Photos from 06/22/21 thru 06/24/21 (right click any photo and open in new tab to see full size)
The jai-alai folks on the west coast of Florida are excited as renovations to America’s first public jai-alai court are now underway. On Tuesday, NJAA volunteers Paul Kubala, Scott King, Corky, Anthony, Garby, Mike, Rule, Joe C and Rick B (yes Rick B my buddy!) pitched in to tear down sections of the side wall. On Wednesday, the bulldozers were out and begun tearing down the front wall – which had been in existence for yearly 40 years as a racquetball side wall – was torn down. Additional work included tearing down some of the fencing.
The teardown of the wall, which served as the front wall for Puryear Park jai-alai for over 30 years, was gone. The new jai-alai court will expand into the next racquetball section, bringing the court to 104 feet long. The height of the walls will be extended to 20 feet high in the front and side walls with 16’ on the back wall. The back wall is only being raised by 6 feet to 16 feet – purposely to prevent “home runs.” The width of the walls is being expanded 4 ½ feet on top of it. Extensive fencing will protect the pelota from leaving the premises and that work will start soon. The end result will be an entirely different cancha and that is what has the NJAA organizers excited. Our logos have also been approved to go on the front wall pending donations. We are also asking for donations from players and supporters to contribute to the construction of the court now to enhance the side wall with more concrete block. Mike, Laca, and Cachin contributing photographs and videos.
We will keep you posted as the court renovations resume.
America’s first public court ended its first “phase” of operation Sunday afternoon with a big tournament. The court, nestled around a bunch of soccer fields in northeast St. Petersburg had a big run of over 30 years of amateur jai-alai action – the last 14 as the first municipally owned cancha. Fourteen players participated in a 2 hour and 42 minute tournament before a crowd of about 40. We even added a substitute for Corky with Oyarbide (a former pro) from Spain.
The court is now closed and will be undergoing extensive renovations, making it more in line with the old N Miami court and Matt’s in Berlin, Connecticut. The improvements will take 2-3 months and officials hope to have the court open by Labor Day weekend – assuming the weather, manpower and materials all fall into place.
The tournament featured 7 front courters, 7 back courters with each player taking on 5 players with total points accumulating. A win would add 3 extra points, a place would add 2 extra points and a show would add 1 extra point to each persons scores on top of the number of points they accumulated. Seven games were played to 10 points and then two partido’s were held with the 3rd place qualifier from the front joining the 3rd place qualifier playing the 4th place qualifiers of both the front and back.
The first 15-point partido would determine 3rd place and the game featured Magic Mike and Gino (who had subbed for Thomas who had to leave just minutes before the performance with an unfortunate death in the family). Mike and Gino held a commanding 14-9 lead but lost the next 6 points to former Dania pro Garby and J Laca who ended up winning 15-14. Garby/Laca were awarded the 3rd place trophies.
The final game played featured Brodie and Cachin vs. Scott King and Rule with the latter taking the game 15-10. This gave Scott King and Rule the 1st place trophies with Brodie and Cachin taking 2nd place.
Click program pic above to download Final Performance of Puryear Park 1
America’s first public court started construction exactly 14 years ago – June 18, 2007 – and now it’s about to get a huge makeover.
This Sunday, June 20th, a big tournament has been set up with little notice as we learned that the dismantling of the current court will begin the following day – Monday June 21st. The start date had been scheduled for the first quarter of 2021, but delays in getting materials as a result of COVID-19 took place and the start date was delayed.
There will be 6 jai-alai trophies handed out to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners for both front court and back court. Complete rules of the tournament can be seen on page 3 of the 8 -page color program that will be available. (You can download above)
The event starts at 1pm this Sunday. It is expected to last about 3 hours with 7 games to 10 straight points followed by two exciting partidos to 15 points to award the winners in the qualifying rounds. Former Tampa players Scott King and Corky are on the card. Daniel was on the card but canceled because of Father’s Day.
Unfortunately, Buster’s Courtside Grill and Pro Shop will not be open due to losing money on the Magic City event we had a year and a half ago. Players and spectators are encouraged to bring their own food and drinks and of course chairs and umbrellas.
The event has no rain date, and any rain delay will limited to no more than an hour so families can enjoy dinner together later at a reasonable hour.
America’s First Public Jai-alai court is about to go out in a blast! St. Petersburg’s Puryear Park is about to see the wrecking ball. But before that can happen, NJAA organizers are quickly putting together one of their big tournaments on the day before the big plans commence.
Those plans will turn Puryear Park into a larger, near regulation-sized amateur court (check out my previous stories on this in my Pelota Press blogs for full details).
