April 19, 2008
St. Pete Jai-Alai Court Dedication a huge Success
St. Petersburg, FL: A true “Merry Festival” atmosphere took place in St. Petersburg, Florida as the first municipal jai-alai court in the country held its Court Dedication and Grand Opening Saturday morning, April 19, 2008.
Jai-alai fans from as far as Spain attended the event – the first of its kind in the United States. The event was put together by the City of St. Petersburg, The Edgemoor Neighborhood Association and The National Jai-alai Association.
Under clear blue skies, temperatures in the mid 70s, attendees were treated to free Cuban sandwiches, beverages, live bands, a K-9 show, St. Pete Fire Department trucks on site, children’s rides, multiple prizes, the “worlds” longest ribbon cutting ceremony and yes – jai-alai.
A stage and podium was set up on the court, along with 100 seats right on the court. A large sound system and a separate band stage was set back from the court with a full view of the action. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker took a few throws on the court at the very beginning. The Master of Ceremonies, St. Petersburg Parks Director Cliff Footlick, began the ceremony. City Council Chairman James S. Bennett then spoke, followed by Council Member Bill Dudley. The Edgemoor Neighborhood Associations’ Tom DeMint and Stan Kordecki then spoke. Following them was the National Jai-alai Association – Jeff Conway, Paul Kubala and Derek Smith.
Then came the “Jai-alai” portion of the show. Showtime Ring announcer, and former long time Tampa Jai-alai announcer M. Mark Beiro “The voice of Jai-alai” then took stage - dressed in his customary Tuxedo. Beiro explained to the crowd the history of jai-alai and how difficult it is to play the game. Calling St. Petersburg the most “unlikeliest” place to build the first amateur public jai-alai court in the USA, he uttered his coined phase “Bye-Bye from Jai-alai” to “Hello to Jai-Alai”.
The “worlds” longest ribbon was cut by all those that spoke at the ceremony. The court was officially open to the public!
Beiro then introduced all the former jai-alai players in attendance. Among them was 80-year old Alberto Sarmiento, a star player of Tampa Jai-alai (#1 in-the-money) in its first season of 1953-54. He actually served the first ball ever in a doubles game at the fronton. Also introduced on the court was Randy, the first American Jai-alai player ever. Several other players attended – including Pablo, Corky, King, Dennis, Rabak, Brian and Paul.
The “first throw” on the court after the ceremony was done by former city councilman Bill Foster. Foster was the one instrumental informing the mayor and city council about our plans for a jai-alai court and quickly gained their approval. He also helped secure the extra funds needed to complete the court through the Weeki Wachee fund.
The stage and chairs were removed from the court while the 16 players to participate in Game 1 were warming up. Latin music was cranked up over the PA system while spectators enjoyed delicious complementary Cuban sandwiches - compliments of D & D Delight of Tampa. Publix also donated 5 cases of water to help satisfy everybody’s thirst.
Nearly 30 companies sponsored the event, many of which donated gift certificates that were given away as prizes in the raffle drawings. The Riverview Flower Farm, whom Puryear player Thomas is employed by, donated about $1000 in plants that given away to various winners.
The sponsors and prize drawings were announced by Jai a Lou, a card show promoter and an announcer at Dania Jai-alai.
Then the World Jai-Alai’s March Music was played as the first 16 players walked out onto the court and saluted the crowd. The tape of the jai-alai march was supplied by “Big” Dave Lemon of Miami Jai-alai.
Joining the players on stage was Joe LaRosa, the front court referee at Tampa Jai-Alai for 28 years. He would ref the first two games, while Jai a Lou was the official public address announcer.
The first game was played with the first serve appropriately going to the honor of Paul Kubala, who for twenty years had dreamed of this day. LaRosa got to see his son, Chris win the first game with Dave. The trifecta came in at 6-4-3 and paid $288 (just kidding!).
Game two was a singles affair, with Kyle, the 12-year old son of Kubala, the winner!
A live band, “Fall on Purpose” played while attendees enjoyed the free food, beverage and a K-9 live demonstration – in addition to all the prizes.
History was certainly made this morning!
Several TV, radio and newspapers did a story on the jai-alai court. It is estimated that over 500,000 people were exposed to coverage of the St. Pete Jai-Alai court. The jai-alai court was the scene of a live broadcast for over two hours on FOX-13, during “Charlie’s World”, hosted by Charlie Belcher, a two-time Emmy Award winning reporter. Reports also ran on CBS-10 on the 6pm and 11pm newscasts. The St. Petersburg Times, one of the “top 10 newspapers in the country”, ran a featured story on the front page of its “Neighborhood Times” section and in several other sections of the paper for their Clearwater/Palm Harbor/Tampa editions.
SPECIAL THANKS TO THE FOLLOWING FOR
City of St. Petersburg
Rick Baker, Mayor of St. Petersburg
Edgemoor Neighborhood Association
Our Master of Ceremonies & Public address announcers
M. Mark Beiro
Our Former Pro Players
National Jai-Alai Association volunteers
Joyce Kubala, sponsorship director
Traveled longest to attend event
Inigo Kalzakorta, Spain
Fall on Purpose
Clearwater Enviro Technologies – Home of ScaleBlaster
Tampa Bay Imaging , Pinellas Park
Riverview Flower Farm, Home Depot Suppliers of plants and donator
Pepin Restaurant, St. Pete
All our Jai-Alai fans who attended
National Jai-Alai Association salutes all of you!