Tuesday, July 20th concluded another week of the fast-action short-court Jai-Alai with Magic City early-mid game professional Jai-Alai player El Barba securing his 6th Golden Cesta Award and surging to the lead in the singles championship. El Barba won 6-singles games for the week, an impressive 50% wins, and is in 3rd place for most GC Awards at Magic City, only headed by Douglas and RonRon. Congratulations El Barba on your victorious week!
The 2021 regular season Singles Championship has continued to be a contentious battle with lead changes happening regularly. Eight players of the 20-player roster have from 27 to 35 singles wins. El Barba now leads this group with 35 wins, Ben 33, Anderluck & RonRon have 32, Douglas & Julen 31, Ikeda 28, and Benny 27. Douglas continues to lead in singles win percentage with 28.7% with RonRon not far behind with 24.1%. RonRon leads overall best % ITM with 55.6.
The second 2021 Doubles Tournament of the year concluded on Tuesday, July 20th. Cool Fitness-Spinner dominated the tourney with 25-wins (25.5% wins) and will split the first place price of $10,000. Kubala-Benny scored 2nd place prize money of $5,000 with 19-wins, edging out 3rd place finishers Carballo-Tennessee with their 17-victories. Fourth place team was El Barba-Ikeda with 12-wins. Those were the only teams with double digit win stats. The 3rd 2021 Doubles Tournament starts on Saturday July 24th with game 5. There are 9-teams in this tournament. Anderluck-Vuelo and CRB-Bradley will not be playing in this one. Anderluck is paired with Bradley this time while CRB and Vuelo will be tournament subs. The remaining teams from the 2nd Doubles Tournament will continue as-is.
Week 13 kicks-off on Saturday, July 24th, with a 1:30-pm performance where live fans are allowed in the fronton. Seating starts at 1:00 pm. Don’t forget the exciting H2H doubles games which follow at 5-pm where live fans are also allowed. Live fans for Saturday’s H2H doubles can also get in on one FREE shot at $1,000 on Saturday; the new 6-Picks Promotion. The person(s) picking ALL 6-winners of the (6) H2H doubles matches split $1,000. There are 64-different combinations of picking all 6-matches, however, each participant gets only ONE chance. If nobody has all 6-winners, the $1,000 carries over to the next Saturday where $2,000 is up for grabs for the winner(s) of ALL 6-matches. This “jackpot” continues to grow by $1,000 weekly until a contestant correctly picks the winner of all 6-matches. So far there have been lucky winners both weeks who picked all 6 winners of the H2H games on Saturday, July 10th and July 17th. Those winners each took home a cool $1,000. The 6-Picks Promotion starts at $1,000 again for Saturday, July 24th. Be sure to understand all the rules for this promotion if you are participating.
Don’t forget to get those Magic City Fantasy Jai-Alai League selections locked-in before the start of Saturday’s game 1! Contestants need to be mindful of the entries change on Saturday’s live performance where the late-game players now play an extra feature game in addition to game 6 & 8. The late-gamers will also be competing in game 4 (Saturday only).
Whitey Bulger’s sharpshooting partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi has a date with the a Florida parole board on August 18th for his freedom.
He has served 26 years, so far, of a life sentence for his role in the back-to-back murder of World Jai-alai President John Callahan in Florida, and World Jai-alai owner Roger Wheeler in Oklahoma along with at least 8 other “gangland” executions.
In the state of Florida, prisoners can ask for a “compassionate release” where those who are at least 65 years old, experiencing serious deterioration in physical or mental health due to age and have served at least 10 years or 75% of their sentence. Flemmi is now 87 years old and is locked up in Florida prison unknown to the public because he has been labeled as a “Rat” for the deal he received in testifying against Whitey Bulger to avoid the death penalty.
There’s at least one person not too happy about this. Mary Callahan told the Boston Herald “I don’t think so. He’s talking about compassion? I didn’t see him having any compassion for his victims”. Her husband John was shot to death and left in a truck of a car at the Miami airport in 1982 because he knew too much about Bulger and Flemmi working as informants for the FBI. Bulger went on the run for 16 years before getting captured nearly 3 years ago at the age of 89. He was sentenced to a penitentiary in Hazelton West Virginia and was murdered by inmates just hours after arriving in a wheelchair.
