Jai Alai!

Jai Alai
Wicked Good News By Alexandra Guida

Determination, perseverance, and commitment – that's what one Cromwell resident had during the eight brutal months of building his own Jai Alai court.

Jai Alai, a game promoted as the fastest sport in the world, was a huge happening back during the 1980's and 1990's. With multiple courts in Connecticut, it didn't take too long for Cromwell resident, Matt DiDimizo to find his love for this sport.

It all started in 1976. Young Matt was introduced to the sport at only 12 years old. His mother had brought him to Hartford Jai Alai to watch tournaments. In that moment, he found a great interest in the game, however, it wasn't until he was out of high school when he pursued this interest further.

After graduating high school, in 1981, at the age of 17, Matt didn't have the intention of going to college, despite his parent's wishes. Instead, he started playing amateur Jai Alai in Milford after his brother had informed him of a 'learn to play' program. It was on July 5 of that same year when Matt took his first and only lesson before going fully into the sport head on.

One lesson with Rosie Hernandez, the Milford owner's wife, was all Matt needed. “From there I just loved the game...a lot.” Moving forward, Matt bought a basket, got a ball that was suited enough for practicing Jai Alai and played against the exterior walls of stores, tennis courts, in his driveway, in the street, anywhere and everywhere that was available.

“It was the best game I had ever found or saw or anything.”

A few months after beginning to play Matt knew he had to get a job. Yet, even with a new job, he always made time to practice whenever he could.

Two years after he began playing Matt got his first serious injury from playing Jai Alai. As the ball whipped through the air, it came barreling back at Matt, full speed, striking him in his left ear. He was taken to Yale Hospital in an ambulance where he was diagnosed with a concussion and three holes were found in his eardrum. It took almost 40 stitches to mend his ear. Matt then had to spend two weeks doing physical therapy to gain his hearing back and to coordinate his balance.

One week after therapy ended, Matt was back on the Jai Alai court. “I was able to get back on the court and play again. It was difficult for the first month or so, you know, it was a little scary. You just got to get that right out of you because this game is very dangerous, and if you have any thought of fear, just forget about it.”

Between the years of 1988 – 1990, Matt played as a professional Jai Alai player at Hartford Jai Alai. During that time, Matt was a full-time mailman from the Cromwell area, with a walking route, along with being a father to a 4-year-old. His health and daily life started to catch up with him, and he wasn't able to play as intensely as he had been. Because of this Hartford Jai Alai didn't renew his professional contract and Jai Alai took a place on the back burner. However, Matt never gave up Jai Alai. He still played, continuously, outside his house many years after this.

Around the age of 45, Matt was still thinking about his love of Jai Alai and how great it would be to play again. Hartford Jai Alai and Milford Jai Alai had both been closed for many years, and Matt felt it was time for a new place to open up. After thoughts of doing it for many years, Matt finally decided to build his own Jai Alai court.

Thus, his new journey began.

Eight years ago in 2009, Matt spent countless hours getting building permits, reaching out to area residents, speaking to multiple lenders, and putting in innumerable hours after his day job in order to make his dream a reality. With his girlfriend by his side, giving him the support he needed, Matt knew he could get through all of the obstacles and make a Jai Alai court happen. “She was a bit of an inspiration as far as me doing this because she would help me a little bit, or encourage me.”

All while doing this, no one, except for a handful of people, knew what he had been up to, nor did he want the word to get around. It wasn't until about a month before he was finished when word finally broke loose about what Matt had been doing those past months. All while he worked a full-time job, the astonishment on people's faces when they had finally seen what he had built from scratch showed Matt's vast determination.

At the grand opening the reality finally set in, not only for the people attending, but also for Matt. He has accomplished something he had been dreaming about for decades. Many didn't believe the court existed, thinking all the news was a hoax until they finally visited it. Former Jai Alai players visited, and still do to this day; in addition, about 50 other members meet daily, or weekly, to play the game they love so much themselves. Some of them drive fifteen minutes down the road to play and others come from different states. Regardless of where they come from, they all join together to bond over the one thing they love dear to their hearts, the sport of Jai Alai.

To see what Cromwell resident Matt DiDimizio accomplished, and to learn more about CT Amateur Jai Alai please visit their website, www.ctamateurjaialai.com.