Monarchs, the reunion stop

The players and coaches from the famous barnstorming tour are meeting up again 20 years later

Back in 1997, the Monarchs, a group of 10- and 11-year-old baseball players, boarded this 1947 bus for a 13-day journey.

Photos provided by the Anderson Monarchs

By Bill Gelman

Steve Bandura still remembers waking up one February morning, coming up with the idea to take a group of 10- and 11-year-old boys on a 13-day bus tour across the country, starting at Jackie Robinson’s gravesite in New York City. But 1997 wasn’t just another year, it happened to mark the 50th anniversary of the Hall-of- Famer breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier. His number 42 was retired in ballparks across the country.

The group Bandura was taking on this trip wasn’t just any team. They were the Anderson Monarchs, a baseball team completely made up of African American baseball players. Yes, this group of boys were breaking their own barriers around the City of Philadelphia. The mode of transportation ended up being a 1947 bus — the same one the Negro League teams used and their hero Robinson rode.

Twenty years later, the old team is get- ting back together for a reunion on Saturday, June 10 at Marian Anderson Recreation Center, 740 S. 17th St., — the place where the story began and where the current Monarch teams play.

“I didn’t realize it until early this year,” Bandura said of the anniversary. “Wow! It’s been 20 years.”

Former player Billy Canady, now 31, said it doesn’t seem that long ago,. He is now a father of two.

“It’s kind of surreal,” the resident of 22nd and Jackson streets said. “It’s awesome and mindblowing that something we did 20 years ago still has an impact today.”

The Journey Included stops in Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Iowa (home of the Field of Dreams) and Cooperstown, NY to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Monarchs played games, and visited sites including the Louisville Slugger Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Canady, who played shortstop, fondly recalls meeting The Wizard (not the Wizard of Oz). He is of course referring to former St. Louis Cardinal shortstop Ozzie Smith, who earned the nickname as a result of his defensive brilliance on the field.

“To meet him was like meeting Michael Jordan,” he said. “It’s something I will cherish forever.”

Raheem Mapp, who is now the director of men’s basketball operations at Temple University, said it’s crazy how quickly the last 10 years have flown by.

“I wish I could go back and be 10 years old again. It was a great time,” the former resident of 16th and Dickinson streets said.

“It was such a memorable trip. We did so many great things and visited great places.”

The trip took place long before the days of Facebook and Twitter, so bonding was a big part of the experience.

“I enjoyed being on the bus with the guys. We did a lot of joking with each other,” Mapp recalled.

“I remember when we got back home there were so many people there welcoming us back at Marian Anderson. It was like a small welcome back parade.”

There is no welcoming parade planned for Saturday, just a whole lot of bonding and catching up. Dion Williams will be coming in from Virginia. David Pough will not be joining his former teammates, as he is busy serving his country as a member of the Army. He is being deployed to Korea.

Today, there is a new generation of Monarchs, including the 5–7 in-house league. Players like Canady, Mapp, Pough, Williams and others set the tone for future generations. In other words, just as Robin- son did in ’47, the Monarchs set a new path for African American baseball players for years to come. The current group includes Canady’s 6-year-old son. “He has some big shoes to live up to,” the proud father said with a laugh. “He is start- ing to get it.”