Flemmi is hoping to gain his release- just like his former FBI handler, John Connolly, who was released last February. Connolly has claimed that he is terminally ill. Flemmi actually got his nickname “The Rifleman” during the Korena War as a member of the Army and ran the Boston Winter Hill Gang with Bulger and was the plot of the movie “Black Mass” starring Johnny Depp that was released in 2015 and featured a phony jai-alai scene. There are no details on the condition of Flemmi’s health at this time. I guess we will find out next month.
Tuesday, July 13th concluded another week of the fast-action short-court Jai-Alai with top Magic City professional Jai-Alai player RonRon securing his 16th Golden Cesta Award, winning the tie-breaker against Ben & CRB who also had 3-wins each but had lower singles game win percents for the week than RonRon. Congratulations RonRon on your achievement and we are sure your family is very proud of you!
The 2021 regular season Singles Championship has continued to be a contentious battle with lead changes happening regularly. Half of the 20-player roster has from 20 to 32 singles wins. Ben now leads this group with 32 wins, Julen & RonRon have 31, Anderluck & El Barba have 29, Douglas has moved up to the top six with 28, Benny & Ikeda have 26, Spinner has 22, and Tennessee has 20. Douglas still commands the lead in singles win percentage with 28.0%. Spinner and RonRon are in a virtual tie with overall best % ITM with 55.7 and 55.2, respectively while Douglas is the only other player with ITM over 50% with a 51.0%.
The second 2021 Doubles Tournament of the year is still being dominated by the same 3-teams. Cool Fitness-Spinner lead the 10-teams with 23-wins and will win split the first place price of $10,000. Kubala-Benny picked up a win and are second with 18-wins while Carballo-Tennessee were winless this week and remain in 3rd place with 16-wins. There are only 8-games left in this doubles tournament which concludes on game 7 of Tuesday’s performance on July 20th. The 2nd place prize money of $5,000 could come down to the final game if Carballo-Tennessee kick it into gear and make up some ground this week.
Week 12 kicks-off on Saturday, July 17th, with a 1:30-pm performance where live fans are allowed in the fronton. Seating starts at 1:00 pm. Don’t forget the exciting H2H doubles games which follow at 5-pm where live fans are also allowed. Live fans for Saturday’s H2H doubles can also get in on one FREE shot at $1,000 on Saturday; the new 6-Picks Promotion. The person(s) picking ALL 6-winners of the (6) H2H doubles matches split $1,000. There are 64-different combinations of picking all 6-matches, however, each participant gets only ONE chance. If nobody has all 6-winners, the $1,000 carries over to the next Saturday where $2,000 is up for grabs for the winner(s) of ALL 6-matches. This “jackpot” continues to grow by $1,000 weekly until a contestant correctly picks the winner of all 6-matches. There was one lucky winner who picked all 6 winners of the H2H games on Saturday, July 10th. That winner took home a cool $1,000. The 6-Picks Promotion starts at $1,000 again for Saturday, July 17th. Be sure to understand all the rules for this promotion if you are participating. Also, don’t forget, be sure to get those Magic City Fantasy Jai-Alai League selections locked-in before the start of Saturday’s game 1!
(top left) Tampa’s GM Dick Gerrity welcomes Salty Sol (my Dad) onto the court. He presents Dad with a plaque recognizing his many years of media support for the Tampa fronton. (top right) NFL stars sign autographs for our players as Tampa hosted the Pro Bowl(pictured l. to r. Cliff Harris, Soriano, Mark van Eeghen, myself, Durango) (bottom photo) Heavyweight champion Larry Holmes tries his hand at Jai-Alai before training for his next title bout.
Many say the late ’70s were the “Golden Years” for the sport of Jai-Alai. Looking back, I totally agree. From Connecticut to Florida, the frontons were packed. Reserved seats in Miami, Tampa, Dania, Palm Beach, Orlando, Hartford, Milford, Bridgeport, and even Newport, Rhode Island were as hard to come by as an NFL or NHL playoff game. Even the smaller frontons were sold out every weekend.
The play on the court was phenomenal. Joey, Juaristi, Bolivar, Gorrono, Saez, Said, Uribar, Soroa, Asis, Jesus (just to name a few) were playing at the highest level. We all thought the growth of the sport was unlimited.
Not only did locals and tourists regularly visit Tampa Jai-Alai, but celebrities always wanted to see “The World’s Fastest Game” when they were in town. And I was lucky enough to be the one that coordinated their appearances.
