With Roger Wheeler, Jr.’s blessing, Dick Donovan, President of World Jai-Alai signed Martin Fleischman Advertising to a three year contract. I had presented Dick with the same contract used by Hume-Sindelar and Associates, our past ad agency. I, also, agreed to continue handling the corporate public relations duties.
Donovan agreed to let me use my existing office right down the hall from him at a very nominal monthly fee. Also, Lou Ann Dolan, my account assistant, could stay in her office at the end of the hall. She would continue to assist in answering group sales calls, yet she was fully on my payroll now.
Donovan’s generosity in allowing us office space tremendously helped with our overhead expenses. I was not only easily accessible to him whenever there was a problem, but he could quickly summon me for our end-of-day gin rummy games. Still, the beauty of the entire deal was the company saved some significant payroll costs by eliminating Lou Ann and I from the books.
So, I needed to consult my closest friend and ex-roommate Mike Singer, now a CPA in Miami, about how to financially set up and run a small business. He explained to my wife Sue and I how to handle payroll taxes, financial statements, billing, etc. He was invaluable to getting us started.
I have to admit, running your own business can be a daunting task. After Linda Dreyer, our outside graphic production company, drew up a logo for me, we were off and running. Linda and Helen Egan (our Media Buyer) became our independent contractors.
Sue and I would spend our Sundays doing the billing for the four frontons. Then, we would have to print checks and pay the media bills. Donovan made sure that the submitted statements were paid to us in a timely manner. That saved us because we had to pay the newspapers, radio and tv stations directly. I will always appreciate the way Dick looked out for us. Even with World Jai-Alai constantly juggling payments to the vendors, he made certain that we had priority.
Martin Fleischman Advertising was cruising along fine that first year, 1991. At that same time, the state was allowing a percentage of the betting pools to subsidize a major Jai-Alai tournament. They viewed this as a good way to promote the sport. Donovan suggested that I be hired to not only coordinate the “National Championship” tournament, but to produce the handout brochure accompanying it.
I knew all the principles at the other frontons, mainly from dealing with them from past tournaments. Dania Jai-Alai, our closest rival, was run by owner Steve Snyder and GM John Knox. In my limited dealings with Snyder, I found him to be somewhat subdued, yet extremely intelligent. I had heard he was a Yale man. He portrayed this staunch, aristocratic image. (I would later find out he was not that way at all). John Knox, a legendary South Florida radio disk jockey, had always been very friendly to me. He had helped me with some problems back in my early Tampa Jai-Alai days. John was one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry. However, I was unsure whether Snyder and Knox would approve of me running the tournament, since Dania and Miami had been competitors for years.
Hort Soper, owner of Orlando Jai-Alai, was a good friend to all of us at World Jai-Alai. He was a golfer and often joined us for a round before many of the state Jai-Alai tournaments. Arthur Sylvester, Palm Beach Jai-Alai, always wanted to accommodate the group. Milt Roth, who was now in Daytona Beach, was my mentor and I felt he would support the idea.
And so they did. All voted to have me be the Tournament Director. All frontons would send me photos and information on their players for the special printed program. I felt they trusted me to be non-partisan, even though I worked within the walls of Miami Jai-Alai.
I truly liked all the owners and managers, worked closely with most of the Player Managers of each facility. I was going to bend over backwards to make this true “National Jai-Alai Championship” a success. And, mostly I wanted to be fair to ALL the frontons. I didn’t realize how difficult that was going to be.
Getting the player photos and biographical information was not too difficult. Some dragged their feet as deadlines approached. I had to edit many to fit the space and found that leaving certain things out could meet with objection. Each word seemed to carry great importance. But, that was not the toughest issue. The game setup was!
We had previously found a matrix which placed teams in every post position, rotating every game so no team had an advantage. You see, post position is the most important aspect of the round-robin game of Jai-Alai. The early posts have the mathematical advantage. So, it is only fair that all teams play in each post position. Our pre-designed matrix took care of that. All the frontons agreed we would draw the teams for the first game and they would rotate thereafter according to the approved formula.
After the draw, I placed the teams in the matrix and sent it out to all the player managers and management personnel. Within a day, I got bombarded with phone calls. “The rotations are unfair,” came from one fronton owner. “Our team is in front of the Miami team in many games. They will catch the serve and throw a kill shot,” he claimed. More and more complaints came in that the matrix, which had been used for years, was now unfair even though the players did play in every post position.
I soon found out that not only were the Jai-Alai players the most competitive group of athletes I had ever seen, the owners were, too. We tried to manipulate the teams manually in an attempt to appease those objecting. Every change affected someone else. After days, we finally came up with something having the least issues. But, I found out how tough it is for tournament directors… of any sport… to satisfy everyone. Nearly impossible.
The National Jai-Alai Championship was a great success. All of us traveled to each facility for their individual round. Fronton representatives would eat at separate tables. I was amazed at watching the owners react to each point, rooting their teams on. Some slammed their fists down when their players dropped a ball. These intercity tournaments probably did more for the sport than anything else we ever did.
Meanwhile, all seemed to be working out for us. We were producing good advertising, getting it to the media on time, and paying all the bills. It was now summer of 1992, nearing the end of Summer Jai-Alai in Miami. Sue and I wanted to take the kids north for a vacation.
So, we packed up the Toyota Previa and planned a three week trip. We rented a fax machine so that I could still produce and fax ads back to Lou Ann while on the road. On the way back, we were going to stop in Washington, DC, to see Sue’s brother Mike. Our plan was to see an Orioles game in the newly opened Camden Yards. We were all very excited.
On August 24th, 1992, I was sleeping on Mike’s sofa in his apartment. We were going to the game that night. I was awakened early in the morning by a phone call. In a fog, I heard the voice of our next door neighbor, Shawn Post.
“They’re gone, all the trees are gone.” she said. “Your house looks okay, but you need to come home. Miami is devastated. The trees are gone!” While we were sleeping, Hurricane Andrew had made landfall in South Florida. Is our house still standing? Did Miami Jai-Alai survive? All my calls to the fronton went unanswered. We packed up and headed south not knowing what we would find. Camden Yards would have to wait.