If you build it, they will come. And boy, did they ever! About 35 players showed up over the weekend as the newly remodeled cancha – the first and only public court in America – opened its doors to the public.
On Saturday, open play was in store with the first player showing up being 60-year old Rastock, who recently completed another successful season at Calder jai-alai. Shortly afterwards a few NJAA regulars showed up and then Dania player’s manager Benny Bueno showed up to play with his son Chirs, now an active player on the Magic City roster. Benny had dusted off his old cesta and made the nearly 5-hour trip to St. Petersburg. Dozens of more players showed up to play, with lots of spectators watching including Benny’s mother and sisters, who happen to live in the area. St. Pete Cancha‘s founder Paul Kubala later showed and was able to play with his son Kyle who had made the venture up from Miami with a van load of fellow Magic City players.
It seemed like everyone was having a great time – and no one seemed to want to quit playing despite the unseasonably warm weather (mid 80s and sunny) that the Miami boys brought with them.
At night, dozens of players attended the grand reopening of the newly remodeled J Laca Museum and guests were blown away with what they saw. We will feature a new story later on this month on the additions to the museum. The party was a blast and Benny Bueno was the star of the show with so many stories to tell on all the items he saw in the museum. The Magic City gang was all there too and had a great time. Even Superfan George Quinn was there.
On Sunday, the big Grand Opening event was held. The show got underway 31 minutes late, as the Magic City gang was a little late getting out of bed from their house rental in Clearwater. Don’t ask me why they were late, but 11am is early for a Sunday, I guess!
A 12-game exhibition tournament was held and lasted an unmanageable 4 ½ hours under warm sunny skies again. The hot dogs and burgers will grilling, tents camped out, music playing and Magic Mike’s Computer system playing over a sound system and about 30 players participating in the event.
Faces in the crowd included Stu Neiman, who was making his first appearance to the St. Pete cancha and seemed quite impressed with everything. Also in the crowd was Mark K, the NJAA Historian and several other people. A lot of players from the past are coming back to play, likely because of the newly enlarged court that is more conducive to “real” jai-alai play.
Everyone seemed happy with the court with the only complaint being the low overhead net, which was getting dinged often. Hopefully that will be taken care of soon. The Magic City players all love the sport and most say they would have played jai-alai in college if something like that existed. They love jai-alai more than football, baseball and other sports that they had excelled in. They also loved the concept of playing outside in the fresh air.
The NJAA would like to thank those that donated money to help fund the expansion as we are closing on the gap needed to about $2,700 more to go. A donation link can be found in a previous story on the home page of The Pelota Press.