Originally published by
The Northern Star News Magazine
Issue date: February, 2013
Used with permission
DANIA JAI ALAI
The Fleischman Chronicles
Part 2 of a Two-Part Series
When we last left retiring Dania Assistant General Manager, Marty Fleischman, the year was 1980 and the then Corporate Director of Public Relations for World Jai-Alai was handling the national media onslaught following the murder of WJA owner Roger Wheeler. The recently married Fleischman in his early thirties at the time handled all requests with an amazing capability which anyone facing such an unfathomable occurrence might have drowned in the waves of media. Fleischman's next major work would be much more refreshing.
l to r. Marty, then Corporate Director of PR for World Jai-Alai,
Dick Donovan, President and CEO of World Jai-Alai,
Frank Duffin, Player Personnel Director
Following the advice of Miami Jai-Alai General Manager, H. Paul Rico, Fleischman hired Miami-based Public Relations firm, Hank Meyer to work with the fronton in nationally promoting the sport featuring Jai-Alai's greatest American to ever play the Basque ballgame, Montreal born, Carol City High and North Miami Amateur Jai-Alai grad of Israeli parentage, Joey Cornblit. The Hank Meyer P.R. firm was known at the time for successfully playing an integral role in the start of Jackie Gleason's illustrious career. Hank Meyer's Van Forester spearheaded the month-long media blitz tour in which Fleischman along with Joey would visit Atlanta, Cleveland, Montreal and Toronto.
Cornblit has been documented to comment that "the tour" was one of his most enjoyable experiences during his incomparable career. The trio visited ten to fifteen media outlets during the month including the Today Show and Atlanta-based CNN; the engaging, charismatic Cornblit was a "hit." For Fleishman, seeing the reception Joey received in Montreal was the coolest. Cornblit was a home-grown boy now a star in the United States; Toronto as well took to the Canadian-born superstar. Following a refreshing period of working alongside Forester and Joey to promote Jai-Alai and Miami's American kill-shot game changer, the unimaginable
John Callahan, President of World Jai-Alai, on August 2, 1982 was found in the trunk of his Cadillac in a Miami International Airport parking lot. Callahan with his back on the floor of the trunk was facing-up - body riddled with bullets - with a single dime placed on the executive's body. While Fleischman faced the media onslaught of the Wheeler murder with behind the scenes assistance, he now found himself alone on an island. WJA President, Richard P. Donovan was in seclusion for fear he would be next. Only one person knew where Donovan was in hiding, Francis J. Duffin. Fleischman would have had an easier time finding the location of then-President Ronald Reagan's safe harbor location, than to pry Donovan's location from "the Duff." The first baptism by fire schooled Fleischman. Now, he was a lone soul with no one to guide him this time -- handling the second murder in as many years of which the first and subsequent Callahan murder resulted in multiple books being written, 60 Minutes would cover and the big-screen eventually featured.
Life in the mid-80's was a more peaceful time. On October 10, 1986, Miami Vice's "Killshot" episode premiered to a national audience. The third episode of the third season of the highly popular crime drama series, during the City of Miami's Cocaine Cowboy Days, produced by Michael Mann for NBC starred Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas. Present Dania Player Manager, Benny Bueno appeared in the episode with a speaking role while Fleischman assisted in casting, producing and serving as Announcer for the Jai-Alai action scenes. One will never know how many were exposed to the sport because of "Killshot." As Marty and I were well into Day 2 of discussing his journey, present Dania Director of Operations, Dave Winslow, came in and chatted, mentioning an individual from Denver whom he recently met, knew of Jai-Alai. As the topic Miami Vice had just been discussed, we both wondered aloud whether the mid-80's show could have been the reason for the Denver-bred knowing of the "Merry Festival." Although, as most novices do, the Director of Ops with a laugh did mention how the individual butchered the mispronouncing of the cesta and pelota. In addition to "Killshot," Miami's ever-graceful Frontcourter, Elorrio appeared in "live" action on the opening credits, which split second exposure might have done as much as the "Killshot" episode itself. Pretty cool...Miami Vice was my first exposure to the lightning-quick game while freezing in the northeast before stepping into the quicksand mentioned in Part 1. From "Killshot" the episode to killing the game.
Mid 70s management team of Tampa and Ocala Jai-Alai
l to r, Giles Ellis, Jr., asst GM,
Dick Gerrity (ex FBI agent) GM of Tampa and Ocala, and Marty.
