Player: Bobby Ortiz
Team: The Bronx Knights
When you talk about Stickball in the South Bronx, the name Bobby Ortiz will inevitably be mentioned. Now 55 years old and living in San Diego, Bobby was part of the best teams that the Bronx fielded in the '60s and '70s, all located around 156th street and Jackson Ave, Bronx's stickball center.
As a kid, Bobby looked up to the older guys on the block, a group called the Rockets. According to Bobby "At that time, the Rockets were more of a gang than a stickball team. They played stickball but weren't nearly as good as some of the other local teams, particularly the Knights, who were the best team around."
"The Rockets were an older style gang, not involved in drugs but more about protecting turf and their neighborhood. They provided us with cover," Bobby said. "Because of them, I never had to worry about joining any of the other gangs for protection. I came from a good family and they respected that I was doing well in school. They encouraged me. To me they were like family. Bouncer was like my older brother."
"Back then there were actually levels of stickball play. I formed a group called the Neptunes when I was 13 or 14. We would play kids from the same neighborhood, cause there was a stickball team on every block. You might say we were the junior league and played for mayber 10-20 dollars a game. After a couple of years I started playing with the Vikings, the guys who were 16/17. When I signed up with the Air Force in 1962 I got stationed up in Newburg NY and was able to come down and play stickball on weekends with the Vikings during most of my tour."
"When I returned it was clear that things had changed. The best team around, the Knights, broke up. The neighborhood was really getting messed up with drugs at that point, and many of the other teams were falling apart. Bouncer got some of the guys from the Rockets together with some guys from the Knights and created the Lucky Sevens. Just as the Knights had set the standard before, the Lucky Seven's became the new top team."
"I was invited to join primarily because of my defensive skills. I was one of the top outfielders around and could chase down some really tough shots. Defense had been a weak point for the Bronx teams and this had put them at a disadvantage against the Italian teams from Manhattan."
"I left New York and went to San Diego in 1975. In 1978 I found out that they were playing the first Stickball World Series. I heard about it on Wednesday and was able to fly in that weekend. It was great, like a big block party or homecoming and it started a tradition of people getting together from all over regularly. I kept going back to NY every year to play, but I didn't think we would have anything in San Diego."
"One year a gentleman in San Diego initiated a stickball variation that involved hitting by distance with no running bases. The following year, in honor of the Knights I made a team called the San Diego Knights. We played using these rules from 1988 - 1992 with the goal to developing a good team that could play in competitively against teams from other stickball centers like NY, Puerto Rico and Florida."
"We became the 'best in the west.' Last year, we started a stickball league and hosted a major Labor Day Stickball competition. San Diego is now on the Stickball map and the San Diego Knights will also be attending this year's Stickball World Series in Manhattan."
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