By Jeff “Laca” Conway
One of our avid readers is on a mission. No, it’s not going to Mars. That spacecraft already beat him. His mission is to visit as many pari-mutual places as he can before some of them go bye-bye. He’s on a bucket-list adventure and is willing to travel anywhere – at any time – to go visit any racino. When Kevin Cox read my story on the various frontons a couple weeks ago on when they are opening this year, he immediately inquired about Ocala Jai-alai. After I saw posting by Bennett on Tigers site, I told him that Ocala was actually running games as we speak for a two-week period. I get inquiries almost everyday from people. Private schools have contacted me about doing a jai-alai presentation and we did one in front of 165 students and faculty with Goitia and Julio Restina joining me (see story under NJAA link). Last week, the Clearwater Historical Society contacted me and want a presentation done on jai-alai history in America. But this latest request was unusual. Is this guy kidding me? After further discussions, I knew he wasn’t. He was serious.
Mr. Cox been to 64 racetracks, 9 dog tracks and 7 jai-alai frontons and that list is growing by the day. He wasn’t going to miss this once a year opportunity to add live jai-alai to his list.
Sure enough, he headed over to Ocala as soon as he could. It was last Monday and he caught live jai-alai action from for a couple of hours from 1pm-3pm. I asked him to get some photos and an update on what’s going on there. Sure enough, I got them. Upon his visit to the strangest site ever for a jai-alai fronton, he said everyone there was very friendly and accommodating. They even gave him a hat on his special visit there.
The players were stretching when got there and the players appeared to take it seriously. The place was dead quiet, but Kevin was there for two hours watching several games being played. While there, he heard stories of when George Steinbrenner used to be there all the time and the $1 million handles on the weekends. He even made a bet for good token. Even though he lost the bet, they refunded his money because he was the only one that had made a bet.
There were two players, played to 3 point games. The play was actually pretty good he said, not Dania like, but still decent action. They played 32 games that day. That would be the equivalent of 4 performances. There was 10 days of action with 4 performances a day. An old school bell rings at the start. There is no players salute. There was an occasional good play in which he applauded. Certainly a big change from 35 years ago when thousands of fans were there watching a pretty good roster that also played in Tampa.
The timing of this story is unique. Our regular contributor, Marty Fleishman, who was the first person to ever throw a ball on that court (a throw heard by goats and squirrels no less as there was no roof yet), has a story we just posted a couple days ago on the opening of Ocala. Be sure to check out his amazing story.
We appreciate Kevin Cox for the details and photos. As I was reaching back out to him, he was heading to The Meadows racetrack. Yep, a man on a mission!