzio, who is finishing his doctorate in theoretical computer science, is a lifelong baseball fan and a member of the Brighton Braves, a team in the Yawkey League (one of three Boston leagues, along with the Park and Intercity Leagues). When he saw a news story in January about major-league teams auditioning potential replacement players during the protracted strike, he hopped on a plane for Plant City, FL, where the Cincinnati Reds were holding camp. "It might seem kind of impulsive, but it was a unique opportunity," he said. Growing up in New Jersey, "more than anything, I wanted to play baseball."
Coaches weeded out many hopefuls after two simple tests of basic skills by having them run the 60-yard dash and throw a ball from right field to third base. Mr. Ponzio didn't make the cut, although he ran a respectable 7.7 seconds in the 60-yard dash. "My throws were OK, but I guess they weren't quite good enough," he said.
Serious about staying in playing shape, Mr. Ponzio lifts weights in the off-season to increase upper-body strength and improve his hitting, and he consequently saw his Braves batting average blossom to .348 last summer.
The strike and his tryout left Mr. Ponzio with the firm belief that replacement players didn't get a fair shake from media and fans. "They were real baseball players-players who worked hard all their lives to be good at the game," he said. As far as the level of play goes, "most people wouldn't notice the difference between major-league and replacement ball," he added.
A bit of MIT went into space aboard the space shuttle Endeavor, which recently completed a 17-day mission.
Astronaut Wendy B. Lawrence is a 1988 graduate of the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Graduate Program in Oceanography and Oceanographic Engineering. One of the small mementos she brought with her into space was a WHOI patch.
Lawrence received the SM degree in oceanographic engineering from the MIT/WHOI program. Aboard Endeavor, she served as a mission specialist, trained to operate the shuttle's robotic arm, and she also participated in medical and other experiments.
As part of a mentor program at the Fales School in Westborough, Chuck Piper, a business manager by profession, went from blasting off a rocket for the entertainment of his two sons to being a rocket mentor for a team of Fales children. Since rocket science is not his area of expertise, Mr. Piper decided to take his team on a field trip to MIT.
"I called the switchboard at MIT," he told the Westborough News, "and asked for their rocket science department. The operator laughed. There is no rocket science department, but a Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. I took a few hours off from work one day and we went in and had a tour. The kids got to see a real rocket scientist who, some years back, was once like them, building model airplanes and playing with Erector sets. It was a great experience."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 12, 1995.