Sunday, March 21, 2010

21 Questions with Jai-Alai player John S. Madden III, "SPIKE" by Pelota Políte

First off, mi amigo, there are no wrong or silly answers. Just pretend you are answering the questions of an elementary school classroom. Because many of us are new to Jai-Alai, and we have a perspective that may seem simple to you. We are learning. We want to learn. Won't you help us?

1.) Pelota Políte: First off, please tell us where you played and when. We don't care if it was 20 years or three months. It's all gravy to us.

SPIKE: I played at the Melbourne FRONTON and Daytona Beach FRONTON from 1988 to 1991.

2.) Pelota Políte: When did you first learn of Jai-Alai or become interested in becoming a Jai-Alai PELOTARI?

SPIKE: I learned of Jai-Alai in 1984 when still in high school.

3.) Pelota Políte: Where did you first pick up a CESTA and start to practice?

SPIKE: The first time I picked up a CESTA was in 1984, and we used to practice in the racquetball courts around town.

4.) Pelota Políte: What was the hardest part of learning how to play?

SPIKE: I was an all-star pitcher while playing baseball in high school, so the hardest part of Jai-Alai was the different throwing motion with the CESTA on your hand. At first to make the ball go straight ahead, you had to feel like you were throwing it dead right.

5.) Pelota Políte: Were the people you met in Jai-Alai scary at first? Were you intimidated by their prowess or other-worldliness?

SPIKE: I was intimidated by the better players when I was first learning. You had to earn your way onto the court to play with them.

6.) Pelota Políte: Where did you get your equipment, like CASCO, CESTA, PELOTAS, ZAPATOS y PANTALONES, and could you describe your feelings about your equipment? Like, did you like them? Or did you originally have a crummy CESTA and advance to an expensive CESTA?

SPIKE: When I played professionally, I special ordered all my CESTAS from a basket maker in Mexico. He had the specs of what your basket was like and could duplicate it so every basket was nearly the same

7.) Pelota Políte: Where did you get your Jai-Alai name "SPIKE." We've read that PELOTARIS sometimes take the name of the town they are from, or their middle name, their mother's maiden name or the street name that they grew up on. Is that true? What are some interesting player names you can remember? Why are they interesting or amusing to you?

SPIKE: I played under my last name of Madden. My nickname amongst the guys was SPIKE because back then I had a spiked haircut. Most names of the players were family names.

8.) Pelota Políte: Could you give some advice to a youngster who may be interested in becoming a PELOTARI. Like, should they start training now by throwing baseballs at the backstop or what?

SPIKE: If a youngster was interested in playing, I would recommend they contact the FRONTON and get involved in the amateur program. I had a blast practicing in the racquetball courts when I couldn't make it to the FRONTON.

9.) Pelota Políte: What qualities make a good PELOTARI?

SPIKE: You need good eye-to-hand coordination. You have to play smart and think about attacking your opponent's weaknesses.

10.) Pelota Políte: Can you recall a particular game (PARTIDOS) that sticks in your head? Like, 'Once I was unstoppable. I was playing a singles match with FIREBALL and we had 30 successive volleys without the PELOTA ever touching the floor.' Or something like that?

SPIKE: I was playing in a game with a good friend of mine (Jimmy) as my BACK COURTER. We were both Americans, so we were both inspiring each other throughout the point. Most communication between players was done in Spanish, so we were just having fun this particular game. There was a throw towards the side wall, and I was going to have to make a spectacular catch if i wanted the ball. So I started saying, "Tu, tu, tu!" (You, you, you!). As the ball passed me, I made the motion from the middle of the court to the motion it would have taken for me to catch the ball. I remind you. I was not within five feet of the ball and the REF blew the whistle and motioned that I had TICKED the ball. So we lost that point. We were both furious at that call. It taught me not to fool around during a point.

11.) Pelota Políte: Have you ever been injured? Could you describe the pain?

SPIKE: I was hit one time by a ball coming off the wall funny, and it actually hit me right on the knee. It didn't really hurt that bad, but when I tried to take a step, I had a rubber leg and went right down.

12.) Pelota Políte: What are some common misconceptions people have about Jai-Alai? Like what do most people ask you about it?

