MLB Is Honoring Stickball’s Importance in Latino Communities As Part of Hispanic Heritage Month

Lead Photo: Richayo, 8, plays stickball in a field on August 18, 2003 in Consuelo, Dominican Republic. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Richayo, 8, plays stickball in a field on August 18, 2003 in Consuelo, Dominican Republic. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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Baseball and Latin America are inextricably linked throughout history, and MLB especially has benefited from the talents of Latino players. From Luis Manual Castro in 1902 to the stars of today–hi José Altuve–the major leagues wouldn’t be the spectacle that they are today without players hailing from Latin America. That’s why MLB is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15) with events throughout the country. The most intriguing of those involves stickball and it’s happening on Saturday, September 23 in front of one of the most famous cathedrals of the sport: Yankee Stadium.

In conjunction with the Yankees and leagues from around New York City, MLB will be hosting a stickball day for a handful of Bronx kids, with various events to celebrate America’s unofficial pickup game. Stickball–which is known by other names, such as “vitilla” in the Dominican Republic–has its roots in Native American and Mesoamerican cultures dating back hundreds of years, but it truly became popular in both Latin America and in Latino communities throughout the Northeastern United States around the turn of 20th century.

The sport is usually played with a rubber ball and a broom stick turned into a bat, although certain regions have different methods for making their bats; Boston communities sometimes used hockey sticks, while others use filled-in Wiffle ball bats. Most variations don’t have baserunning like baseball; rather, bases are awarded based on how far the ball travels, with home runs being given for hitting the ball onto rooftops, or for shattering windows at a far enough distance.

The MLB Stickball event is part of their “Play Ball” initiative, which aims to encourage kids to participate in baseball, softball, and activities related to either…like stickball. The Yankee Stadium event will teach kids basic skills, like how to field grounders and how to hit, before putting on what they’re calling an “instructional” game of stickball. Partnering with both the league and the Yankees is the New York Emperors Stickball League, a local Bronx league that plays on Sundays during the summer; you can read more about them in an ESPN profile about their so-called “Stickball Boulevard.