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Barnstorming Monarchs visit Yankee Stadium

Barnstorming Monarchs visit Yankee Stadium

NEW YORK -- Saturday afternoon, a different pinstripe-wearing team marched out to Yankee Stadium. They were quite a bit younger, and they all wore the same number on their jerseys. They had no announcer and carried no banners, but anyone within earshot of the Yankees' dugout knew exactly who they were.

"Monarchs this way," coach and founder Steve Bandura called out in his patient parent-like manner. "Monarchs back away from Granderson, he has a game to play. Monarchs, say thank you!"

The Anderson Monarchs are a team of inner-city kids from the Marian Anderson Recreation Center in Southern Philadelphia. This summer the team will "barnstorm" across the country in a 1947 Flxible Clipper bus just like the Negro League teams of old. Although they had a game scheduled against Harlem RBI that evening, they stopped to give Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson some face time. He'd watched the team's YouTube video and had a question for the crew.

"Does the bus have AC?" Granderson asked. "No" was the quick reply from the team, to the amusement of Yankees players. Granderson was impressed at the team's resilience.

"When I heard they got a great group of African American kids together to emulate what the Negro Leaguers did back in the day, to travel so many miles and play so many games, hopefully it'll bring a lot of attention around the game when we see the numbers of African Americans declining in the sport," Granderson said. "It's cool what they're doing."

Well, not literally.

The team was hot, sweaty, and tired from a long day on the road, but that didn't sullen their smiles as they marveled from the sidelines at Yankee Stadium. Their pinstriped No. 42 uniforms were an appropriate match for the occasion. Granderson added the Monarchs are a needed reminder about the impact of Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leagues.

"A lot of people have forgotten that the Negro Leagues not only opened the doors for the African American players, but for the Dominican players, the Cuban born players, the Puerto Rican players," Granderson said. "They couldn't play in the white-only league at the time. Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball and opened the doors for everybody."

That's exactly what Bandura wants his team to represent. The 51-year-old left his profitable sales and marketing career to create the predominantly-black team. They're the only team of their kind in their league, and Bandura is one of only a few white members. That's more of an afterthought for the 16-year recreational leader. It's all about trust.

"Kids can tell who's sincere. Who has got their back or not," Bandura said.

"I've been doing this for a long time; it doesn't take long for parents to see."

The parents like what they see. Although she admits she isn't much of a professional baseball fan, Yolanda Eaddy was almost as impressed as the Monarchs players on the Yankees' sidelines. That's good, since she'll be seeing a lot more stadiums after she meets the team in Chicago, follows the bus to Iowa, then meets them in Kansas City for All-Star weekend.

"I can't even express with words the joy that I feel for this team," Eaddy said. "For the [kids] to have this experience. It's such a huge deal. They'll never, ever forget it."

Bandura feels the same way, as his son also plays on the team. Bandura said having his son play for him strikes a chord for more than just the obvious reasons. He describes the diversity in the town he grew up in as "light blond hair and dark blond hair," and admits that earlier in his life he gave in to regional biases.

"When I got to college, I got into a world I really didn't know existed ... people didn't fit the stereotypes I had heard in my neighborhood," Bandura said. "Having strong opinions about something you have no exposure to. It's the epitome of ignorance."

Through the leagues Bandura has formed through the Philadelphia Youth Academy, he hopes to battle those stereotypes head on. With the numbers of African Americans in MLB dwindling to around 8 percent, baseball is Bandura's ground zero.

"With basketball and football, you can get away with starting later, athleticism can carry you until you learn more," Bandura said. "With baseball, there are too many skills you have to learn. You need repetition at a young age to be able to compete at a high level."

He added that leagues in suburban areas offer equipment, clinics and instructors inner-city players lack.

"When I think of all the Beethovens that never got to touch a piano, it's sad," Bandura said. "I try to provide opportunity where there otherwise wouldn't be."

He added meeting a two-time All-Star with Most Valuable Player talent might help push them to reach that potential. It also helps if that player looks just like them.

"The friendships they make, the leadership, the time management, goal-setting, and again how fun the game is," Granderson said. "Hopefully the tour helps show [African American kids] how fun the game is. Those long bus rides, they get to see exactly how the Minor Leagues are like."

Gary Cotton is an associate reporter for
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