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Stickball Won't Bounce Away
By Herky Cush
August 18, 2001
Sticking together. (PHOTO: PHELAN M. EBENHACK/ORLANDO SENTINEL)
Although some people may believe stickball is a dying art, Robert Pizarro is ready to tell anyone who will listen that the game is alive and well.
And the 42-year-old Oviedo resident has a team that is eager to show what the game is all about.
Pizarro was introduced to stickball by his late father, William. He said he has never been able to find a thrill as big as coming up with the big hit in the big game.
Pizarro has already begun passing the game down to his son, Mathew. As a result, non-Hispanic children are learning about stickball.
"Our son has already gotten the neighborhood children involved in the sport," said Pizarro's wife, Yolanda. Stickball is similar to baseball, except that the equipment often is improvised. A broom handle may substitute for a bat, a soft rubber ball for a baseball.
The passion with which Pizarro speaks of the game rivals -- no, make that exceeds -- his love of golf. But there is little chance golf will replace stickball.
The game lasts a little over an hour, according to Pizarro, with arguments being a major determining factor.
"It's not much of a game if there are no arguments," he said.
Pizarrotells how he and his brothers, Mark and Jeff, first began playing with their father.
"My dad got the nickname 'Bouncer' because of the way he pitched. My mother [Barbara] was the first female in the [stickball] Hall of Fame," Pizarro said. Pizarro said the balls used in the sport are injected with air to make them bouncier. There are as many variations of the sport as there are Spanish accents, and this has helped make the sport popular. "Some draw lines on the street to show where a double, triple or home run is hit," Pizarro said. "Others like to run bases. But the broom stick is about the same in every variety of the game."
For Pizarro, the most satisfying version of stickball involves the batter either bouncing the ball or tossing it into the air, and then giving it his best swat.
"You have to take a few steps and really get into it if you want to hit it far," Pizarro said. "One of the big things nowadays is running the bases," Pizarro said. "The really good teams are young and have guys who can run.
"We do allow for pinch runners once you get on base, and you do not have to come out of the game. We are looking for young players to help our team."
Next month, Pizarro and his team, the Florida Kings, will head to San Diego for a Labor Day tournament that is expected to draw 16 to 20 teams. Although some teams have sponsors, the Kings team is self supporting.
However, Pizarro's team did have a booth at the recent Latin Festival held at the fairgrounds in Orlando, where the team sold water, showed off its equipment and did a little recruiting. "Kids in Puerto Rico have a long heritage of playing stickball because of economics," Pizarro said. "It is easy to go and take mom's broom and use it for the bat, and someone always finds a ball of some sort. There are no gloves. Even today, no one uses gloves."
Next spring, Pizarro and his teammates plan to head to the Bronx for a tournament. He is hoping to have Orlando host a stickball tournament in 2002. Last year, the tournament was played in Cocoa Beach.
"Our tournament is going to be big, really big," Pizarro said. Though stickball is associated with Hispanics, Pizarro said the game is catching on with others.
"There is one team coming from Brooklyn that is made up entirely of Irish guys," Pizarro said. A former high school basketball player at Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, Pizarro has never given up his love of stickball.
"It is the game that every [Hispanic] kid plays for life," Pizarro said.