A few stories about celebrity visitors to Tampa Jai-Alai have stayed fresh in my mind, even 40 years later. I will never forget the night I got a call from a man identifying himself as Rich Giachetti. He said he managed heavyweight boxing champion Larry Holmes. Holmes was coming to Tampa to help promote his next fight and wanted to stop by Tampa Jai-Alai.
At first, I thought it was a joke. I knew that Larry Holmes was, indeed, the IBF Heavyweight champion. But I doubted the Easton, Pennsylvania resident had ever heard of Jai-Alai. I put him on hold and checked with my boss, Dick Gerrity. I told Dick that if this call was legitimate, we could do a promotion around it. Dick, being a boxing fan, said he was okay with whatever I had in mind.
I told Giachetti that if Holmes came, we would introduce him on the court in front of about 7,000 fans that Saturday night. I asked if Larry would like to try to throw a Jai-Alai ball (pelota). I told him there was no way he could hit the front wall, but he might enjoy the challenge.
Giachetti thought it was a great idea, a good way to get Holmes some exposure. In 1979, Muhammad Ali received most of the attention. Holmes was hoping to one day square off against Ali. But, right now, he was going to face the challenge of trying to hit the front wall.
When that Saturday night arrived, I met Giachetti and Holmes’s entourage at the north entrance of the fronton. Rich introduced me to the champ who graciously shook my hand and gave me a big smile, gold tooth and all. He introduced me to the rest of his party, which consisted of his friends who many would call “hangers-on.” They said “yes” to anything he said. Maybe boxers need confidence builders. But it was apparent whatever Larry wanted, they all endorsed it enthusiastically. And no doubt they were there to boost his ego and ride the Holmes gravy train.
Larry could not have been nicer. He quickly agreed to go on the court after the seventh game and try to throw the pelota. He wanted to meet some of the players. He agreed to sign autographs. He was a perfect gentleman.
I remember trying to put the cesta on his right hand. He resisted and said he was left-handed. I told him it was illegal in our sport to play left-handed. He didn’t mind since boxers develop strength in both hands. But, when he tried to throw the ball, he threw it straight sideways almost hitting Giachetti who was standing to the left and behind him. Laughing, he tried three more times, never coming close. The crowd laughed and he left the court thoroughly frustrated. Larry Holmes might have been the heavyweight champion, but the sport of Jai-Alai beat him up pretty good that night.
Another story always stands out in my mind from those later years in Tampa. While some professional athletes are fairly humble, many are a little arrogant.
For instance, Tampa hosted the NFL Pro Bowl in the late ’70s. Some of these football stars came to Tampa Jai-Alai a few nights before the game. Seeing the group in the audience, I asked if they would like to come out onto the court and try throwing the ball. Four of them agreed.
I remember Mark van Eeghen, All- Pro running back for the Oakland Raiders asked, “Do you want us to play a game?” I laughed and answered, “You will be lucky if you can even hit the front wall.” The other three, Cliff Harris (cornerback, Cowboys), Roger Wehrli (cornerback, Cardinals) and Dave Dalby (center, Raiders) followed van Eeghen into the player’s quarters.
Though Jai-Alai players prefer European soccer, most are big football fans. So, when seeing these Pro Bowl greats enter the locker room, they quickly started asking them for autographs. But these guys were a little cocky. They impatiently signed a few and quickly departed the area to go onto the court as the game ended.
Again, van Eeghen, after strapping on the cesta asked if they could start a volley. I said, “You aren’t going to volley because you won’t hit that big wall. We will give you three tries.” He gave me an annoying look and swung the cesta as hard as he could. The ball went straight down and backwards, nearly wiping out our house photographer. He tried again, same result. “One more,” I said. The third toss was slightly better hitting the side wall first and flying out of bounds.
He sheepishly took off the basket and handed it to the hulking 6′ 6″ center, Dave Dalby. He did worse. Since he was left-handed, his throws almost hit the other two players standing on the wood area to his right.
After all the players tried AND failed to hit the front wall, their demeanor completely changed. As we walked off the court into the player’s quarters, these NFL superstars quickly approached our players, wide-eyed, and full of envy.
“How do you guys do it?” one asked. They quickly started asking our guys for autographs. I ended up having to force them from the locker room as they were distracting our players waiting to play the next game. “Amazing,” they murmured as they left the player’s quarters.
