I was perusing the A.P. wires Wednesday when I came across this article on the death throes of jai alai.
It doesn’t seem like that long ago Connecticut jumped on the jai alai bandwagon, with shiny new frontons opened in Hartford, Bridgeport, and Milford, as well as Newport, Rhode Island. In fact, it was 32 years ago, 1976, when we first heard the words cesta and pelota.
The game itself was exotic, fascinating, fast, dangerous, and very difficult to play. Believe me. Hartford invited a bunch of media types to play in 1977, including Mr. Big-hair from WPOP radio, being tutored by two real players who were undoubtedly amused.
Of course, the big lure was legalized gambling, although I always thought it was a tad odd to bet legally on human beings.
The frontons, comfy and air conditioned with excellent sight lines, were also fine venues for concerts. I remember seeing Steve Martin play the Hartford fronton when he was still doing banjo-playing, arrow-through-the-head stand up.
As with anything, the novelty passed. There was a damaging strike by the players in Hartford, and then the hammer came down in 1992. Foxwoods opened. It was no coincidence that Hartford and Bridgeport closed 3 years later. Somehow, Milford hung on until 2001 and Newport until 2003.
There was a time you’d dress for a night out at the fronton. Maybe even buy admission tickets in advance.
I guess all things must pass.