May 24, 2004

MAY 24, 2004

Friends of Negro League Baseball:

This is the backcover story in the PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS for
5-25-04; please read it carefully and If you do nothing else this weekend for Memorial Day, remember the Leagues and the meaning of today's young people learning of that history. Contact coach Bandura and offer whatever help you can for this youth tour.
All info, including itinerary, can be found on their website:
You can also email Coach Bandura directly at:

Thanks for your help and cheers, Bob Allen***

Diverse team of lucky 13s on right road

For the Daily News

WHEN'S THE LAST time a Philadelphia baseball team covered 3,720 miles
in a stick-shift double-clutch bus, a bus built in 1947 when a toilet
and air conditioning were optional? Sixteen cities in 20 days? South to
Durham, N.C., west to the Iowa cornfields, north to Chicago's bleakest
neighborhood, east to the emerald pastures of Cooperstown, N.Y., and
then back home by way of Harlem?

If you guessed it might have been the Philadelphia Stars, a legendary
Negro League team, go to the head of the baseball history class. It's
about to happen again, this time a very different Philadelphia Stars
team: fifteen 13-year-old kids; five white; five African-American; five

Confucius said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with but a
single step. This odyssey began with a passionate dream of Steve
Bandura, program director at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center at
17th and Fitzwater. Bandura wanted to honor the hardscrabble
barnstorming of the Negro Leaguers, wanted kids to learn about
baseball, about each other, about diversity.

"There will be no video games on the bus," Bandura says firmly. "I want
them to look at the scenery, to look at America."

And when America looks back at them, it will see this diverse, handsome
squad, not one baseball cap worn backward, not a single shirttail
flapping, no shoelaces dangling. Nor will it hear profanity, trash talk
arrogant slang.

Bandura is a disciplinarian, not just a dreamer of impossible dreams;
Don Quixote with an aluminum fungo bat for a lance, jabbing at the
windmills of bigotry; riding a creaky old bus across the landscape,
trampling stereotypes along the way. Seven years ago he shepherded a
mostly black playground team called the Monarchs on a similar
barnstorming trip. That one honored the 50th anniversary of Jackie
Robinson integrating major league baseball. That was a younger team, on
a shorter journey (13 days, 2,000 miles), games being booked on the
fly. Same Flxible Clipper bus, the "e" missing, perhaps to make the bus
sound swifter.

That trip ended at Robinson's gravesite in Brooklyn. Bandura gave the
kids brand-new baseballs and asked them to write a message to be left
there. One kid wrote, "Thank you for changing my life."

"Robinson integrated major league baseball," Bandura says, "but Little
League remains segregated. And that's because neighborhoods in most
cities, including this one, remain segregated. Ignorance creates fear,
breeds intolerance. On this team the kids learn about other cultures,
other lifestyles."

Peter Capolino, president of Mitchell & Ness, bought the bus for
$25,000 and turned it over to Bandura. Outfits the kids in snazzy
uniforms. Each kid and coach gets a throwback jersey. Hence the name
"Throwback Tour."

"I was thinking of calling it 'A Little Exposure Goes a Long Way,' "
confesses Bandura, who chose a Dick Allen 1972 White Sox uniform as his
throwback jersey.

"Steve Bandura is a saint," Capolino gushes. "This man could have gone
on to a lucrative career in marketing, but chooses to work with kids
instead. That playground at 17th and Fitzwater is immaculate.

"You know, I never wanted to be in business. I always wanted to be a
school teacher. In 1970, when I got out of the Army, my father was not
in good health. I filled in at Mitchell & Ness for a short time...and I
never left.

"I always wanted to have some influence on children. We never had any
of our own. The business had been small and struggling for many years.
When it started to get successful the people buying my products were
young, urban kids from all over the city. I felt I should give back to
help youngsters find their way.

"Steve Bandura is probably living the life I wanted to live. He is
trying to unify people, to battle racial prejudices. He started in his
neighborhood playground and has expanded his horizons. This trip, for
these kids, will be like going to another planet. I think it will be a
pivotal moment in their lives, and I'd love to see other, bigger
businesses jump in to support it."

When the Stars made an early-season appearance at Citizens Bank Park,
along with survivors of the original Stars, Phillies Charities, Inc.,
handed over a $10,000 check. But Bandura is still about $20,000 short
of budget for the trip and is searching for a qualified bus driver.

We've established that he's a dreamer and a disciplinarian. Add
romantic to the mix, because he proposed to Robin Garland on the
pitcher's mound during a trip to Doubleday Field in Cooperstown.

"I took a team up there when they celebrated 'Pride and Passion' week,"
Bandura explains. "I had my pitcher fake an injury. I went out there
and then I waved for Robin to come out of the stands to check the kid
out. I proposed and we have it on videotape. It seemed like forever
before she said 'Yes!'"

Robin recalls: "I was totally floored. I had just been accepted to
study physical therapy at Jefferson Hospital and when the pitcher got
hurt, I thought, 'I'm not ready, I'm not ready.' Time stands still at
moments like that, and according to him it felt like hours before I

They have a 5-year-old daughter named Stephanie and a precocious
2-year-old boy named Scott. "Steve is compassionate, generous,
selfless, humble," says Robin. She likes that he decided to assemble
this roster of dissimilar players. "I wish we could have encompassed
more. I know he tried to reach out to the Asian community. The trip is
a great idea and the kids will get more from it 10 years from now.
Hopefully there will be a ripple effect. Exposure and education are the
best ways of breaking down barriers."

Assistant coach Bob Hopkins says winning games is a secondary aspect of
the trip. "Our goal is to show that diversity works," he says. "That's
the reason this team was put together. You can see how these kids
interact. Five minutes after they first got together, it was like they
were lifelong friends."