One of the most memorable nights for me was the night Tampa Jai-Alai honored Salty Sol Fleischman, Sports Director for WTVT, Channel 13. While Salty Sol happened to be my father, he, also, had been an avid supporter of Tampa Jai-Alai since it opened in 1954. I was so grateful to Dick Gerrity for naming a game, “The Salty Sol Handicap.” He presented a trophy to the winner that night, Arcarazo, as Gerrity and I looked on. It was quite an emotional moment for me.
Things could not have been going better as I was completing my eighth Tampa season. Then, at 7 a.m. one morning there was a knock on my door. My world was about to come crashing down, my hopes and dreams about to be shattered.
Ocala Jai-Alai proved the sport could be successful in rural areas. (r. )Nik Niks and bell bottomed slacks were in style when we opened in 1973.
Ocala Jai-Alai will always hold a special place in my heart. Maybe it was the people. Or maybe because I was able to live in Gainesville and extend my “college” years from four to 12. Regardless, I look back on those years with such great memories.
From the time Buddy Berenson walked the streets of Ocala shaking hands with voters to clearing pastureland in the middle of nowhere, Ocala Jai-Alai was destined to be unique.
The other frontons in the state were in large, metropolitan areas, like Miami, Palm Beach, Orlando, and Tampa. This was the first fronton in a rural location, a true experiment in expanding our sport throughout the state. It, also, afforded me near year-round employment. Tampa Jai-Alai closed in May. Ocala Jai-Alai was our summer fronton.
So many random memories come to mind concerning Ocala Jai-Alai. I am going to write this a little differently. I will try to relate some of these memories that come to mind.
I still remember vividly the excitement of packing my two seat, bright orange Datsun 240Z with all my worldly possessions (they fit easily in this small car, the television taking up the entire passenger seat). My destination was Tanglewood Apartments in Gainesville where Ricky Solaun and I would share an apartment. This was 1973, the inaugural season for Ocala Jai-Alai. There was extreme nervousness on everyone as the construction was not complete.
It was interesting to see many of the Miami employees, like Steve Bourie, Rick Bergman, Bob Hickey, and others move in to Tanglewood. Though Miami Jai-Alai was our sister fronton, there seemed to exist a rivalry between Miami and Tampa. We no longer felt we were the “step” sister at Tampa Jai-Alai. Now, Ocala was neutral ground.
Ocala’s roster was mostly my Tampa roster, with the exception of Joey (still a youngster in 1972 but becoming a top Miami star), Mendiola (a veteran Miami backcourt star), Randy (one of the best American players from Miami), and Iturregui (a veteran Miami frontcourter). I watched Joey mature that year, already starting to show his superstar status and a promising future to be one of the world’s best.
After we made it through our initial opening problems, I noticed that the local ranchers, farmers, and rural residents began to embrace the sport. They had their own pronunciations for the strange Basque names. But, no matter what named they called them after missing a game point, the players soon knew exactly to whom they were yelling their epithets.
Ocala Jai-Alai beat their projected numbers that first year. Some physical improvements were to come in future seasons. The near complete Tampa roster would come to Ocala the following years as Ft. Pierce Jai-Alai opened in 1974. Ft. Pierce would become the summer home for the Miami players.
With more summer seasons under our belt, I developed many friendships with some of the Miami people. I remember Steve Bourie, who worked in the calculating room (where all the odds and payoffs are tabulated) in Ocala was quite the practical joker. Some nights at our apartment complex, Steve would put on this scary rubber mask. He would tap on the window of some player’s units and try to scare them. No one was affected as much as Grace Arregui, Jose Arregui’s (assistant player manager) wife, who thought there actually was a burglar about to break into their apartment. To this day, I still kid her about Bourie.
Many nights we would get a chance to play on the court after the final game, about midnight. Sometimes, Steve Bourie and I would play amateur partidos against Rick Bergman and Bob Hickey. Other times, I might take someone else out onto the court like sportswriter Jim Haynes from the Orlando Sentinel.
Jim (or Jaime, his Jai-Alai name) was a huge Jai-Alai fan. He not only gave us valuable publicity in a major state newspaper, but he would drive all the way from Orlando just to watch, bet, and maybe play Jai-Alai. “Jaime” was an awful amateur player, but I never would tell him that. He was larger (in width) than any player I had ever seen on the court. He was slow. And, he had no idea where he was throwing the ball. But he loved to play!