When I announced the courts approval exactly 14 years ago on Tigers Chalk Talk, the jai-alai world was stunned. The approval of a public jai-alai was the result of a decade of persistence by local residents Paul Kabala and Tom “Corky” DeMint. Within minutes, former players like Benny, Randy and Daniel were all reaching out with congratulations. But some people weren’t happy with the size of the court and the wall height. I spent the next couple days explaining why it was going to be built that way. We got what we could do at the time when the economy and real estate industry were about to crash.
But the NJAA crew were not giving up on future plans to expand. A couple of months ago it was all approved. The new expansion will include knocking down the front wall and extending it into the practice court area while extending the height and width of the walls. Extensive netting will further protect the area outside the court.
With the fencing to come down, some slabs pulled up and the front wall getting demolished all scheduled to begin Monday, June 21st , organizers are putting together a big event the day before – Sunday – Father’s Day at 1pm. Players are now signing up and several ex-pros have confirmed into playing including former Tampa and Miami star player “Daniel”. The tournament will be like Matt’s Spectacular 9 but everybody plays the same number of games and players. The top point getters will play in Partido for the championship. There will be 6 jai-alai trophies handed out – 1st, 2nd and 3rd to both the frontcourter and the backcourters.
Anthony Sutton (aka “Ant” at the last Magic City Tournament) will be in charge of the tournament but won’t play. He’s been on the IL list since suffering a torn rotator cuff injury while falling during practice at Matt’s last tournament in Connecticut.
Everyone is welcome to come watch. Again, Puryear Park’s final performance for the court as it is now will be Sunday, June 20th at 1pm. The court will reopen a couple of months later, but being the summer time coming up with much needed rain, it may take longer.
The week was another great one with amazing short-court Jai-Alai action as these fast-paced games won’t put you to sleep at this fronton! The players keep improving and always give it 100% here, something revered and respected by Magic City Jai-Alai fans!
Anderluck had the most singles wins for Week 6 and prevailed in capturing his 5th Golden Cesta Award of his career. He is tied at 3rd with Carballo on most GC Awards, both players having 5 each! Douglas leads with 25 overall and RonRon is next most with 15.
The 2021 Regular Season Singles Championship is setting up to be the most competitive ever with more than a third of the roster jockeying for the top spot with only 6-wins separating the top 7 contenders. Currently, Ben & RonRon top the leaderboard with 23-wins, Julen has 22, Anderluck has 20, 17-yo Benny (brother of Douglas) is tied with Ikeda at 19-wins, and El Barba has 17. Strong late game players Spinner and Douglas have 14 and 12-wins each, respectively, and Tennessee also has 12-wins. Kubala isn’t far behind with 10-wins. The remainder of the players have 7-wins or less and are not out of the picture with this long season of short-court action extending through the end of November.
The 2nd Doubles tournament of 2021 has been quite the showcase of team talent at Magic City. Former Dania professional, Spinner, new to the Magic City roster for 2021 has been a great addition to Magic City with his strong competitive spirit and command of the Magic City short-court. The team of Cool Fitness and Spinner have so far been dominating this tournament with 15-wins in their 55 appearances for 27.3% wins, however 2nd place team of Kubala-Benny are closing in with 11-wins and dominated Week 6 doubles with their top 33.3% wins for the week and 66.7% ITM. Carballo-Tennessee are a close 3rd with 9-wins. Doubles teams at the low end are currently Anderluck-Vuelo with no wins in 24-starts and Bueno-Ben with 1-win in 22 starts.
Juice, a Magic City fan favorite since the inaugural season, was seen practicing on Tuesday and makes his return to play on Sunday, June 13. So far, Juice has missed all of 2021 as he underwent knee surgery and has been recovering. Welcome back Juice and my website “SayHiLi” and I wishes you the best on your return! Juice is well known for his spunk on the court and catching opponents off-guard with his surprise dejadas and caroms.
Don’t forget to catch even more exciting short-court Magic City Jai-Alai action with H2H Doubles games on Saturday at 1-pm on the JAC (Jai-Alai Channel) and H2H Singles at 10-am every Monday before the Monday double-header at 1-pm and 4:30-pm. Also, something new in 2021 is Tuesday Jai-Alai with another double-header at the same times. Be sure to get those Magic City Fantasy Jai-Alai League selections in before Saturday at 4-pm to for your shot at FREE weekly cash!
First “cable” broadcast of a Jai-Alai tournament. “On TV” agreed to show theTournament of Champions to the South Florida market. Kevin Koffman, myassistant (left), myself (middle) and Tom Contreras (Ocala GM) handled thecommentary. Four cameras and slow-motion replays were featured.