Shawn O'Neill is another assistant coach who has known Bandura for 5
years. "I coached against him with 8-year-olds," O'Neill says. "He
asked my son, Shawn, if he'd like to play on the Stars. It was a
no-brainer. You look at these kids, you wouldn't know they come from
different neighborhoods. They're like the best of friends."

John Bromley, another assistant, recalls competing against Bandura in a
softball league in the mid-1980s. "One year our team won the
championship and Steve's team finished second," he says. "He was the
only guy from his team to show up at the banquet. We're cut from
similar cloth and we still play hockey together.

"The one thing he's always stressed is racial diversity. We've got four
of my players from the Northeast on the team. I'm tired of the
knucklehead mentality that creates prejudice. The world is changing.
You get on board with it, or it passes you by. And Steve has been way
out in front.

"I've learned more baseball in the last 2 years, working with him, than
all the years I've been playing the game. You pay close attention every
game, you'll see something you've never seen before. I'm probably more
excited about the trip than the kids. We're going to get to see and
touch baseball history and that's a lifetime dream."

To recap, Bandura is strict, compassionate, idealistic. Add stubborn to
the mix. "It's a player-centric team," says one of the dads.

Bandura explains: "If there's a question about playing time, I'll talk
to the player. I will not talk to the parent about playing time.

"The kids are all different, different neighborhoods, different
lifestyles. And they defy stereotypes."

Tim Vernon lives in Fort Washington, goes to a mostly white school in a
mostly white neighborhood. Tony, his dad, is an executive with Johnson
& Johnson, who grew up celebrating Robin Roberts' birthday. Wears a
throwback Phillies windbreaker to games. Jean Vernon is a first-grade

Surely, there must be teams closer to home that would welcome Tim, a

"There's nothing that would offer Tim this kind of experience," Jean
says. "Living in the suburbs, going to an independent school, you're
not really seeing the whole picture. Tim feels blessed to be part of
this team."

Anthony Ortiz lives in the Northeast, the son of a retired policeman.
His mom, Leticia, is an elementary school nurse. "Steve has a wonderful
vision," she says, "and he's working hard to fulfill it. I'm not sure
the kids realize the opportunity they have here. It's an opportunity so
many kids can't even dream about.

"People should be culturally sensitive. Steve was before his time when
it came to that. We all have the same likes and dislikes. We all need a
roof over our heads, food in our bellies, clothes on our backs. People
fear what they don't know. This team gives the kids a chance to see
that other kids are not so different."

Rasheed Stewart lives within walking distance of the Anderson rec
center. His dad is a firefighter, his mom, Cherise, a human resources

"There's so much ignorance and prejudice out there," she sighs.
"Understanding needs to start when kids are young. We may all have
different cultures, but people are people. These kids get along great."

Not all the kids come from stable, two-parent homes. Bandura has
coached them for 5 years, thinks he knows them, hopes they will mature
into good citizens. "There is always the lure of the streets," he says

Meanwhile they hone their skills in indoor batting cages. There's a
weight room designed for 8- to 14-year-olds. There are Friday night
sessions devoted to learning baseball's history. They are the "Good
News Bears" and are counting the days until the magical trip begins.

They are eager to step out of Iowa's rustling corn at the Field of
Dreams, eager to see the ivy clinging to Wrigley Field's walls, eager
to watch them churn out baseball bats at the Louisville Slugger Museum,
eager to scan Mike Schmidt's plaque at the Hall of Fame.

Bandura requires each kid to keep a journal. He will keep one, too.

It is the quintessential feel-good story at a time when America is
achingly desperate for feel-good stories.

***Sender, Bob Allen, is director of another historical project, as described below, and has met you at a Negro Leagues function at some time in the past 3.5 years. Please help this worthy cause, the dream and project of Coach Bandura!
The Souls of Black Baseball
Voices from the Field of Dreams Deferred
An Oral History Project by Bob Allen

The year was 1952, and into a town in Missouri one late afternoon ventured a group of ballplayers from the Negro League team the Indianapolis Clowns. There for a ballgame, among the players was Ernie Nimmons, who for a time roomed with Hank Aaron. Ernie and the team were told the game was being delayed because of special goings-on in the town. Thinking they had wandered into the middle of some local festivities, they were shocked to eventually see a man who had just earlier been lynched, now being dragged through the streets at the end of a rope, behind a truck. Later that same day the Clowns played ball in this town, at a time and in a year many months after Jackie Robinson had "broken the color barrier" in US baseball.
This and many other stories, some tragic and sad, others side-splitting hilarious, are part of and emerging from an oral history project by Dr. Bob Allen, a free lance writer and researcher, and former teacher at the Pennsylvania State University. Allen's travel throughout the northeast in the last three years or so, and his intention to visit and interview on film every surviving player from the Negro Leagues, was based on a three part goal: to preserve, promote, and promulgate the history and stories of Negro League Baseball.
A detailed description of the project is available to all interested. In summarizing the project, Allen notes:

... without such histories being recorded, getting the actors to recall the play, and enabling future generations to see and understand the scene of the past "In time, we forget who we are." As players from the old baseball Negro Leagues probe the scars and remember the joys of their finest hours amidst the apartheid at the heart of the nation's pastime, this project will memorialize who they were so that we can better understand who we might be. Hopefully, it will make a special contribution to this important history of sport and American society; be of help and of use to veteran historians of the sport; and bring to life and keep alive the lessons and challenges we can all take up from this fascinating history.

For further information, enquiries, and suggested contacts to help Dr. Allen locate and interview players, or to provide needed support to continue the project, please be in touch with:

Bob Allen
1007 Golfview Ave. #24 814-237-9471
State College, Pa. 16801