So, one night, he drove two hours from Orlando after work, getting to the fronton about 10 p.m., Jim asked me if we could play after the last game. I had one ball for us. The ballmaker had gone home and this one pelota had to last the entire night. Should be no problem, under normal circumstances.
After the last game, Jim strapped on his cesta and a helmet, and I handed him the ball. I had to do a two-minute results show on the radio by phone and told Jim to practice while I finished up. While on the radio, I heard the crack of the ball on the front wall twice, then silence.
I walked out of the back office into the court area and saw Jim, shoulders slumping, a look of sheer disappointment on his face. I asked, “What happened?” He meekly pointed to the ceiling, where our ball sat resting on the overhead wire screen.
Jim “Jaime” Haynes had been the first to throw a ball so high that it penetrated the seam and never came down. He handed me the cesta and made the long drive back to Orlando having thrown the Jai-Alai ball twice.
Ricky Solaun, a great frontcourter in Ocala, and I roomed together many years in Gainesville. Brandywine Apartments had a game room that had a ping pong table. I didn’t think they ping pong in these small Basque towns in Spain. I had played a lot growing up.
Ricky would challenge me almost daily to play ping pong. I wanted to make it interesting, so I said, “loser buys dinner.” Ricky liked the steaks at Western Sizzling. I must confess, I don’t think Ricky bought dinner the entire summer season. The waiter at Western Sizzling knew exactly what he wanted each night, automatically handing me the check without asking.
The summer of 1976 will always stand out as one of my best memories. That was the nation’s bicentennial, and the year Richard Berenson was my roommate. “Richie” being the son of owner Buddy Berenson was a good friend. But, that summer, we became GREAT friends. We worked, we played, we partied, and we ate… in no particular order.
Richie, I knew, was one of the most knowledgeable people on the sport of Jai-Alai. I soon found out, he, also, liked music and wrestling. He brought to our apartment a multitude of wrestling magazines. His favorite record albums, The Beach Boys, Barry White, and Super Tramp were played constantly on his horrible $12.95 Hi-Fi “system”. But he loved Chinese food and every Sunday we ate dinner at Joy-Loy in Gainesville.
Every night, after the games, the first one back to the apartment would turn on “The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder” (who ended up featuring Joey in a future show) and Fernwood Tonight, a great late show satire. Then, we’d head to a player’s apartment for some late-night food. Great memories.
There were some other significant people that revolved around Ocala Jai-Alai. I remember the night I met Giles Ellis, Jr., who answered an ad to work there in the front office. Giles quickly became General Manager of Ocala and assistant GM in Tampa. Giles was a great guy and a top manager.
Dick Gerrity got his start in Ocala and quickly was promoted to manage Tampa Jai-Alai. As I mentioned in previous articles, Dick was a former FBI agent and avid golfer. I will never forget our many golf outings with the employees at the Williston Country Club and other area courses. I had so many great years working with Dick.
Finally, I always think of my late great friend Tom Contreras who was synonymous with Ocala Jai-Alai. Tom met Dick Gerrity on the USF golf course while he was in his senior year. Dick hired him to run group sales at Tampa (possibly because Contreras beat him that day and he wanted another shot at him).
Tom became general manager of Ocala Jai-Alai during much of the 1980s and 90s. He had moved to Ocala and got to know everyone in town. He was a generous, jovial guy and we became great friends. Part of Ocala’s ongoing success can be attributed to Tom Contreras.
Sadly, today Ocala Jai-Alai is basically just a soulless building. The sport of Jai-Alai has nearly disappeared there and I’m sure will shortly not be played at all. It has a poker room and there is a small turnout for simulcasting.
Yet, when I drive by the Orange Lake exit on I-75, those wonderful memories come gushing back… and with a tear in my eye, I smile.
We ask that no one goes on the court during construction. Someone could get hurt, and that would give us a black mark, tarnishing what has been a good relationship with the city for nearly 15 years. Thank you.
Meanwhile, work is delayed as Elsa is passing by – perhaps becoming the first hurricane to hit the Tampa Bay area in 100 years. And yes, the bottom one foot of the J Laca Museum has been lifted in anticipation of flooding from the storm hitting exactly at high tide.