The event which Fleischman was able to prevent fourteen years prior, he could not stop the natural disaster which began in Connecticut frontons and ran through Florida Jai-Alai rosters - the Players Strike of 1988. Upon receiving word the Strike was Official on April 14, 1988, Donovan asked if Fleischman would like to play that evening. Taking a moment, maybe less to think what would be in his future best interest, Fleischman appreciatively declined the offer. Thinking back, Marty said with a huge smile, "I would have loved to play, but my rebote sucked."
The Strike, a month shy of two and half years in duration and longest in professional sports history, along with the Florida Lottery inception in the same year would evidently be a prelude to crushing the once vibrant, profitable pari-mutuel. Fleischman delicately handled media interviews, becoming well educated in the phrase-ology "unfair labor practice." Although Marty indicated personally the pelotaris treated him with respect while protesting just outside the fronton and valet tunnel, for others and patrons the period was an ugly time. Approximately 25 of the 40 players on the Miami roster went on strike, the lowest percentage of players striking at all frontons.
Fleischman, with the best of his ability to attempt to keep a straightface, told of Rico wishing to entertain his striking players so he had set- up huge speakers facing their picketing area and blaring "God Bless America" on continue cycle all day long. There will only ever be one HPR, a true beauty.
Autographed photo of Don Johnson,
star of Miami Vice given to Marty after shooting
the episode "Killshot" at Miami Jai-Alai in the 80s.
Just prior to the Strike, Fleischman had worked to produce a 30-second spot, featuring Miami pelotaris in scenes displaying -- combat war, aesthetically pleasing ballet, an amazing commercial which portrayed the symbiotic relationship of aggressiveness and grace which makes the game so compelling. The cost was approximately $115,000 - a boat-load of cash for the time to spend on only a 30-second commercial. As the "spot" was not finished for production until after the Strike commenced, the executive decision was made to not use the ad until after the September 28, 1990, Strike ending date. Post-Strike, in '91, Fleischman would remain in his office, but enter into Martin Fleischman Advertising, his own company. A great office I must say one of the many as six I resided in during my time at America's oldest fronton.
Martin Fleischman Advertising. Hume Sindelar Associates was the advertising company which handled all World Jai-Alai frontons prior to '91. With Hume Sindelar coming on difficult times and heading into bankruptcy, the WJA account would no longer be handled. Marty, the UF Advertising grad, broached the idea to Donovan about starting his own advertising company to handle all aspects for the Miami, Tampa, Fort Pierce and Ocala frontons; Fleischman's deal was commission-based and in addition, Marty would be on retainer as the National Association of Jai-Alai Frontons Tournament Coordinator. Fleischman would run his advertising company, coordinate N.A.J.F. tournaments and participate in RPD's required "meetings" - be it on the links or a Donavon's preferred game of cards, Gin, until Florida Gaming's take over in 1997.
Florida Gaming had purchased Fort Pierce Jai-Alai in March of '94; the company bought the remaining three frontons from World Jai-Alai in '97 - Miami, Tampa and Ocala. With the Colletts wishing Marty to comeback on board in Public Relations, the elder Collett, Bennett Sr., had another offer for Fleischman. "Senior" praised Fleischman for his work, loyalty, dedication over the years and that there was no more perfect "fit" for the recently vacated Tampa General Manager position than Marty. The elder Collett was well aware Fleischman was born and raised passing "J-Alley" as a child. His dream job would finally be his or would it? Having been passed over for the Tampa position for less worthy candidates multiple times during the World Jai-Alai days, Fleischman pondered, "Why now?"
Deliberating over the December holidays school vacation, getting invaluable counseling from Benny, Jr., whom Marty trusted and told him not to worry no matter what he decided, tears from his teenage children of not wanting to move and not being guaranteed longevity within Florida Gaming if Tampa was sold, led Fleischman to inform Bennett Sr., "No." And for anyone with knowledge to those ever saying "No" in a business dealing with Senior, Marty figured, "I was probably done." But, "Senior was ok with my decision and we moved on to the next project," Marty remembered.
Marty on Ocala Jai-Alai court opening season,
June of 1973 wearing the pr clothes of the day,
bellbottoms and the "Puffy Shirt".
