I was preparing for the 1979/1980 Tampa Jai-Alai season. It was early December. I was in the announcer’s booth setting up the equipment when I was alerted to pick up line two. I looked at the blinking light. I lifted the receiver.
“Marty, Paul Rico.” It was the voice of the Chief Operating Officer of World Jai-Alai/ General Manager of Miami Jai-Alai and mentor who had been instrumental in saving my job. Rico, being an ex-FBI agent, got immediately to the point of his call.
“Milt Roth resigned yesterday.” This news was shocking. Milt had been the PR director for Miami Jai-Alai for almost 25 years. He became a corporate director for World Jai-Alai and was a valued consultant for Dick Donovan, President, in all public relations and corporate expansion activities. Apparently, Milt had gotten a good offer from another pari-mutuel and was leaving immediately.
“We want you to come to Miami and help us with opening,” Rico told me. Miami Jai-Alai opened around Christmas Day every year and that was just over two weeks away.
“Of course,” I told Rico. “Anything I can do to help, I will.” I was not very fond of Miami being a “Tampa Boy.” It was huge, overcrowded, awful traffic, and lines everywhere. I loved Tampa and planned on being here the rest of my life, hopefully taking over as General Manager of Tampa Jai-Alai someday.
But Rico and Donovan had shown faith in me in restoring me to my job after my unfortunate incident. My brush with the law had basically been forgotten. So, I was honored that they called on me for help at our flagship fronton.
“Paul, how long will I be in Miami?” I asked, knowing Tampa Jai-Alai opened the first week of January. I still had plenty of pre-opening preparations here. I had hoped he would say no longer than a few days.
“A while,” he responded. Rico was rather cryptic. Gerrity, his old FBI friend and my boss in Tampa, would often tell me, “Rico wouldn’t tell you if your hat was on fire.” So, I pushed him a little more. “Paul, how much should I pack?” He responded, “Pack a trunk… you’re not going back!”
After I hung up, I sat in the announcer’s booth stunned. “Not going back,” his words echoed in my head. I had just recently bought a beautiful townhouse just off the Bayshore, less than ten minutes from the fronton. I had only lived in it about a month. Now, I have to sell it?
But, even more importantly, I was engaged to be married in March to Sue Baxter. Sue had come down from upstate New York to be with her boyfriend John who was attending the University of Tampa. John was a great guy. He played golf and worked part time in security at the fronton. We had become friends.
Unfortunately, the couple broke up. I say “unfortunately,” except that twist of fate brought Sue and I together. (John reads these articles and we remain friends today.)
We had decided to get married at the Old Swiss House at Busch Gardens. The manager, Sid Sherman, was a big Jai-Alai fan. We booked our wedding there for March 30th. Now, I was leaving Sue to handle all the wedding arrangements, then move to Miami. I felt like I was abandoning her. She said not to worry, she understood, and would take care of everything. “Just make sure you’re back here on March 30th,” she said with a smile.
I packed as much as I could in my only large suitcase, knowing I would have to face the Miami media upon my arrival. Paul told me that I would assume Milt’s duties as Corporate Director of Public Relations for World Jai-Alai and oversee the PR activities for Miami Jai-Alai. I would, also, get a raise to $30,000 for my new position, about $5,000 more than I was currently making in Tampa.
He knew I wasn’t crazy about the idea of leaving Tampa. So, he tried to sweeten the deal for me by reminding me that the Miami season was only four months long. While I would be working hard during that period, things slowed down a lot during the off-season. There would be plenty of golf. Also, there was a pool table in the player’s quarters. He told me they moved the table up to the front office during the summer so the execs could shoot some pool.
Paul knew that I was a high school “hustler” and that pool was my game. He was enticing me with the thoughts of golf and pool during the downtime at the corporate offices.
He, also, told me that I would be assisting Donovan in some of his attempts to get the sport legalized in other states. I would be traveling with him and helping in the presentations. That did sound exciting. But, one of the biggest incentives was the fact that I would be working a normal work schedule, daytime hours, approximately 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
I had been working nights for almost 10 years. It was getting old. I wanted a more normal work schedule, especially if I was going to be a married man. Working until midnight or later just wasn’t appealing anymore.
Rico told me all the details would be worked out when I arrived in Miami. “But get your ass down here tomorrow, we already have a press conference set up to announce the change,” he went on.
I arrived at Miami International on National Airlines, unshaven and in jeans wearing sandals. My plan was to check in to the hotel, shower, shave and put on my 1979 peach colored leisure suit. There was one problem. I arrived on time, my very large suitcase didn’t. As I watched the baggage carrousel go round and round, I kept seeing the one last piece of unclaimed luggage reappear. Mine was nowhere to be seen.
So, after everyone left the baggage area, I went to the National Airlines Baggage Claim Service area and showed them my claim ticket. They said when it arrived, they would bring it to my hotel. The only problem, the press conference was just a few hours away.
I checked in to the King’s Inn Hotel on NW 36th street, just down the street from Miami Jai-Alai. I waited. It didn’t arrive. In fact, it never arrived.
I was introduced to the Miami Herald sportswriter, the local television stations, and many local radio stations looking like a bum off the streets of Miami. “And this is your new PR Director??” I could hear them thinking.
Maybe this was a signal of things to come. While this was only a minor inconvenience, a stroke of bad luck, it was just the beginning. Much of what Rico promised was about to unfold. But there was more, much more.
It would be a decade of incidents that could only happen in Miami. I had never heard the words “Miami Vice.” Now, “Miami Vice” was going to be my reality. Little did I know there would be murders, labor strikes, and national media scrutiny. “Miami Vice” was, indeed, about to become part of my normal everyday life.