DESCRIPTION OF TEAM, TOUR . . .
The Stars, representing the Phila. Youth Organization and sponsored by the Mitchell & Ness Nostalgia Co., were comprised of 15 players from Philly: 5 African-Americans, 5 Latinos and 5 Caucasians. All are 13 years old.
Their barnstorming trip lasted from June 12 to July 1, and covered 3,700 miles. The group visited Baltimore, Richmond, Durham, Charlotte, Atlanta, Louisville, St. Louis, Kansas City, Dyersville (in Iowa, site of the "Field of Dreams" movie), Omaha, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Cooperstown and New York City.
The players visited historic sites, met legendary players and competed vs. teams in their age group. They traveled in a 1947 Clipper Bus, as did the Anderson Monarchs to honor the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking of baseball's color line.
The team was coached by Steve Bandura, coach and program director at the Marian Anderson Rec Center, in South Phila.
Tony Vernon, father of Tim, a catcher, offered to file reports on the Stars' journey.
Reports are published below.
Note: In the photos above, the names for Shawn
O'Neill and Bobby Hopkins are reversed.
Also reversed are the names for Kyle Levocz and Mike McGuoirk. We apologize for the
Reports Here . . .
FROM COOPERSTOWN TO HOME . . . The last three days
Stars arrived in Cooperstown to find their accommodations were the Beaver Valley
Campground, a very spartan collection of cabins located three miles from the Hall of Fame,
but in a virtual wilderness as far as the Team was concerned. For two nights, The
Stars really "roughed it," this spot made the truck stop/hotel in
Baltimore look like The Four Seasons. But, as bad as it was, there were many
"firsts" for the Stars at Beaver Valley:
-- their first Snipe hunts through the same forests where the Mohican Indians once roamed. Snipes were spotted, but none was captured. Definitely, the Rural Snipe Search tradition will live on though these City Stars.
-- the first fishing success for many. Coach Bromley, an accomplished angler and environmentalist, led a late night expedition. Many bluegills and one large bass got the humane society catch-and-release treatment.
-- their first close encounter with a black bear. On a late night walk, 5 players and Coach Bromley stared down a black bear and the Stars blinked first. A frightening run back to the cabins ensued including a second encounter when the bear doubled-back on the path. The Stars achieved team speed breakthroughs to reach the safety of the Cabin, but little sleep was had that night.
In Baseball action, the Coaches and Players faced off in the kind of grudge match that can only come as a result of 19 sweaty days in close quarters. In a fiercely contested 5 inning game, the Coaches (average age 45) upset the cocky young Stars (average age 13) 8-6. Coach Keith Brown trotted out 6 different Star pitchers in an attempt to quiet the Coaches potent bats. The Coaches were led by two ringers, Ian White and Jake Wilson (the Barnstorming Tour Team Managers), who lived up to their unsung hero status and provided the vitality the old men so desperately lacked. The young Stars took the loss real hard. Their finger pointing lasted, oh, maybe 5 minutes. The Coaches, of course, could barely walk the next morning.
The visit to the Hall of Fame was outstanding. The Stars were given another excellent behind-the-scenes look at "the glory of those times" including a very good classroom session on the Negro Leagues. The Hall of Fame's President also met with the team. Employees of the hall were very impressed by the Stars' knowledge of the history of baseball. Those 5 months of Friday night preparation and study at the Rec Center really showed, not to mention the fact that these same Stars had personally met with Buck O'Neill, Negro League Chairman, for 3 hours in Kansas City, 1500 miles and 8 days earlier.
After touring all the exhibits, The Stars then did their now-ritualized souvenir shopping. It's fair to say that the GNP of all Professional Baseball has improved significantly due to Star Player and Coaches purchases.....
The Beaver Valley Campground experience was summed up best by Coach Bob Hopkins, "Never again will I stay at a place where I need a flashlight to get to the bathroom, pay 25 cents for a 6 minute shower, and have to dry off with a tee shirt...."
The bus ride to New York was made very long by the 4:30am wake-up call in Cooperstown. This schedule allowed the team to get to Yankee stadium for an 11 am private tour. The tour highlights were the Yankee Clubhouse and Monuments. While it's hard for a jaded Yankee-hater to write these words, Yankee pride and professionalism is more than just the pinstripes. Untll you see the Memorials in centerfield, the forever-empty Thurman Munson locker, the locker locations that pass down from Gehrig to DiMaggio to Mantle to Mattingly to Bernie Williams...well, let's just say it's hard to love baseball history and not acknowledge the Yankees' lofty place in it.
