The Bobble Boy

NOW 24/7

In a world where celebrity sells, having your likeness reproduced in the form of a bobblehead doll may very well be the highest measure of an athlete's worth. Whether it's through raw athleticism or magnetic theatricality, a bobblehead doll means you are a somebody in your respective arena. Most recently the outstanding South Florida competitor who's achieved this honor is Brooklyn native Benjamin Bueno, a 37-year-old jai-alai backcourter with Dominican blood coursing through his veins as he plays the Basque-created sport. Bueno, whose parents were aficionados of the sport, is a Florida-grown phenomenon, having been taught the finer points of the game in one of the state's now-defunct jai-alai schools. He is beyond the peak years for most jai-alai players, but his 19 years wielding the cesta, a winning record, and an ample dose of personal charm led industry leaders to select him for this plastic-coated distinction.

He enters 2004 as the fourth jai-alai player replicated in bobblehead form. 1250 of the limited-edition wobbly facsimiles are already in the hands of loyal fans who turned up for the winter season-opening contest, while another 2500 dolls are making the marketing circuit. Bueno joins an exclusive group that includes legend Daniel Michelena, top-rated frontcourter Rekalde, and king of the back court, Iraftorza.

But then as a Miamian, you already knew that. Just like you already know that the world's greatest living jai-alai player, Goikoetxea, plays here every week. Long before the Marlins began whining for a new stadium, and long before any other sports outfits showed up to claim our attentions, the first fronton was constructed 78 -- count 'em -- years ago. There are fewer than 200 professional players of the game, and only 5 active frontons, all in Florida, remain in this fair nation. All the more reason that we cherish this exotic mixture of athleticism and gambling and pay our respects to Benny's rising mojo. -- By Victor Cruz

Matches go on every day but Tuesday at Miami Jai-Alai, 3500 NW 37th Ave. Admission is $1. Call 305-633-6400 for times.


Reptiles 'R' Us

SAT 1/17

Nothing compares with the warm fuzzy feeling of waking up in the turgid grip of a rambunctious reticulated python. And what better way to bring the family together than to feed live rats and chicken to a hungry boa constrictor. Sounds odd? Let's just say some people have a thing for cold-blooded scaly creatures. These folks will be gathering this weekend for Repticon, a large-scale trade fair of all things reptilian. Vendors of exotic reptiles and pet supplies from across the country will be on hand to show off different species and veterinary equipment. State-of-the-art informational seminars will teach how to care for chameleons, bearded dragons, turtles, frogs, and just about any kind of serpent (mothers-in-law excluded). You may even get tips on what to do when an alligator takes up residence in your back yard pool. Live entertainment will be on hand. You can bet there will be at least one rendition of "Crocodile Rock." Repticon opens at 10:00 a.m. today and Sunday, January 18, at the Miami-Dade Fair and Expo Center, 10901 Coral Way. Admission is $7. Call 305-223-3247. -- By Juan Carlos Rodriguez

Large-Scale Action

Environmentalists protest with voice, bodies

SAT 1/17

When Greenpeace activists boarded a ship loaded with illegal lumber from the Amazon and attempted to hang a banner along the side saying, "President Bush: Stop Illegal Logging," guess who got busted? The freighter hauling the contraband, or the environmentalists urging the U.S. government to do the right thing? Almost two years after the incident, Greenpeace faces charges in federal court in Miami. The environmental organzation views the prosecution as another instance where Attorney General John Ashcroft is attempting to squash freedom of expression. Greenpeace is staging a human art protest on Miami Beach today in response to the federal action. They will be choreographing 2 large-scale images based on Picasso's Amnistia and photographing it from above. Participants should wear blue, green, or black. The protest/living sculpture takes place at 3:00 p.m. at Ocean Drive and 9th Street, Miami Beach. For information call 202-319-2493 or log on to -- By Juan Carlos Rodriguez

Sunny States

THU 1/15

In a continuing quest to bombard us with a blizzard of press releases that make us think our elected officials are actually doing something to improve the quality of our lives, Miami-Dade County has unleashed even bigger propaganda guns: The Miami-Dade Public Library System's Good Government Seminar Series. We won't elaborate on the oxymoronic title. Just inform you that the idea is a series of community forums taking place now through June in the Miami-Dade County Library auditorium (101 W. Flagler St.). The aim: for humble local residents like you to, in the words of county flacks, "learn how good government works from the people who are making it happen." Okay, stop guffawing, pick yourself off the floor, and attend the presentation at 6:00 tonight. That's when County Manager George Burgess (above), a 20-year government veteran, will explain his philosophy of Results Oriented Government. Let's hope audience input is encouraged, so Burgess can hear about all those positive, uh, results. Admission is free. Call 305-375-5487. -- By Nina Korman


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