When I was a student at the University of Miami, it was a thrill to take a date to the Miami Jai Alai Fronton. To us Northerners, it was like visiting another country – one with a loud, energetic crowd and comfy seats and lots of food. I didn’t even mention the gambling aspect.
It was an easy game to understand but not an easy one to learn.
Today, jai alai frontons still operate in Orlando, Ocala, Dania, and Miami, but the crowds and excitement have dwindled. There were as many people playing poker and staring at 1,000 slots machines in the other side of the historic Miami Jai Alai.
I can’t judge the quality of play but the reality there was just one American born player that night tells you that American audiences have left an exciting and dangerous sport. Try catching a 100 mph hard ball with a curved basket attached to your arm. Even experienced Basque players suffer serious facial injuries.
But there is one place where the attraction of the sport is still operating – the Miami Amateur Jai Alai center where people of all ages and sexes can learn the sport. There are other courts in Florida , but this facility just off Biscayne Bay at NE 150th Street in North Miami is the best court.
It may long like a big warehouse on the outside, but to people paying $10 per hour to throw a ball against a wall it is great recreation. (Photo by Aaron Davidson)