The sport of Jai-Alai seemed to be entering its “Golden Age,” in the mid to late 1970’s. Attendance was soaring in nearly every fronton in the state. Soon after the opening of our Hartford fronton, Milford and Bridgeport opened in the state of Connecticut. All were successful, much to the dismay of the state regulators and media skeptics.
Tampa Jai-Alai had undergone some significant improvements since Buddy Berenson convinced the board to acquire it in 1969. With new stars on the roster and a growing Tampa Bay market, it seemed Tampa Jai-Alai was about to match Miami’s success.
There were only two major promotions at our facilities: opening night and closing night. Otherwise, my job was to make sure we got as much free media exposure as possible. But there were a few “minor” promotions run during the season that did increase the attendance and betting significantly. They were called “partidos.”
Partidos were head-to-head matches between two teams. This was the way it was played in Spain. Since the players continued to play, even if they lost a point, the true skill of the players overcame the luck of the rotating format seen by fans in the U.S. Plus, we could match up two popular teams, players the fans really wanted to see.
These partidos were held, usually on a Saturday night, following the final game of the night. They were strictly exhibition matches with no betting. Most of the partidos were played to 15 points. Since the final game didn’t end until around 12:30 am, most partidos didn’t start almost 1 am. Yet, more than 1,000 fans would stay to watch the match.
Being a true fanatic of the sport, I loved the partidos. I was, also, amazed that we had that many fans staying so late to watch, with no betting, just pure Jai-Alai. One thing kept popping up in my young mind. Why were the match-ups always intra-fronton and not inter-fronton? That is, why weren’t we able to play a team from Miami?
I knew when I started in Tampa, Miami Jai-Alai was known as the “Yankee Stadium of Jai-Alai.” This was the home of the greats: Orbea, Churruca, Chimela, and Ondarres. The roster now featured Juaristi, Enrique, Asis, and Joey. I was told Tampa players could not compete with these stars. Or maybe if we happened to beat them in a partido, Miami Jai-Alai would lose its prestige.
I was watching our players compete every day. Bolivar was unbeatable. Laca wouldn’t drop a ball. Now we had Gorrono, known as one of the best backcourters in the world. Aramayo and Echeva were young, but now competing with the stars. I thought we were ready and mostly; the fans were ready.
So, I drew up a concept where we would have players qualify at each fronton during a one-month period within our regular program. The winners would represent each fronton in a best-of-five partido series, rotating between Miami and Tampa. I called it, “The Tournament of Champions.”
I discussed the idea with GM Dick Gerrity and Player Manager Beitia. I convinced them that it would not only be good for business but could catapult Tampa Jai-Alai’s prestige to the top. The hard part would be to convince Miami. They had little to gain, and plenty to lose. But, if Dick Donovan and Paul Rico, Miami’s corporate bosses, saw the business advantage, they might go for it.
First, Gerrity pitched the idea to Rico. He loved it. Paul said he would discuss it with Donovan and told me to send him the specifics. I did, and we held the first intercity partido series, World Jai-Alai’s Tournament of Champions, in 1976. The series was tremendously successful and continued each year through the early 80’s, where it became the model for the NAJF (Nat’l Association of Jai-Alai Frontons) National Championship involving the major frontons in the state.
It turned out, the stars from both frontons played their hearts out. The fans saw the sport at its best. The two frontons shared the trophy the first four years, splitting 2-2, until Miami’s Asis and Soroa defeated Tampa’s Jesus and Zulaica II in 1980. But, the climax in this series came in 1981 when Joey and Soroa defeated Tampa’s Echeva and Irigo to take the trophy back to Miami.
This set the stage for a national championship, to include more Florida frontons, Connecticut and Newport, Rhode Island. But who would be making those decisions for World Jai-Alai?
In 1977, a very conservative, highly religious, Tulsa oilman executed one of the first leveraged buyouts (LBO) of a public company in US history. It was announced that Roger Wheeler now owned 100% of World Jai-Alai. This would be the worst decision of his life!
Note to readers: Marty will be on vacation for the next 4 weeks, traveling the country. His incredible stories will resume again at that time. There are lots of great stories to follow. Thanks for being a reader. Jeff “Laca” Conway / Pelota Press
Milford Jai-Alai, owned and operated by Dania, openedin 1977 and proved to be a tremendous success.
Steve Snyder and John Knox surveyed the near-empty Hartford Jai-Alai Fronton on opening night, Thursday, May 20th, 1976. Snyder, the majority owner of the Dania Fronton in south Florida had leveraged his success with that facility to build another Connecticut fronton in the small town of Milford (scheduled to open the coming year). Knox, a legendary radio personality in Miami, had been handling the marketing for Dania and was now Snyder’s right-hand man in management. Both were eagerly anticipating the debut of Hartford, hoping for a positive indication of how successful the sport was going to be in the northeast.
