Dominican Winter League rivals face off at Citi Field

The Dominican Winter League series between rivals Tigres of Licey and Aguilas de Cibaenas took place last Nov. 10-12. Above, Tigres de Licey players warming up on the field before the Friday night game. // Photo by Aaron Diaz/Long Island Advocate

By Aaron Diaz

Citi Field hosted the first-ever Dominican Winter League series between rivals Tigres of Licey and Aguilas de Cibaenas from Nov. 10-12 last year.

Many Dominican fans rushed to buy tickets after the three-game exhibition was announced in early June.

The rivalry stretches back to the creation of the Dominican Republic Professional Baseball League (Liga de Béisbol Profesional de la República Dominicana, or LIDOM, in Spanish) in 1955, nearly 70 years ago. Licey and Aguilas were the first two teams created in the league. Los Tigres originates from the capital, Santo Domingo, while Los Aguilas comes from the city of Santiago. Some consider the rivalry to be one of the biggest in baseball.

“Having my hometown team in New York City playing our rivals, Los Tigres del Licey, the only thing that gets close to it would be the Yankees and Boston,” said Aguilas fan Jose Azcona. “But I think this is better.”

For Major League Baseball, the World Series ends in late October or early November. But in the Dominican Republic, that’s when the winter league begins.

Fans from the far reaches of the Dominican Republic came to cheer their respective teams on at Citi Field, despite the chilly November weather. Some thought this was the only time a series like this might take place, especially with next year’s series having yet to be announced.

For all three games, the collective attendance was 90,900 fans. Game one attracted the least with about 25,233 fans. Games two and three accounted for 33,131 and 32,536 fans. These numbers broke the record for the most attended LIDOM game in its history.

Graph by Aaron Diaz/Long Island Advocate

Fans put their excitement to the test, starting on a frigid Friday night, Nov. 10. Aguilas pulled out a 3-0 win, and starting pitcher Ronnie Williams expressed how he felt pitching behind such an electric crowd.

“Man, it was amazing,” Williams said. “I’ve played in Korea and everywhere else, but the environment is just different. It was exciting, and the first time I could hear the fans was when I was on the mound. It’s always fun to play in front of a lot of people, and to do well is awesome, so it was exciting to get that experience.”

Saturday, Nov. 11, pulled in the biggest crowd of the series. The crowd roared even louder than the night before. Los Aguiluchos outnumbered Licey fans, especially on Saturday.

“I studied in Santiago in the Dominican Republic in college, and I used to go to the games,” said one Aguilas fan. “It was one of the greatest parts of me studying abroad there. This is a great idea because we loved watching the World Baseball Classic, and I’ve gone to games in the Dominican Republic, so I know there’s a different feeling and different energy, so I figured why not come and watch it on the biggest stage.”

But even though Aguilas fans outnumbered the Licey crowd throughout the weekend, Licey fans still came out to support their team.

A post-game news conference with former Mets player Jose Offerman, middle, and former Mets pitcher Hansel Robles, right. // Photo by Aaron Diaz/Long Island Advocate

The Dominican community and the baseball community turned out for the series and delivered on multiple fronts. Aguilas won the series and were crowned champions of the Titanes del Caribe series.

It is unknown if another series will take place between the rivals, but it is certain that the people of New York and the Dominican Republic will remember a weekend of baseball in New York during November.