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Vitilla, Dominican Version of Stickball, Is Coming to The Bronx

By Eddie Small | September 14, 2015 6:20pm
 Macombs Dam Park will host a Vitilla tournament this weekend.
Vitilla Tournament
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CONCOURSE — Vitilla, the Dominican stickball game credited with forming so many great Major Leaguers, is coming to the South Bronx this weekend.

Red Bull will host a tournament at the Joseph Yancey Track and Field in Macombs Dam Park on Sept. 20 for the island game, a form of street baseball played with a plastic bottle cap and a broomstick.

The game is popular in the Dominican Republic and was started in the 1970s by athletes who could not afford real baseball equipment, according to Vitilla expert Adalberto Garcia.

Players found that they were able to throw the caps quickly and manipulate them to curve, dip, rise and slide, making Vitilla a particularly difficult form of baseball.

"It’s a challenge to learn how to pitch it," Garcia said. "At the same time, it’s a challenge to bat it, too."

"It’s a challenge to field it, too, to grab it," he continued, "because it’s not like a ball. It’s a cap. It’s a plastic cap, and when it hits the ground, you don’t know where it’s going to go."

Several Dominican baseball players still practice Vitilla to keep up their skills, and many professional baseball players played this version of the game before they made it to the Major League, according to Garcia.

"Jose Bautista, Robinson Cano, they grew up playing Vitilla," he said.

The game's link to professional baseball is why organizers chose to hold the tournament in Macombs Dam Park, which is located right next to Yankee Stadium.

A total of 16 teams — eight experienced and eight amateur — will compete in the free public tournament, called the Red Bull Clasico de Vitilla.

Registration for the competition is closed, but interested groups can still add themselves to the waitlist.

Rules for the game are mostly the same as baseball, but there are some key differences.

There are only two bases, for instance, and there are no walks. Pitchers keep pitching until they either throw a strike or the batter gets a hit.

The field is a perfect triangle and includes a home run line marked 100 feet from home plate. Each base is 45 feet apart.

Teams must have a minimum of four players — a pitcher, a catcher and two outfielders — and games will be three innings long with one extra inning, if needed.

Each game is single elimination and scheduled to last 35 minutes. The championship games will start at 4:55 p.m. with one winner for the amateur bracket and one winner for the experienced bracket.

Dominican children often learn how to play Vitilla at a very young age to help improve their chances for success in professional baseball, according to Garcia.

"Parents in the Dominican Republic, they have the dream of making their kids professional baseball players," Garcia said. "So what they do, as soon as they start walking — they learn how to walk, they just start playing Vitilla."