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Many years ago a Cuban friend was describing to me the devastating power of Erdoza's forehand.
"There was this great match," he explained with appropriate gestures. "The four players were battling ferociously. Erdoza got the ball. He slammed it against the front wall, fast like a bullet. It came back maybe twice as fast. It was so fast that nobody could dodge it. Not even Erdoza. He knocked out all of his own front teeth."
In all sports there are always some men who become traditional, just as Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth did in baseball. In jai alai it is generally conceded that the greatest of all players was Erdoza who was at his peak about 30 years ago.
Erdoza was a Basque. He was short, stocky, powerful, shrewd and possessed of lightning reactions. He was a front-wall player, a delantero. Throughout the jai alai world he was known by the nickname of El Fen�meno, which means just what you think it does if you pronounce it in English. He could do everything better than anybody else could.
But for all his great skill it was inevitable that there came times when Erdoza was as helpless as a skier on ice. For jai alai (you pronounce it high-lie) is just too fast and too dangerous ever to be completely mastered. The men who play it are incredibly expert and unbelievably agile. They make fantastic recoveries and impossible shots. But there are always times when they make what even for them are incredible mistakes.
I saw the game first on a cruise to Havana in 1925. I fell in love with it then. In middle age the fact is hard to explain—impetuousness, stupidity—but there was no other answer at the time. I had to play.
"S�, se�or, you can make fine player, but is it wise?" The note of admonition eluded me. We were watching several strong-limbed but not very clever youths floundering around the court (cancha) during practice. They looked to be in imminent danger of losing their lives. A pretty fair ball player from South Carolina, I figured, shouldn't have trouble here.
As it developed, the clumsy lads had had several years' experience. They start early with jai alai and practice long. The fly shagger from South Carolina only on occasion touched the ball (pelota). He was lucky to hear it as it screamed past his ear.