The lines of authority were no longer blurred. After Boyd Executive VP Jack Bernsmeier had suggested I was part of a triumvirate of sorts, it became obvious HR Director Dave Winslow was taking the reins of power at Dania Jai-Alai. Clint Morris, CFO, had more authority over the Poker Room. With the absence of John Knox, Dania’s past GM, I had absorbed most of his operational duties.
Winslow had moved into the 3rd floor office of Dania’s ex-owner Steve Snyder. He spoke frequently to Bernsmeier, maybe even daily, and carried out his wishes, without question. Jack continued his monthly visits, having Dave brief him prior to our meetings with him.
I was now experiencing the “joys” of management. With Dave Winslow having no prior experience in management and still very limited knowledge of the Dania building, I was getting the late-night calls at home with the multitude of issues. If I never hear the words chiller unit (our air conditioning, HSI System (concessions computer network), roof leaks, frozen scoreboard, it will be too soon. I now knew what John had been dealing with for so many years… and why he did not live too close to the fronton. I made the mistake of buying a house five minutes away. I can’t tell you how many times I told my wife Sue, “It will be quicker if I just run over and fix the problem.”
One of my dreaded calls, which became more frequent during the summer, was concerning our leaking roof. Dania Jai-Alai had a flat roof. Over the years it had deteriorated and had been patched so many times, you could get stuck in the tar up there. Replacement was so costly it seemed the best course was to fix the leaks as they occurred.
Sometimes, garbage cans could be found throughout the seating area catching the drips. Our fans would simply move to a different seat, away from the dripping ceiling.
But the worst situation was when a leak opened above the playing court, causing a gradually expanding puddle. If this happened during a performance, it endangered the players who were already playing the world’s fastest and most dangerous game. You could not solve the problem by simply putting a garbage can on the court.
Past procedure, apparently, was using a modern, high-tech system designed to stop the problem leak immediately — a large, plastic garbage bag tethered between two light fixtures above the court. If one looked closely above the overhead court screen, you could see multiple white garbage bags bulging with water, similar to an ever-expanding water balloon.
One night, while being the manager-on-duty, I got the call there was a leak on the court. The players were beginning to get nervous. After a few more minutes, they stopped play. I went into the players’ quarters and approached those that were in that game. They told me it was too dangerous; they couldn’t play.
I asked them if they would continue if we could control the leak, even if it meant wiping the drips after every point. I knew most of the players very well, even practiced with them some nights. They said they trusted me and would give it a try.
The last thing you want to do is cancel the remaining games in a performance, which would cost us much-needed revenues and anger our few remaining fans. Obviously, you do not want to see any player get injured, either.
I called our night maintenance supervisor, Allen. Now, Allen had been with Dania Jai-Alai for many years and could fix almost anything, if you could find him. He had a habit of disappearing into some unique hiding place in the bowels of the fronton, hoping to catch a few winks.
I needed Allen to go up onto the catwalks, about 70 feet above the playing court, and string up a new garbage bag to catch the leak. The only problem, Allen told me that years ago he had fallen through the wire screen, was injured, and very hesitant about going back.
I told Allen it was very important that we continue the performance. I would go up and help him. He agreed. That night, Allen and I walked those small, narrow catwalks while the pelota was flying below us. A few minutes later, a new plastic garbage bag was stopping another leak.
Returning downstairs, I sat on the players bench in the back watching as the players continued the feature singles game. The court seemed playable. Then, it happened. Right in front of me, our star player, Arriaga, went to make a catch, stumbled, and fell to the hard, concrete floor. I knew Arriaga already had knee problems. He was one of the best players in the world. He was now up and limping off the court.
As he passed me on the rear of the bench, I heard him cursing in Spanish as he pushed through the door and into the trainer’s room. Oyarbide, another player, looked back at me and shook his head. Did I push them too far? They trusted me and I asked them to continue to play. Did our technologically sound garbage bag fail? Guilt and fear flooded my mind.
I started back to see how Arriaga was doing, to apologize for my error in judgment. My heart was pounding as I saw him getting taped up on the training table. “Arriaga, I’m so sorry, I thought we stopped the leak,” I told him. “I didn’t slip… I tripped on Cuvet’s foot when he cut in front of me!” he said. “Cuvet’s a (more Spanish curse words)!”
I was so relieved, I wanted to hug Arriaga. He told me he was okay, and I went out to thank Allen. But, once again, he had vanished. Allen had gone back to his hiding place, but this time, perhaps a little too frazzled to nap.