Dania Jai-alai Opens for its 70th Anniversary Season
Dannia Jai-alai opened this past weekend to celebrate its 70th anniversary before a decent crowd of over 300 on Friday night.
The (mostly) young roster of 22 marched out on the court along with the dapper looking jai-alai operations manager Benny Beuno to begin the festivities. This year’s event was lengthened a month to 3 months and is played in a tournament format to avoid the costly and time-consuming visa regulations.
Unfortunately, game 1 was did not go well at all. There were lots of dropped balls, a whiffed ball, a serve that hit above the red padding on the front wall (I can’t recall ever seeing that before) and even a super long overserve that took off like an F-35. I was expecting Nate “The Great” to come out (I miss that guy!) and do his shenanigans.
Kidding aside, the play did get better in game 2 and for the rest of the night. Heck, these guys had only been in America a day or two to practice on a new court and get use to an 8-team rotation vs. the standard Partido play their accustomed to in Spain. Talk about being nervous too. And one of the guys is just sixteen! Yes 16! Imagine that!
There was a great turnout for opening night, nearly a full house. And the court looked spectacular too – a freshly painted shiny bright blue look, the cracks patched up and lots of new padding in place. I did miss all the jerseys that had lined above the side and back walls, and it looked kind of “naked” up there. Perhaps because they had new jerseys on? I personally didn’t care for a couple of them, especially the white shirt post 3. But who cares, it’s only a uniform, I guess.
I received multiple texts Friday on the camera/video coverage of the event and not being able to see the ball. When I got home Saturday evening, I watched a few games on my phone and IPAD and had no issues at all seeing the ball. In fact, I thought the court looked great on a small screen. I thought the ball was as visible as ever and have always liked the blue color over the green any day – not only on the jai-alai court, but on tennis courts as well.
Later this month, The Pelota Press is going to be celebrating Dania’s historical opening 70 years with lot of details and photographs, as the museum has a complete collection of newspaper articles and photos in a huge scrap book of Dania getting approved to build a jai-alai fronton. There were a ton on delays and lawsuits against it.
That very court they are playing on now was once a quiet plot of land where tomatoes were grown. Dania was to be the second fronton to open in America (counting only one for the two structures that went up in Miami). Delays caused it to become the 3rd one to open in the USA, with Tampa officially opening a few days before Dania did in 1953.
Miami jai-alai sued Dania stating that the state law said no fronton shall be issued a pari-mutual permit within 20 miles of one another. The Miami fronton submitted a map which measured the distance as 18.5 miles “as the crow flies” between the Miami fronton and Dania’s. Dania Jai-alai countered that the distance was over 20 miles by road travel over the shortest highway route. The case went to the Florida Supreme Court who ruled that Jai-alai customers were not crows and could not fly and allowed the permit to be issued. Dania opened their doors in late December before 4,127 fans on opening night.
Several additions were added to the fronton over the years, including the massive Clubhouse Restaurant overlooking the court in 1979. Crowds of over 10,000 a night on weekends were common. Driving around on Saturday morning there, I am still amazed at the size the of the massive parking lots on the property, and the days when you were lucky to find a place to park there. And then walking into a real palace – packed with people, a huge upper-level food court, bars, projector TVs, and gift shops everywhere. Those certainly were the good old days.