Rudy fires away

Rudy winds up again

One day last week less than two hours after an hour of Florida tennis, I met my friend Rudy who took me to the Miami Amateur Jai Alai fronton, where he plays 2-3 times a week. I have written about his sport before, and was determined to give it a try. Although the court is 90 feet long, which is half the length of a professional fronton, it looked pretty big to me.

Jeff, Justin and Rudy after their workout

This was a real challenge. Rudy warned me how difficult it would be. Before going on the court myself, I watched Rudy play for points with two of his buddies, Jeff and Justin. This gave me a first-hand look at what to do. It’s been years since I went to a fronton, where you bet on the pros, and the throws and catches are astonishing. You should see videos of how men climb the side wall or scoop up the pelota after it ricochets off the back wall before it hits the floor a second time. It’s all very artful, a kind of dance, unimaginably graceful. I will post some videos later.

learning to throw

When I first attempted to throw the ball (pelota), it came out of the curved basket (cesta) in unexpected directions: I’d aim for the front wall, but hit the floor or side wall instead. Sometimes I hit the padding at the bottom of the front wall.

Our cestas were used, but had been hand-made for professionals. They cost just $100, compared to a new one that’s priced at $1000 and is designed specifically for the player who ordered it.

My back-hand throw was more successful, maybe because two hands are involved. When I finally did reach the wall, Rudy was amazed and encouraging. He said no one he knows has ever been able to do that so quickly. There was a certain technique I had to acquire, and although I did it, my throws had no power…just like my middling tennis strokes.

hitting the wall was a challenge

Catching the pelota was even harder. You have to move the cesta rhythmically, like you’re catching a tossed egg, so it won’t break. Unfortunately, the ball kept bouncing out of the cesta, before I could swing to generate the centripetal force needed to keep the pelota directed towards the center. It takes a very precise, well-timed motion.

I sort of got it by the end of the session

After an hour of alternating throws and catches with Rudy—we never played for points—I was tired, drenched, and grateful that I hadn’t been hit by a pelota in my head. That could be deadly! On a full-size fronton, a professional can propel the ball 180 mph. And a regulation, rubber-core, string-wrapped, goat-skinned covered pelota is much harder, and bounces much higher, than the plastic variation that we were using.

I wish I could practice more often and play games. Maybe that will happen next time I visit Miami. Rudy showed his buddies a video he took of me throwing and catching, and they said it was amazing I could do as well as I did. I want to do it again. Rudy says I should go down to Miami mainly to play jai alai with him…but guess what? I just discovered that there is a year old jai alai court for amateurs ONLY 70 minutes away from my house! It’s in Berlin, CT and called CT Amateur Jai Alai. Here is the web site link . I have to go there…