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The Swift and the Dying

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As Wright says this, Scotty's partner, Erkiaga, promptly misplays a shot onto the out-of-bounds wooden apron on the audience's side of the court.

"They like Scotty because early on in his career, he was winning, but he laid down," Wright continues. "He's got effort, but his game is not where it should be. They cheer for him 100 percent. He is a crowd favorite, for sure."

Klier always has the advantage of being the hometown boy, and moreover, he has long been a solid player. By the end of his first year, he was finishing in the money (that's the top three) more than 40 percent of the time and was in the top ten in wins. Scotty was solid, real solid for a kid who didn't grow up watching jai alai. Of the Basques, Klier says: "It's their T-ball."

The years have worn on. Being the only American in the clubhouse has meant learning some choice Spanish and making some friends but feeling like he was leading a secret life, one that would take him -- where? He was already as high as he could go, watching the sport melt all around him. There is no team in the locker room, only partners for one match at a time.

At first, his folks used to come see him play, but they moved to Boca Raton and now watch games live on the fronton's website,, where a few hundred people a day, from around the world, watch the live webcasts. He took some community college classes here and there. A couple of years ago, Klier picked up a real estate license he hasn't used. Watched as the crowds dwindled. And dwindled further.

"Sooner or later," Klier says, "reality hits."

The break point came during a match in October 2003, when he put his arm against the wall and dislocated his shoulder. He was in a sling for a month. The scar tissue locked the joint. A doctor put Klier under and, in lieu of cutting, spun the arm every which way. Rehab started that afternoon and lasted six months. Swimming. Lap after lap at 24 Hour Fitness in Plantation. "Worked my ass off, dude," he says. He didn't know whether he'd play again, so it was then that he applied himself to school full-time, atop jai alai.

The injury forced him to acknowledge what he already knew. "I looked at it as God telling me, 'You better get moving, kiddo,'" he says.

Hell, you can't even pick up women as a jai-alai player. When Klier goes to bars, he sometimes tells people he's a pro athlete. He looks enough like Olindo Mare, apparently, that people will ask him if he's the Dolphins kicker. If only. Where would the fire academy have taken him? Closer to a pension, that's about all. What about baseball? Klier was always wicked fast. You can't teach that, but they can teach hitting.

Klier doesn't dwell. He's playing a little better. The last time he finished in the money more than this season was 2001. His pride still showed in early December; he missed a ball, the crowd jeered, and he turned almost imperceptibly to the wall and delivered a tiny, frustrated kick.

"I think I would have been better being involved in high school sports and doing it that way," Klier says. "If I had a son, that's what I would have him do."

Would he teach his son to play jai alai?

"Hell, no," Klier says. He laughs. "Are you kidding me? I wouldn't let him go near it." He laughs again. "No, not a chance."

On a weeknight, before he takes on the ball, Klier is splayed on a heating pad in the training room. The Simpsons plays on a TV nearby. He folds his legs and rolls his back over the heat. It's nearly time.

The night begins unevenly for Scotty. In the first match, he snatches a shot and slings it low. The ball caroms off the wall and hops twice before his opponents can reach it, ending the point. Soon, though, Scotty's partner misses a return. The pair finishes third.

In the second game, a singles match, he seems lethargic. A shot comes low at him; he flips it back and loses an easy point. He later places a nice, long return that an opponent bobbles trying to chase down. Point Scotty -- but then he loses to Carvalho (who goes on to win the eight-man match) while someone on the side wall says, "Scotty not gonna do it."

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Sam Eifling
Contact: Sam Eifling

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