I got an interesting email this morning from a former player that I saw play for many years at Tampa and Bridgeport jai-alai. Juan I. Zulaika – who played in the USA under the name Zulaica II reached out to me. His brother Zulaica played at Miami, Hartford and Dania, and yes, that is his son Jon that now plays at Dania Jai-alai. He was a tall backcourter that played 8 years at Tampa before going to Bridgeport. I even remember telling my friends and family up north about how good this guy was when he joined the roster, and he didn’t disappoint.
But he has some amazing news that is going to tear up the history books. Every document I have ever researched says jai-alai was first introduced at the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904. Apparently, that is a lie. He came across the Jai-alai Chronology while reading the Pelota Press and found a big mistake. I had heard from someone else a few months ago that San Francisco was the birthplace of jai-alai in the USA, but could not document it. Without further ado, here is the story off his website with complete details. Thanks Zulaika II !!!
From Zulaika II
Until recently there was a belief that the pediment of St. Louis (Missouri) – it worked for two months in 1904 – was the first to publicize the basket-tip in the United States. Well, the belief was false. Thanks to the translator-writer Asun Garikano we have known that the first professional activity with the curved basket in THE USA was in San Francisco (California), back in 1901.
Asun Garikano discovered the press reviews once published, now digitized and exposed to the public from anywhere on the planet with access to the internet. Koldo San Sebastián showed us the clue and, in my case, through the web: California Digital Newspapers, I have looked at that fascinating path.
That it had been played in San Francisco would not be transcendent news. As we all know, the basket-tip, or its predecessor, the tip-ball, has been played in the most remote places. The news is that the fifteen pelotaris from Mexico under the orders of the “manager” Fermin Alonso and who acted in the “Eder Jai” of San Francisco were the pioneers of our game on land USA. Three years before the adventure of the St. Louis World’s Fair as a backdrop.
We must revisit the history of the basket-tip, for rigor. I have consulted on the net and the origins of the basket-tip on American soil point to St. Louis (Missouri) as the beginning. I consulted with Migel Anjel Bilbao and José Agustín Larrañaga – two researchers of the history of the jai-alai, they had no record of the adventure of San Francisco. In Bilbao’s book: “La Cesta Punta”, it does appear in one of the biographies, that of Leceta, “who played in San Francisco at the beginning of the twentieth century”.
Indeed, the Tolosarra Leceta was one of the party along with: Tucumán, Guerrita, Zabala, Urcelay, Ondarrés, Vergara, Careaga, Zalacain, Amiano, Madrileño, Lasa and Aldazabal.
(By the way, names that could perfectly fit into a chart of pointers today.)
(The mark “jai alai” is not used to refer to the basket-tip. They talk about “Basque Ball Game”).
(From the chronicles there were high hopes that the new sports import would become a mass phenomenon throughout the country.)
(The “handball”, handball. It follows that he was well known in the city, in San Francisco. Do you mean the Basque handball brought by Basque emigrants or is it some similar modality? These are several issues that I can think of soon.)
They played three-on-three matches and six-pelotaris quinelas. The “Eder Jai” was located in the city’s Central Park. The court was 60.96 meters long and the front 15.24 meters. The construction of the pediment cost $35,000.
Reviews of this pediment were published in the newspaper “The San Francisco Call”, in the months of December 1901 and January 1902. After those dates the news about the “Basque Ball Game do not show signs of life in the local newspapers. The trail is lost. Unless there are new findings. What happened to the “Eder Jai”? How did the San Francisco adventure end? Mystery.
I include below three reviews published in “The San Francisco Call”, I have translated them following as faithfully as possible the original text.
“THE SAN FRANCISCO CALL”, 9 DECEMBER 1901
BASQUE PELOTA PERFORMS WELL
The exciting Basque Sport attracts a lot of public to the Central Park
The Basque pelota game that is played four days a week seems destined to become fashionable in this country. The game has been imported from Mexico, although its birth occurred fifteen years ago in France. The Spaniards adapted it and exported it to South America where it had a great reception. It has been introduced in the United States in the belief of becoming popular given the demand for skill and expertise of the players when it comes to doing the many following the rules of the game.
A large presence of curious people was present at yesterday’s festival. Three matches were played and interesting plays made by the Spanish participants could be seen. Even for those who don’t understand the game, the spectacle of seeing a flying ball hit with a boomerang-shaped instrument and then throwing it without apparent effort was novel.
When a player missed or the ball flew too high touching the wire net, a bell rang and the goal was awarded to opponents. The plays were quick and violent at times, on those occasions the applause was generous. That the players are experts is indisputable.
