Bachelor of Science Degree in Jai-Alai? Part 1
The diploma on the wall reads, “University of Florida has conferred on Martin Paul
Fleischman the degree Bachelor of Science in Advertising.” It really should say,
Bachelor of Science in Jai-Alai!
When I returned to Gainesville after that fateful South Florida Christmas break at Ronnie
Aranow’s house, all I could think about was that crazy, wonderful, intriguing sport I
attempted to play, Jai-Alai.
Of course, I was now in my prime college years, sophomore year, living in the TEP
House, fraternity parties, girls, drinking (or other things). Oh, I forgot to mention
I was pursuing an engineering degree, but it was not pursuing me. I already had interned
at Tampa Electric Company two summers. I wore my white shirt, a Ready Kilowatt pin
on my shirt, and a pocket protector. I was truly corporate America.
Is this what I really wanted? Third quarter calculus and physics made that decision easy
for me. After a dismal calc exam, I walked directly to Tigert Hall and transferred into the
Meanwhile, my father, being a local TV personality, the Sports Director on Channel 13 in
Tampa, set up a meeting with me and the general manager of Tampa Jai-Alai. I had
asked my Dad, (he was known as Salty Sol), if he knew anyone at Jai-Alai, because I
needed my own cesta (the wicker basket). I knew he covered the pari-mutuels in the area
and was hopeful he could set me up.
So, one weekend, I drove down to Tampa and met Ernie Larsen, the recently appointed
GM of Tampa Jai-Alai. Now, this was Lt. Commander Ernest Larsen, Jr, retired Navy,
sporting a tattoo of an anchor on his arm, clean shaven, and walked like he was
inspecting the troops.
Meet Marty Fleischman. I was wearing bell-bottom jeans, a Nik-Nik polyester shirt open
almost to my waist, and hair down to my shoulders. But, Ernie could not have been
nicer. He gave me a tour of the fronton and took me back into his office. He said he
heard I needed a basket. He then proceeded to this closet door, opened it…. THE
MOTHER LODE. The closet was filled with cestas, 30, 40, maybe 50.
Now, realize, you can’t buy these baskets. They are hand-made in Spain or Mexico,
perfectly woven to specifications for each player.
I later found out that most players give the general manager one of their cestas before
returning to Spain each year. It was sort of a goodwill gesture, with the hopes that they
will get another contract to play. He told me to pick one out, it was his gift to me.
As I was leaving, he asked me what I was studying in college. I told him advertising, but
I had a few years to go. Ernie asked me if I had ever considered a job at Tampa Jai-Alai,
like publicity director. He said, “Who knows, it could lead to you being general manager
here some day.”
I left there with stars in my eyes, pelotas in my brain, and a cesta under my arm.
Little did I know, that in the near future, I would pick up a Gainesville newspaper, read a
headline that would break my heart and end my Jai-Alai career before it even started.