Dania Jai-alai reopened its doors to the public last Thursday night to an enthusiastic crowd of about 250 people. Yes, goat-skin Jai-alai is back! After November of 2021, it appeared the end was here. On the closing night festivities, Benny said, “Never say never” and it turned out to be true with an April 2022 weekend tournament held and now a full two-month season under way.
Things got off to a slow start with the tape of the national anthem not playing right away. We were hoping ESPN’s Dave LaMont, who was announcing that opening night, would have grabbed the microphone, and started singing. Hey, he’s got a great voice anyway. The tape finally played several minutes later and then the players were all introduced to the rousing crowd. The nine-game schedule then took off without incident.
As previously said, about 250 people attended the fronton on its opening night. I was fortunate enough to get to sit next to one of the all-time greats – Chimela – for several games on opening night, just like I did for what was to be the final closing night in November 2021. I still envision watching him on the grand opening night in Bridgeport 45 years ago climbing the wall several feet to snag bullets with the roar of thousands in amazement. Other former great players in the crowd included Felix and Tevin (who wasn’t wearing a suit for the first time!). Magic City star Douglas was there – just hours before getting married the following day. Ownership and management were very happy with the turnout and have been pleased with the handles. It’s getting bodies into the casino with a little bit more atmosphere going on other than the sound of slots machines dinging away.
The Friday and Saturday crowds were not that crowded, perhaps around 100 in the crowd during the night. However the handles were better and that’s all the really counts, but Watch and Wager only pays them 4% vs. the full 25% they get inhouse. Expect the crowds to pick up over the last couple of weeks in December and in January with the holidays behind us and more tourists in town.
New player analysis
The new players, all from the French and Spain part of the Basque region – and barely old enough to shave! – played very well. The general censuses from the crowd were positive. Considering it was their first time to America with less than a week to practice and no pro experience at all, they played well. Also, getting used to the Spec 7 or 9 format must be difficult to adjust to. Benny did a great job finding these guys. Meanwhile, virtually all the returning players struggled somewhat, likely the result of over a year layoff of little or no jai-alai action. Bailo and Arta were especially rusty out there on their first few performances.
As time goes on, we can expect the retuning players to get back into playing shape and the youngsters to continue to improve. However, the season or tournament we shall say, ends January 28th.
It’s going to take a little more time to fully get a grip on all the players and be able to handicap the games. Who will be the next Erik? We shall see.
There were two main complaints we heard. One was on the new uniforms. Though “sharp” looking, they are hard to distinguish from one another. From watching in person through the thick screen, watching on the overhead screen above the court, or on your phone, it was not easy to tell who was out on the court. Busy talking to people like Chimela, N. Miami George, George Quinn, Jesus, Becky, and Steve “The Hook” during play, I was trying to make notes of who dropped a duck, made a great play, or overserved, and was noting the wrong player or team nearly every time. I had to look at the scoreboard above the court to see the last team in the rotation to know who lost that point.
The post 2 ”blue” uniforms can look as though they are post 5 “black”. Or look like post 4, 7 or 8. Post 3 “white”, while “cool” looking, appeared like someone threw a referee’s uniform into the washer with too much bleach and used it as post 3. Post 6 was not gold or yellow. Post 4 does not appear to be green in color.
Kidding aside, we will have to get used to it, I guess. The uniforms should be simple, and clearly identifiable as to what post it is. There is way too much black around the collars and arms to throw it off on top of it.
The other complaint was the scoreboard being unable to see how many points the two teams on the court had. The white was blended in with the white lettering on Dania Jai-alai on the wall. I noted it was corrected by Sunday’s matinee by simply having the camera move it toward the floor for a solid gray background.
But the best news is that the video production was updated with a new system in place and a better overall picture.
What’s in the Future?
It appears that talks are underway for another two-month season in 2023. While we hoping for a longer season, we will find out soon.