As I headed north on I-95, I was a little nervous. Steve Snyder was a busy man. After all, he was the owner of Dania Jai-Alai. He had, also, built the Milford fronton in Connecticut. Now, he asked for a meeting with me.
In some of our almost weekly conversations, John Knox had made some references with not being too happy with their new marketing director. Was Steve going to offer me the marketing job at Dania?
My wife, Sue, and I speculated about the upcoming meeting. I had never conceived of ever working at Dania Jai-Alai. Tampa was always my dream, but we would have moved back there. Orlando had even been a possibility. But, Dania never was on my radar.
As I pulled up to Georgio’s restaurant on the intracoastal waterway on Hollywood Beach, I felt a completely different vibe. After all, my office at Miami Jai-Alai was in the middle of the city, near the airport, right next door to The Pink Pussycat. It was not the greatest part of town. But, here, I felt like I was on vacation. The beautiful high rise condos on the ocean to my right, a gorgeous waterway on my left.
As I was shown to my table, Steve rose to greet me. Dressed in a blue blazer, open buttoned-down collared shirt, he looked professional, but casual. He smiled, shook my hand, and thanked me for coming.
Steve Snyder was a self-made man. Having grown up on Long Island, he worked his way through Yale. He joined Greyhound Corporation (yes, the bus company) when they decided to diversify and expand. Steve Snyder became the wunderkind of the Greyhound Merger and Acquisitions division.
Apparently, on his many trips to South Florida, he became aware of the success of the sport of Jai-Alai. When the Greyhound executives passed on a possible gambling acquisition, Snyder formed a small investment group and acquired Dania. This would prove to be the most astute business decision of his life and a huge mistake for Greyhound.
As the waiter approached, Steve asked for us to order. His beverage was a beer. Immediately, I followed suit with a sandwich and a beer. My impression of Steve being elite and aristocratic was already melting away. Hell, we’re drinking beers together!
He asked me if I was serious about leaving World Jai-Alai and moving back to Tampa. I told him it had been a great run, but things seemed to be going in a different direction since Florida Gaming took over. “I might have some good opportunities back in my hometown, Tampa,” I told him. “Since the strike and the Colletts selling off frontons, I don’t see much of a future.”
As I was speaking, Steve had a way of focusing on everything I said. He made you feel as if each word was important and gave you his undivided attention. I liked that.
He, then, told me that John (Knox) was unhappy with their marketing director, who was supposed to be excellent in marketing, but knew nothing about the sport. This was a major hindrance and they were getting frustrated. “John and I feel you would be a great addition to our team,” he told me.
Hearing his words intrigued me. But, after almost 30 years, I had no interest in taking another marketing job. I felt I was ready for an actual management role or ready to change careers. Also, I did not think Dania was realistic geographically. We lived way south in Kendall, which was anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours away depending on the horrendous traffic.
I told him that I was flattered and I truly was. “Steve, I’m only interested in being Assistant General Manager under John (his GM and right hand man). And, I know you already have Steve Smith as Assistant GM,” I said.
I had met Steve Smith in the early 1980s when World Jai-Alai upgraded the tote system that handles the bets. Steve was a young exec for Autotote, responsible for training our employees. He seemed extremely sharp and Dania soon hired him away from Tote to make him Assistant Manager.
I could see Snyder had already given this some thought. “Steve mainly oversees the Mutuels (betting) area. What about you being Assistant Manager/Marketing?” he proposed. “You will have dual responsibilities.” I still was concerned about Steve Smith’s reaction of me coming, if I chose to do so. Snyder assured me he would take care of that, too.
Then came the inevitable discussion of compensation. I wasn’t about to take a pay cut. But, Steve had thought that out, too. After asking what I currently made, he thought of a way to get me to that number with the help of Hort Soper, owner of Orlando Jai-Alai.
Hort Soper was a good friend. His mother Elizabeth Calder had married Steven Calder of Calder Race Track fame. Calder, also, owned Orlando Jai-Alai which Hort ran. Being a golfer, Hort would come down to Miami to join us for rounds of golf.
In recent years, Hort and Snyder became close working together during the player strike. I wasn’t sure what Steve had up his sleeve that could make this deal feasible. But, remember, I was sitting with a master of acquisitions, and he was trying to acquire me.
“How about if I approach Hort with us doing his advertising for Orlando Jai-Alai?” Steve said. “Whatever you produce for Dania, we just change the tags for Orlando. It won’t be much more work for you and it will save him a lot of money. I will get him to kick in a small percentage of your salary to make it all work.”
Hurdle number two seemed to be overcome. But, now the geography. I told Steve I couldn’t move up to Dania or Ft. Lauderdale because of my kids. He understood and said that I could arrive whenever rush hour was over and leave when I needed to leave.
“Think about it and I will have John give you a call,” he said. “Meanwhile, I will discuss our proposal with Hort. Marty, we’d love to have you at Dania.”
As I got up and shook his hand, I realized why Steve Snyder had been so successful. I, also, realized my pre-conceived notions about him were…pre-conceived. He was a warm, intelligent, honest individual. I could see myself wanting to be part of his team. I had a big decision to make. And, how would Benny Collett, Jr. react if I told him I was leaving, and joining the “enemy?”
Pelota Press Note: Marty will be heading off for summer vacation and his incredible series of 40 years in Jai-alai will continue when he returns. I remember Goldberg as a pretty good handicapping expert on NFL games for ESPN and CBS. He was a very close friend and a golfing buddy of Joe DiMaggio. I wonder if Jolting Joe went to Jai-alai.