But, Fleischman saw a shrinking World Jai-Alai. Tampa was definitely "on the market" and rumors were Ocala was not far behind. "Maybe it is time to end my Jai-Alai career and return to Tampa, start my own advertising agency there, work in TV, something. It was 1998 and 27 years seemed enough."
A heads-up call from former Dania President, Steve Snyder regarding a reporter writing a story on the state of Jai-Alai who was going to be contacting Fleischman next, led to lunch, a few beers and a new endeavor.
Marty would serve as Assistant General Manager, oversee Marketing at Dania while also handling Orlando Jai-Alai's advertising from '98 until Boyd Gaming acquired the fronton in 2007. Snyder obviously did not put his Yale education to waste - aware that Hort Soper was not doing anything in the form of advertising, promotion, Snyder lured Soper into taking Marty on in order to reduce his portion of the pie toward's Fleischman's salary. Brilliant. Working alongside Snyder and long-time General Manager D.R. John Knox, Fleischman found a "breath of fresh air." Previously Marty as well as yours truly had seen Snyder as an Ivy-League aristocratic possessing an ambience of arrogance; the notion was quickly dispelled. Marty was free to share ideas, pursue, cultivate the media, the public without the FBI mentality hovering above. The FBI culture which permeated World Jai-Alai was passed down over generations regarding media, public had worn on Fleischman at his previous residence, and he does stand not alone in that matter, over the years. Finally, he could breathe, think, eat and share a thought with the media. And in addition being able to breathe, he improved his cardiovascular activity as the golf courses and card games down in Miami became competitive racquetball versus Snyder on Dania's hideaway - the racquetball court.
"I love my time with Dick Donovan, Paul Rico, and Dan Licciardi at World Jai-Alai," said Fleischman. "I owe them so much. But, Steve Snyder, John Knox and Clint Morris at Dania turned out to be great people and I loved my time at Dania," continued Fleischman.
1971, Marty's first season at Tampa Jai-Alai (few photos without a moustache)
where Leicester Hemingway (Ernest Hemingway's relative)
presents trophy to the "Flying Frenchman" Jasa as Tampa GM Ernie Larsen looks on.
Since March of 2007 until present, Fleischman continued serving as Assistant General Manager and over-seeing Marketing for Boyd Gaming and Director of Operations, Dave Winslow. Fleischman spoke glowingly of working for Winslow and especially alongside Controller, Clint Morris during the last five-plus years; the tall, once svelte Morris, son of the well -respected and world renowned Basketball Coach in the States and overseas, played hoops at Florida Southern College. Day 2 came to a close at the 5-plus hour mark.
A night at Tampa Jai-Alai in 1990s where Yankee owner George Steinbrenner
enjoyed some wagering. Steinbrenner is 2nd from left.
Day 3. I'd be remiss if I had not asked Marty for his "Top 5 Frontcourters and Backcourters;" the players are those whom he actually saw play. Fleischman's Top 5 -- Topping the list of Frontcourt pelotaris is Joey. Fleischman for so long would say Bolivar, but became a "Joey-believer" upon watching the numerous Tournament of Champion battles between the Miami and Tampa frontons and admittedly continually having his heart broken. Joey representing Miami consistently dominated the TOC rivalries against Bolivar and sister-fronton, Tampa. The only player to have his number retired at Dania, Joey revolutionized the game with his offensive remate. Third, following Joey and Bolivar, is Daniel Michelena. Miami's "Mitch," known as "The King" during his playing days, a feature-game performer for his entire 19-Year career, with the exception of less than the first six months, at America's Oldest Fronton debuting in December 1982 amassing nearly five thousand wins to go along with 59 career titles; Fleischman's third choice possessed power, quickness, a great glove and court awareness. Casino Miami's present Frontcourt star and considered by many best in the world today and Marty's 4th Choice is Goikoetxea. Present Casino Miami Player Manager, Juan Ramon Arrasate finishes out "Fleischman's Top 5." Arra playing with amazing talent and flair battled Joey, then Michelena on a daily basis throughout his career which was shortened by multiple knee injuries. Watching "Mitch" and J.R. battle in Game 12 Singles play was a true pleasure of Jai-Alai beauty for the writer to watch; my pelota with words of encouragement from each of the pelotaris will always be a treasure.
Honorable Mentions in the Frontcourt go to the late, long-time Dania Player Manager and former Miami pelotari, Ondarres, Miami's dominant Singles player, Asis and Guisasola. Fleischman missed the era prior which featured all-time greats Orbea and Bengoa.