SPIKE: Of course the most common question is if the game is fixed.

13.) Pelota Políte: We are new to the game, so please don't become angry at this next question. Why is it that outsiders, like us, always hear the misconception that the game is rigged? After watching several nights of Jai-Alai, we don't understand what they are talking about? How can you calculate where the PELOTA will go? Why is this rumor in the air? We hear it a lot by the way.

SPIKE: My answer to this: If the games were fixed, the Jai-Alai wouldnt make any money, because all the players friends and families would have the winning numbers. But seriously, fans always say that the BACK COURTER reads the team who is supposed to win off the ball. That's why they're always looking at it and yelling to the FRONT COURTER. In actuality, what the BACK COURTER is doing, is letting the FRONT COURTER know how LIVELY the ball is. You see, for every game, there are many balls in play. Some are very HOT and fly like rockets. Others are NEW and haven't been HEATED up yet. These balls react like a Tim Wakefield KNUCKLEBALL. A LIVELY all flies true and reacts of the wall like it is supposed to. A NON-HEATED ball is like throwing a rock into the mud. It doesn't react of the wall consistently. You can have a ball hit the wall and dive straight to the ground.

14.) Pelota Políte: Do PELOTARIS get a bonus if they are good? For professional PELOTARIS, what kind of compensation is offered? We aren't looking for any specific DINERO figure here. That would be RUDE. But we are interested in if it is a salary or by the win or what?

SPIKE: When I played, we were paid a weekly salary and earned bonus money for every WIN, PLACE and SHOW. Sometimes, if you had a good week, your bonus money would be higher than your salary for the week. So you see, there was incentive to play hard every game.

15.) Pelota Políte: Are there Jai-Alai talent scouts? Where do they come from and where do they go to find new talent?

SPIKE: No talent scouts. The Basque people are a tight-knit group, so if there is a player that is up and coming, his name is passed around.

16.) Pelota Políte: Have you been to the Basque region of Spain?

SPIKE: No, I have never been to the Basque region.

17.) Pelota Políte: What's the nicest FRONTON you've ever been to or played in? The worst?

SPIKE: The nicest FRONTON I have ever been in was the one in West Palm Beach. The fans, back in the day, used to wear tuxedos and evening gowns on Friday and Saturday nights. Probably the worst FRONTON I have been in was in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

18.) Pelota Políte: What do Jai-Alai players like to eat? Meatballs? We really want an answer here. What are your favorite foods and beverages?

SPIKE: Players eat the foods of their culture. My personal favorite: Cuban white rice and carne. The Spanish guys loved their Jack and Cokes and us Americans drank good ol' Bud.

19.) Pelota Políte: Where do you see the game of Jai-Alai going in the future? Does it have a future?

SPIKE: I'm sorry to say Jai-Alai has no future. It's a pari-mutual game, and the real gambler doesn't want to wait to throw a 20-minute game, to see his result. As a form of entertainment, not enough revenue can be generated to keep it going. For those that have never seen a live game of Jai-Alai played with quality players, they have missed out on one of the most exciting sports ever played.

20.) Pelota Políte: Why is this game so full of mystique and allure? Is it because it goes back so far as the 1700s? That it comes from a region of Spain that is detached from the world with their own language? What is this mystery factor?

SPIKE: I'm not really a Jai-Alai historian, but I'm sure it may still be popular in the Basque region.

21.) Pelota Políte: Is there anything else we haven't asked that you'd like to tell the fans of Jai Alai Manners?

SPIKE: To the real fans of Jai-Alai, this is an amazing sport. There's nothing like the feeling of catching a ball that is coming at you over 140 mph. There's nothing like the feeling of being involved in a great POINT and hear the fans every reaction. Not many Americans can say that they ever got a chance to play this awesome game, and I will always cherish my memories of my three-year career. It was truly a job like no other, a dream come true, and I thank you for letting me share some of my memories.

Pelota Políte: Thank you, Spike. We appreciate you very much. Thank you for your thoughtful replies. Thank you for helping grow the appreciation for this fascinating game.

Yours respectfully,
Pelota Políte

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