“It was a very, very quiet ride home,” Knox was to tell me many years later as we reminisced about the early years of Jai-Alai in Connecticut. “I’m not sure what was going through his mind after seeing the small turnout in Hartford. But he had a lot on the line.”
But then, Friday night, everything seemed to change. The fans saw that Interstate 91 was not jammed with cars and there was plenty of parking. I was still announcing in Hartford. Gradually, I started seeing the seats fill up. By 8:30, the place was full, and the lobby began to get jammed. However, it was still very quiet in the main auditorium.
The play was fantastic. Players were throwing amazing shots, climbing the wall to make catches, and diving on the floor to throw rebote shots. As I did my near play-by-play, which usually would get the Florida fans on their feet cheering, the Hartford fans just sat there…. until the final point in the game!
After a team won game-point, a tremendous roar would sweep through the fronton. This would scare the heck out of me because I thought I made a scoring mistake, posted the wrong point. Florida fans would let you know that with the type of roar I was hearing.
I later found out that most of the sports fans that attended Jai-Alai were hockey fans, since Hartford had an NHL team. Few had ever seen our sport. So, as hockey fans do, they cheer wildly when a goal is scored. They saved cheering until the end of the game, thinking this is what’s appropriate. It took weeks before they realized they could yell after every point. And it did not take them long to begin booing when their team lost a point.
That first weekend, with the overflow crowds, it became apparent to all of us that Jai-Alai had, indeed, arrived and would be a smashing success in Connecticut. I’m sure Steve Snyder and John Knox breathed a sigh of relief when they saw the Hartford weekend numbers. By the way, Milford did open in 1977 and was one of the nicest, most successful facilities in the state for many years.
I returned to Tampa, turning over the announcing duties to Danny Bazarte and Bill Couch. We were preparing to open the 1976 summer season in Ocala with some of our Tampa roster heading there and some up to Hartford. With our nation celebrating its bicentennial, we were now only in our third season in Ocala.
There was still turmoil in the World Jai-Alai executive offices in Miami. Richard P. (Dick) Donovan had replaced the ousted John Callahan. L. Stanley (Buddy) Berenson was virtually exiled from the corporate offices.
Donovan and the Executive Committee were looking for further expansion of the sport, including possible frontons in Chicago and New Jersey.
I was more focused on where I was going to live for the upcoming Ocala season and who was going to be my roommate. Ricky Solaun was designated to play in Hartford following the Tampa season. We had lived together the previous years. And then, I got a call from Miami.
Richard, “Richie” Berenson, (son of Buddy) and my close friend, was still employed by World Jai-Alai, even though there was a battle going on between World Jai-Alai and his family. He wanted to work in Ocala during the summer. There was an announcing position open, which was perfect for him. He had announced in Miami. In fact, he had done almost every job there as he trained for upper management.
With Ricky unavailable, I suggested we room together. He said that would be great and he’d love to announce. I had no idea what the reaction would be from Donovan, Rico, or Dick Gerrity. But Richie had been my dear friend, his father had given me my first job. I just hoped that we would be below anyone’s radar.
The 1976 Ocala Jai-Alai turned out to be one of my best memories. Richie and I had the best time that year. The fronton set attendance and betting records. There were many nights that we would stay after the performance and play Jai-Alai until after 2:00 a.m. We’d drive back to Brandywine Apartments and party with the players until 5 a.m.
It was the best of years, and it was the worst of years. When Richie returned to Miami following the Ocala season, he and his father were officially terminated from their employment with World Jai-Alai. But our friendship never ended.
I was asked to go back up to Hartford for the month of October to again assist in marketing and public relations. Solaun was now up there playing and living with Tampa player Rio in West Lake Apartments in the small town of Cromwell, about 20 miles south of Hartford. They had room for me, so I moved in with them for a month.
My excitement for being back in Hartford quickly waned when the temperature averaged about 40 degrees. I don’t mind the cold, but it rained the entire month of October. The sun never came out… for a whole month! I don’t remember ever being warm, even when I got inside. But the fronton was still drawing a big crowd and it was a great experience.
When I returned to Tampa, it was time to prepare for the 1976-77 season. World Jai-Alai was a public company, traded on the stock exchange. It seemed that the corporate name chosen, “World” Jai-Alai was appropriate because we were poised to possibly open anywhere in the world. That was the strategy. That seemed to be the goal: expansion, expansion, expansion. Then, out of nowhere, the company was sold!