Francisco Maria Churruca Iriondo Azpiazu Alcorta, simply Churruca to Jai-Alai aficionado tops Fleischman's Backcourters; my top nominee for longest name in the game. Miami's Churruca is considered by many, not just Marty, as Jai-Alai's best backcourtman; he was known as the "Babe Ruth of Jai-Alai" during his days at The Yankee Stadium of Jai-Alai. Tampa and Fleischman-favorite Almorza or "Big Al," follows Churruca. Miami's Soroa is the 3rd; the strong as a bull Backcourter caught everything. Rafael Gorrono, father of the present Dania Frontcourter is Number 4. The Backcourters are rounded out with present Casino Miami backcourt stalwart, Eric Irastorza. "Tremendous," was the one-word summation by Marty on Irastorza; Eric always impressed the perceived impossibly impressionable recently passed Francis J. Duffin with his selection of talent off-the-court which matched his Jai-Alai capabilities on the cancha.
The Backcourters mentioned along with the Top 5 included Tampa's Laca, Miami's present-backman Lopez, Enrique and Javier. Fleischman referred to Lopez as having one of the hardest reverses he has seen over his forty years. Referring to Javier, Marty simply said, "Beautiful to watch." The close of pleasure-filled almost seven hours of discussion, laughs, stories, some not fit for print, of forty-plus years of life within the Merry Festival.
Marty straps cesta on Heavyweight Champion of the World Larry Holmes,
the "Easton Assassin" one night at Tampa Jai-Alai in mid 70s.
Holmes could not hit the front wall.
My personal favorite Martino story, well one fit for print, is often recanted when seeing Johnny Rico, son of former Miami Jai-Alai General Manager, H. Paul Rico. HPR and Fleischman were often known to wager on sporting events. Well, one day while in the expansive, couch lined office of HPR, the elder Rico wagered that Martina Navratilova would come back after being down and seemingly out to Chris Evert in a Wimbledon Championship Final. Figuring it was a better "lock" than Diego in Post 1, Game 1, Fleischman gladly accepted, figuring the "money was in the bank." Unlike the ever-wise former FBI Special Agent, Fleischman was unaware the match was on tape delay. The two took in the rest of the match together, Rico sheepishly watching the rest of the match as Marty watched in awe. The Legend gladly accepted his winnings and would not disclose knowing the result prior to offering the wager to Martino for a later time, amongst shared laughs to this day.
Upon finishing up Day 2, prior to our Day 3 discussion his Top 5, of reliving the last forty-plus years, I simply stated, "A great run." Fleischman pondering shook his head in agreement.
"In thinking back, it all started with Buddy Berenson, President and owner of Miami and Tampa Jai-Alai, giving this long-haired kid fresh out of school an opportunity. The entire sport of Jai-Alai owes the Berenson family thanks for bringing this great game to America. Then, I owe so much to his son Richie Berenson, for not only being one of my dearest friends for over 40 years, but for having longer hair than I did way back that way Ernie Larsen couldn't fire me."
"And mostly I am so thankful that Jai-Alai gave me my family literally, when I met the girl of my dreams, my wife Sue, who was the hostess in our Cancha Club at Tampa Jai-Alai in 1977. Somehow I convinced this phenomenal lady to share the rest of her life with me and that meant sharing my other passion, Jai-Alai. She did, and we have two fantastic kids, Shawna and Jason, who had to put up with going to the many frontons to watch Jai-Alai tournaments as they grew up. I could not have had this great career without their support and love. I am truly blessed. "
"Yes, it's been a great run. I have loved every minute of it. I can assure you, there will be a cesta hanging on my wall at home in Tampa, just as there was one when I was growing up. But when my grandson, Blake, asks me what it is, he better be prepared for the longest bedtime story ever."
Marty's dad, "Salty Sol" Fleischman, sports director of WTVT in Tampa
presents a trophy to one of the Tampa players in the early 60s,
not knowing that his son would eventually become the PR director there.
High Cesta to Martino, a mentor, friend, proof reader, fellow Fantasyleaguer, a true life-saver - one who threw a real-life safety net to another in deep depths of despair, and lover of the Merry Festival, for a career dedicated to the pulchritudinous game of Jai-Alai! Mucho!
Originally published by The Northern Star News Magazine
Issue date: Febrary, 2013
Used with permission