I love watching these senior guys go at it. The ancient Basque sport is still played occasionally at the back of Instituto Cervantes in Manila, where a parking space doubles as their fronton. Jai Alai is alive, at least in the hearts of these old timers. “kakaunte na lang siguro ang nakakapaglaro nito” say one aficionado. Donning the sports traditional colored shirts, they hurled and returned the pelota (the fastest ball on earth) using their cesta, made of swooping wicker, strapped on their arms.
A legal ruling by the supreme court killed the sport of Basque pelota, declaring that it was “against the national interest” and that it can only be “franchised by the government”, with this, chances of reviving it played in the professional level are nil. Aside from the fellas I met in Kalaw, there is also an amateur group somewhere in Quezon City. But without the professional association and its tournaments, it will continue to wallow in obscurity.
The betting was the sports main draw, it was our alternative to horse racing and the sabong. The foreign players were called “Kastila” but they’re not, they are Basques (I’m sure they did not appreciate being called Kastila by the locals). My Father’s favorite was a pelotari named Greco, he even named a dog after the guy. I remember seeing the game in the opening credits of Miami Vice, its still is a very popular spectator sport in Hispanic countries.
Jai alai at the sky dome (a wonderful art deco building demolished by Mayor Atienza) starts every afternoon, 14 games are played with 20 minute breaks in between. Just like in any Filipino gambling sports, viewers are loud often appearing unruly. My Father usually brings his eldest at the fronton (and also in San Lazaro my brother confess). In 1986, the games was stopped because of a game fixing scandal. There were several attempts to revive it but all failed because the government wants it stopped. Obviously, not enough money was going their way.
I was reminded of this sport when I read in the news that a group calling themselves Manila Bay Tourism & Jai Alai Corporation is seeking for the reinstatement of the centuries old sport in the country. I’m not really sure why its being opposed in the first place; if we have casinos, horse racing and sabongan – what on earth are all these people complaining about? If this new group is serious in making this happen, I say, let’s start throwing more money at it, shut these people up and lets play ball!
Nice article, Arnaldo 🙂
pre, gusto ko puntahan to and add to my photo story 🙂
[…] Jai alai is still being played in the country. In fact, it is not only in Cebu but there is an established amateur group in Metro Manila, specifically in Project 8, Quezon City, home of the Manila Amateur Jai-alai Association (MAJA). Arnaldo also posted about another group in Manila. […]
I was able to watch jai-alai also there! one time when we had bible study there in cervantes, i think it is also called casino espanyol de manila as what the players call it. Try watching the game again, cause what i saw where not old timers, but mid 20’s guys pumping it out. Maybe they got young players? DAMN those balls are fast.
[…] de Manila” Someone should remind this guy that if he had not ordered the demolition of that historic art deco building called Skydome there would be no Terror de […]
Among my local favorite is Lorenzo, the singging pelotari ang a “wall-walker”. Filipino cancha players are are also better compared to some “Españols”. Oyarzabal, Iñaki, Manu, they are good players. Fernandez, Sarmiento, Borela, Filipino (the father of a beauty queen, Gauda Sanchez) plays good as well.
We even listened to it on AM radio. I had no idea what to make of it, but it sounded fun. Our Jai Lai game even included cutting oil gallons and using kinalbong tennis balls. LOL
Thank you, Ramon! I am the son of Sarmiento and unfortunately, he passed away over a year ago. May he rest in peace. This brings me a smile that you included him as one of the good players and he was. I would watch my father play quite often even on school night from the player’s family box and I was in awe watching him. I wanted to be like him and still do. He was so athletic. “California Boy” Sarmiento!!
May he rest in peace.
my fave pelotari none other than… VASQUEZ
i remember meron pa kaming fans club nya (FOREVER FANS CLUB OF VASQUEZ) before and nainterview p ako, i was 22 years old , hehehe
Mas masaya pa nga manood ng jai alai kysa s horse racing at sabong.
May pag asa pa kayang maibalik ang jai alai sa pinas?
I have fond memories of it. Our family doesn’t even watch the games on TV, we (chidren) just listen to AM radio! We even play it with a cut gallon container of oils and a tennis ball. Masaya laro, malungkot na nawala, medyo nagkulang sa suporta pareho sa investors saka sa tao na din.