When I knew and played for Mr. Berenson...yes he was certainly
a shrewd, hard business man...he was also a marketing pioneer
and guru in the years after he took over Miami Jai-Alai from his
father. Not only did he put together one of the best rosters in
the world during the early-mid 60's, but when the players went
on strike in 1968, he personally went and gathered together from
around the world a crop of no names...many who went on to become
perennial all-stars for many years...he marketed the vastly changed
roster as "the most cosmopolitan roster in the world!"
There was no less fan turnout for a ragged mixture of veterans
and kids that season and within 3 years tweaked the roster into
forming one of the best roster of players ever. I didn't play
late games often, but when I did...there was no describing the
experience of playing in front of 15,000 screaming happy fans...standing
Mr. Berenson also carried on his father's dreams by expanding Jai-Alai to Ocala and Ft. Pierce, then making plans for expansion into Hartford before he left Miami Jai-Alai. His father had tried numerous expansions into New York, New Jersey without legislative success...but father and son knew it was only a matter of time.
Okay, quick insight story into his being a smart tough business man. When I started playing, there was no place to go when the season ended in May...so 1969-1972 I traveled each 'off' season to Mexico or Spain to continue playing and learn. When it was announced that Ocala was going to open in summer 1973 with the Tampa roster, it was also announced that Ft. Pierce was going to open summer 1974 with the Miami roster...next to last night 1973 Miami season, I was already making plans to go to Spain again and to my surprise...myself and 4 other players were called into Pedro Mir's office...one by one...and there was Mr. Berenson. He said that he had picked us to play that summer in Ocala because we were the only ones who had to leave our families each year to go to Mexico or Spain...or stay in Miami as some did and just practice on the court to stay in shape. The rest of the roster were Basque and always went back to Spain to play summer partidos anyway. So he had 2 contracts for us to sign...one for Ocala 1973 and one for a year away...Ft. Pierce 1974. He said I could think it over if I wanted and sign them on closing night. Wow! Summer Jai-Alai...no more traveling and living so far to play! Young, stupid and naive...I told him I would take a night to tell my parents. He said fine, no emotion or anything...just have Pedro Mir call him down closing night. So the next night I went to Pedro's office and asked him to tell Mr. Berenson that I was ready to sign both contracts whenever he could come down. Well about the 6th game...Pedro Mir told me Mr. Berenson was in his office and for me to go see him. When I went in, he was just as cordial and friendly to me as always. I greeted him and said I was ready to sign. He said OK and put one contract down in front of me...Ft. Pierce 1974. I asked what happened/where was the Ocala 1973 contract? Matter of factly, without missing a beat...he said, "Oh, you didn't seem that interested last night so I offered it to another player." I told him that Yes! I wanted to sign it...he said too late, there were no more openings. I was stunned senseless, but he pushed the Ft. Pierce 1974 contract at me and asked me if I wanted to sign...I don't think I could have grabbed the pen faster to sign. What a lifetime learning lesson Mr. Berenson had just taught me! Don't let opportunity pass you by...I went back to Spain to live and play again that summer. I never was angry at him because I realized that it was totally on me...
As far as Mr. Berenson being against American players, I disagree. In fact, I believe that his desire was that American players become the majority sooner. He signed up 12 Americans in 1968...granted some of them didn't make it 3 weeks let alone the whole season. At the end of the 68-69 season though...he offered AND I DID SIGN an unprecedented 5 year contract!!! It was the first time a multi-year contract over 3 years had ever been offered. He also started the Miami Jai-Alai amateur school at N. Miami Amateur with pro instruction and equipment available to build a young crop of American players, many who ten years later graduated into the pro ranks.
As for why I call him Mr. Berenson...due to his outgoing friendliness and easy going nature while in the locker room...one day I said "Hi Buddy, how are you?" with a friendly smile on my face...he looked at me sternly and said, "That's Mr. Berenson." That's all he had to say and from then on I always gave him the respect he deserved. I always got along with him well and never had any animosity. He treated each player, no matter how great or average they were, with equal fairness.
When I knew and played for Mr. Berenson...