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Game Deserves Special Place

By Jill Duff-Hoppes

May 20, 2001
Copyright © 2001 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.

SANFORD -- Growing up in the Bronx, Bobby Rodriguez was pretty handy at crafting wooden airplanes and benches. He even built shoeshine boxes, in hopes of making an extra buck.

For years, Rodriguez left behind the woodworking skills he learned at the Bronx Boys Club. But now, the Puerto Rican native has become an artisan, crafting domino playing tables.




"I guess it was in the blood," said Rodriguez, 55, whose father was a carpenter. "It finally came out."

Rodriguez, who moved to Central Florida in 1998, sells his handiwork at La Casita Latina, a shop he co-owns with business partner Hector Cartagena. The tropical music store is at Flea World on U.S. Highway 17-92 in Sanford.

Since Rodriguez began making the tables a year and a half ago, he has crafted about 100 of them, mostly for Hispanic clients.

The tile game of dominoes, which may have originated in China, is played all across the world in different varieties and is especially popular in Latin America. In Puerto Rico, dominoes is a favorite pastime, especially among older men.

Rodriguez crafts the portable tables in his garage at his home near Kissimmee. Each regulation-size table, which sells for $100, takes two to three days to make.

He builds them of plywood, cutting holes in the wood to hold players' drinks and adding folding metal legs.

The tables can be decorated to a customer's liking, with flags, emblems and scenery from Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries.

Those aren't the only decorating requests he gets. One client asked for a Florida Gator logo. Another wanted a picture of a Japanese geisha.

Julio Miranda stopped by La Casita Latina recently and was soon reminiscing about the countless games of dominoes his father played.

"It's like a social game," said Miranda, who doesn't play but nevertheless treasures the domino set that belonged to his father. "Everybody comes with their jokes and their miseries."

Some people are content to play dominoes at their kitchen table, but for others, that simply won't suffice. They buy or make their own tables.

"It's more comfortable," said Rodriguez, who plays the game once or twice a month. "You have a place to put your dominoes, and [there is] more ambiance."

Owning a table can speak volumes about a player and be a source of pride, said Tony Colon, who loves the game.

"It shows that you're a true-blue player," he said. "You take the game seriously."

Recently, he bought one of Rodriguez's tables for a buddy who lives up North. The friend never got the gift, but Colon is getting plenty of use out of it.

"I kept the domino table because I fell in love with it," Colon said, adding that he plans to buy another for his friend.

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