On civil rights tour, meeting Aaron a highlight
Anderson Monarchs get words of wisdom from legend at Turner Field
The Anderson Monarchs are likely to remember just about everything they witness during their three-week tour around the country, but it would be understandable if Tuesday's stop in Atlanta sticks in their memories more than the others.
Meeting one of the most famous players in Major League history, after all, isn't a privilege afforded to just anyone. And regardless of how many years have passed since Henry Aaron last played baseball, his name and his place in history resonate among all age groups.
The two parties -- Aaron and the eager kids who comprise the athletic youth group that is currently on a civil rights barnstorming tour -- met at Turner Field.
Aaron asked the kids about their travels, their baseball team and also their schooling.
"I know you guys are in school," Aaron said. "That is one of the most important things of your young career. That you make sure you put that No. 1 at the top. School. School."
It was a poignant snapshot: Aaron, who persevered in the face of racism as he pursued Babe Ruth's vaunted home run record more than 40 years ago, and a group of youngsters who are taking a trip through the cities that bear the most historic significance in terms of the civil rights movement.
So it would seem only fitting these kids -- seven of whom played for the 2014 Taney Little League team, including its most famous player, Mo'ne Davis -- would meet Aaron as part of this once-in-a-lifetime history lesson.
The kids had plenty of questions, all of which Aaron answered thoroughly and thoughtfully. When Zion Spearman asked Aaron about the hateful letters he received while pursuing Babe Ruth's home run record, Aaron made sure to point out that he heard from supporters, too.
"I got quite a few hate letters," Aaron said. "I don't dwell on those as much as I dwell on those that I got that were encouraging me to go ahead and do my thing. That overshadowed the hate mail. But I got quite a few hate letters."
Spearman, who wears No. 44 as a nod to his admiration for Aaron, was thrilled to meet his idol.
"I never thought that I would meet him," Spearman said. "It was nice that he had time in his schedule. He's so calm, telling us about his life, and how he persevered through all the things that happened. I want to be just like him."
For Steve Bandura, the Monarchs' program manager, meeting Aaron brought to life everything he and the kids have studied about baseball and American history. "For them to get a chance to meet him today was just unbelievable," Bandura said. "He was so nice to them. He really gets it. It fit right in with our tour. He grew up in Alabama, he grew up in the Jim Crow South. He ran into a lot of issues when he was about to break Babe Ruth's record, death threats and hate mail.
"He was chasing his dream and he was right on the verge of it and this is what he got. But the fact that he told the kids he wasn't focused on that, he focuses on the positive letters he got from people, it's such a great message. There were a lot of great messages today."
During their day-long trip to Atlanta, the Monarchs visited the home Dr. Martin Luther King lived in for the first 12 years of his life and Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he worshipped.
The group is also scheduled to visit the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., where four African-American girls lost their lives in a bombing on Sept. 15, 1963, and the Rosa Parks Library and Museum in Montgomery, Ala., where the "mother" of the civil rights movement is honored and remembered for her contributions.
The Monarchs, a youth group that plays at the Marian Anderson Recreational Center in Philadelphia, are on a 21-day, 19-city trip that will take them through the Deep South, Midwest and back to the Northeast.
The group, named after the famous Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues, is traveling on an authentic 1947 Flxible Clipper bus, styled after the buses the Negro Leagues teams rode during their travels more than a half-century ago.
The Monarchs are also set to play a Negro Leagues tribute game against the Willie Mays RBI team at Birmingham's Rickwood Field, the oldest ballpark in the country and one that was modeled after Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.