It was my first official day. After making the familiar 25-minute drive to Miami Jai-Alai for 18 years, I was now approaching the vintage Dania Jai-Alai sign perched atop the rundown Pirates Hotel at Dania Beach Blvd. The neon arrow pointed to the right, towards the beach.
As I found a vacant spot in one of the numbered spaces in the Executive Parking Lot, I couldn’t help but notice the two cars parked in spaces #1 and #2. This had to be Steve Snyder’s (owner) and John Knox’s (general manager) two spots. I wondered how far down the line I was going to be.
Then, I got out of my car. I saw the multitude of Royal Palms waving in the ocean breeze. I could actually smell the salt from the Atlantic not more than a mile away. It almost felt like I was about to check into a resort and not actually reporting to work.
Miami Jai-Alai was so different. The entrance was right on a public street, NW 37th Avenue, in a very rundown area near the airport. I had been used to Tampa Jai-Alai, where there was an enormous parking lot separating our entrance from the busy Dale Mabry. It just always felt strange walking down the sidewalk to our Miami entrance.
Dania’s “modern” (actually built in the early 1950s and remodeled later) building was recessed back from Dania Beach Blvd (which was the road to the beach). The valet parking area separated the building from the street. There was a front and back entrance. Most fans entered the massive rear parking lot, peppered with palms. I was now standing on the side of the building, near the door to the executive offices. It was time to begin the new phase of my life, my life with Dania Jai-Alai.
“I’m Marty Fleischman, the new Assistant Manager,” I said to the friendly receptionist. “Oh, yes, our new Marketing Director,” she answered. “Go right up the elevator, Mr. Knox is waiting for you.” I wanted to say, “No, I’m the damn new Assistant Manager,” but she wasn’t wrong. I just didn’t want to be identified anymore as “the marketing guy.” I guess I felt a little like Dwight Shrute from “The Office” always wanting to be Assistant Regional Manager instead of Assistant to The Regional Manager.
Later, John took me down the hall and showed me my new office. Across the hall from me were two desks, one occupied by a short-haired lady, dressed kind of quirky. John said, “Marty, this the Marketing Secretary, Doanie.” First time I ever met a “Doanie” before. She eyed me cautiously not knowing my plans for her position. Truthfully, at that time, I did not know either.
“Brian uses this desk when he’s in,” John continued pointing to the area next to Doanie. Brian Sallerson was the fronton publicity guy, who would report to me. He had worked at the Sun Sentinel prior to joining Dania Jai-Alai. I had spoken to Brian a few times while I was at Miami. A very nice guy, he would handle many of the PR duties during the performances, like supervising the announcers and statistician. He would, also, help coordinate fronton promotions.
My formal introduction to the other department heads came at the weekly department head meeting John held in the conference room next door to my office. As the 9 people filed in, I noticed each went to a specific chair. I took the empty one.
I was now surrounded by “the enemy.” After all, this was Dania Jai-Alai, Miami’s arch rival. When I was in Miami, our goal was to have better players than Dania, to beat them in tournaments, to have higher attendance. Dania seemingly was “The Evil Empire” and I had now come over “to the dark side.” All eyes were on the new guy! Yet, they all had friendly smiles on their faces.
As John introduced me, each shook my hand and gave me a warm welcome. I only knew one of them, Player Manager Jose Arregui. He had been in Tampa and Ocala with me in my early years. We were good friends, and I was thrilled to have one known ally among the group. The others seemed genuinely happy I was joining the team.
I spoke briefly about my past experience in the sport of Jai-Alai, my past duties in Miami, and how long I had known John. The meeting ended after John asked each department head if they had anything to say, none spoke. It was obvious to me this was John’s “show.” He would bring everyone up to date on any news or problems. Few ever spoke. I would be the exception.
Dania Jai-Alai’s physical building was similar to other frontons, except for the location of the offices (on the side of the building). That first day, I would follow John out the door across from my office, down this long, winding hallway through the bowels of the fronton, finally pushing open two doors to enter the 2nd floor lobby. Unfortunately, I was not always paying attention to his route and often walked into utility closets or storage rooms. It would take me months before I could navigate my way from my office to the snack bar.
A few days into my new job, Steve Snyder calls me and asks, “Marty, do you play racquetball?” Remembering my early 1980s soiree into the racquetball fad, I quickly said, “Of course, why?” He told me that he had built an indoor racquetball court just upstairs from my office and to bring my paddle. If nothing else worked out here in Dania, at least I was going to get a few racquetball games in.