Lovers of “handball” (handball) will appreciate this type of Basque pelota for its similarities. An enclosure similar to a “handball” court is required, although longer. The wall to which pelotaris throw the ball is 50 feet (15.24 meters) and is called “frontil” (original version). At about 200 feet (60.96 meters) there is another wall of less height called “rebound”, against which the ball bounces. Connecting both walls is another of equal height, forming a 40-foot (12.19) court, paved with artificial stone. This enclosure is called a court.” The pelotaris are placed following the rules of the game, each provided with “the hat”. The ball is snouted by the players with skill and with a movement of the arm they throw it at lightning speed. The ball has to be taken into the air as it comes from the front. If the player does not get it, the goal is for his opponent. The handling of the ball and the speed of the ball fascinates the spectators and provokes expressions of enthusiasm.
There is a conviction among local handball players that the new game will be populized as the rules are understood. A company has been created to introduce the game and the construction of a court in the Central Park, whose cost amounts to $ 35,000. Fifteen experienced Spaniards were brought to the city and play four times a week. Every day more people come, and when the riches of the game are appreciated, there is no doubt that the company’s investment will be profitable.”
THE SAN FRANCISCO CALL, SUNDAY, JANUARY 19, 1902
The Charity Association “Doctor’s Daughter’s” will have the support of Eder Jai
The “Doctor’s Daughters are busy organizing the charity festival that will take place next Saturday with the collaboration of the businessman Fermin Alonso del Eder Jai. The association will receive the total amount of the tickets. Friends of the association, who know their philanthropic work are selling tickets quickly which ensures both social and financial success.
The Spanish ball game, with its wonderful possibilities, has become a fever in this country. Special training is needed to execute your different lances. Some of the Burlingame Country Club’s most influential personalities are expected to take part in the festival.
The festival to be held next Saturday afternoon promises to be especially interesting since in the programming the mayor Alonso has included only the champions of the game.
This sport is one of the most exciting among ball games. It has survived centuries in the Basque provinces and is very popular with the people of the Iberian Peninsula. Their play requires dexterity, strength, muscular energy and a trained eye; there is also an element of danger that makes it more fascinating.
Two matches and a tournament will be played next Saturday. During the game a music band will liven up the sailboat. If it rains the festival will be held the following Saturday.
The “Doctor’s Daughters and Clay & Co. sell tickets at $1… The boxes sell for $10… The following ladies and gentlemen have commissioned their boxes: Mrs. L.L. Baker, Mrs. Daniel Drysdale… (so to a list of more than twenty names)
The Society thanks the Basque Pelota Games for their help to a just cause.
People of society suffered yesterday from the cold during the game in the Eder Jai of the Central Park, but not enough to cool the enthusiasm … The representatives of the Basque pelota gave a display of their skills with the “Chistera”, in the function to benefit Doctor’s Daughters. The ladies in particular enjoyed when some player jumped and lay on the ground trying to return the ball.
The stands were full of pretty girls and their companions. Joseph Tobin, Tom Magee and a few others who have been interested in the game, demonstrated their familiarity with the players and plays by shouting words in Spanish when they executed a difficult shot or a defender demonstrated his ability at the back.
Judge Hunt, present at the event, thought that the game is more interesting than listening to testimonies. Colonel Fulton Berry of Fresno, who came in the hope of seeing some K.O., was upset. Mountford Wilson wore arctic shoes and heavy gloves, tried to feel enthusiastic, but no one heard him clapping or whistling.
When the function began, the sun shone, but as the day progressed, threatening clouds appeared. A stampede occurred after the first match…
The first match was played by Tucuman, Guerrita and Zabala against Urcelay, Verastegui and Ondarrés. They won the first 30 to 24 after a duel played. Guerrita taught her old champion class and Tucuman, though somewhat obese, did a good job.
The second game was a “quiniela”, or championship (tournament). The pelotaris were Vergara, Urcelay, Careaga, Ondarres, Guerrita and Tucuman. It was Urcelay who was the first to make six goals. Guerrita was second with three. The game was a “survival of the most prepared”, very exciting.
The last match was between the blues: Zalacain, Amiano and Madrileño. The reds: Leceta, Lasa and Aldazabal. The latter won by 35 to 28. The blues were flawed, especially Madrileño, who had to keep the back. Lasa and Captain Leceta were the stars that shone the most. Lasa was safe in his returns and Leceta finished off skillfully.
A large sum of money was collected for the charity: Doctor’s Daughters.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JUAN IGNAZIO ZULAIKA
Pilot, hain zuzen punter, hainbat urteetan professional. Geroztik, hemen nabil, kontu-kontari, zesta-punta, jai-alairi buruz istorioak kontatzen. Professional basket-tip pelotari since the age of 14. Jai-alai player in USA since the age of 17. A lucky person to have dedicated himself to an exciting sport. Retired from professional activity at the age of 36. >From the stands of life I contemplate with the same passion the past and the evolution of a unique specialty.