From Yankee Stadium, we drove through what seemed like all 5 Boroughs to get to Riverside Cemetary, Jackie Robinson's gravesite. Each Star took a new baseball and wrote a note to Jackie, and left the ball at the grave.This was an incredible moment for all the Stars. They have a deep sense of what Jackie meant to Baseball and American History and their reverence and respect at the gravesite was moving. Lots of media coverage here and a great article and pictures from Shannon Ryan and Eric Mencher of The Inquirer. (do a Google search on The Philadelphia Stars and see how the pros described The Tour)...
The Stars last game of the Tour was on a beautiful night on Randall's Island versus Harlem's 15 year-old RBI team. With East River barge traffic seemingly flowing right through Right Field and the LaGuardia Airport flight pattern directly over the pitchers mound, the well-travelled Stars squad shed their bus-lag to end their journey in first class fashion. "Showtime" O'Neill and "Hurricane" Rohena combined on the mound to quell the hungry Harlem hitters. The Stars continued the torrid hitting that marked the last half of the trip. Nine clutch hits plated nine runs. In the second, "Lightning" Hopkins and "Pudge" Vernon had RBI singles as the Stars jumped out to a 2-1 lead. In the third, the Stars knocked out the Harlem pitcher as "Human Highlight Reel" Wilson, "Rajah" Stewart, and "Big Smooth" Levocz all had RBI Singles. The big blow of the inning was a "Hurricane" Rohena 2-run homer that is still rolling on The Triboro Bridge. The Stars also had clutch hits from "Kid Dynomite" Ortiz, "El Guapo" Santiago, "Big Mac" McGuoirk, "Macho" Rivera and "Big John" Etheridge. Star defense was again led by "Little Train" Walker, who made dozens of tough plays look routine on this trip. Gio "Clemente" Morales again provided a huge spark, playing in front of the large New York Morales clan. The Stars were playing without their most consistent outfielder, "K-Dog" Brown, who has been sidelined since the Detroit game by a fractured finger incurred on a diving catch. The 9-7 win means The Stars are 13-1 for the Tour, a remarkable performance from a Team that spent over 120 hours over 20 days on a 1947 Bus.
The last stop on the Tour was a visit to The Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, NJ. Yogi has lived in Montclair for 40 years and the Museum does a great job of giving this amazing, humble guy his due. You can't help but be inspired by the story of this undersized, funny-looking man who went on to be a beloved Hall of Famer and the player with more World Series Championship rings than any other in history.
The last leg of The Stars Tour will never be forgotten. The drive down the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpikes and then 95, roads we all travel often, will never be routine again....lots of random, deep thoughts and memories....4500 miles, 500 of them cause we got lost....20 days, we missed family and wanted to get home, but please don't tell us we will never do this again......all those Friday nights of training and learning, worth every second.....now really know what MLK Jr went through.... played in Leon Day's Park, Cool Papa Bell's and Satchel Paige's...saw Griffey's 500th..... won 13 out of 14, not counting the Coaches wins in halfball and smallball....rolled on the grass at the Field of Dreams...... Dei Lynam, Scott Palmer, Garry Cobb, Frank Fitzpatrick, Stan Hochman, Ted Silary, Shannon Ryan, The Phillies and Mitchell and Ness, all thanking us..... toured Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium, bet at Churchill Downs (coaches only), saw bats made in Louisville.....saw Babe's Museum and Yogi's and the guy's in the Baltimore Basement that was just as good.... learned that kids and coaches, bus drivers and mechanic, can make fast, lifelong friendships....but most of all, as Harold Gould (of the original Philadelphia Stars who started the Tour with the team and met us at the finish) described it: "These kids have meant so much to me, because at 13 they are learning the answer to life's greatest question: Why should the color of a man's skin, or where he was born and raised, make any difference in how he is judged? That's a crazy notion, isnt it? And they get to learn all this at 13, playin' baseball together...The Philadelphia Stars"
EN ROUTE TO COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. . . . DAY 16
After taking in a Sunday
afternoon game at Jacobs Field between the Tribe (that's the Indians to you
non-Clevelanders) and the Colorado Rockies, the Stars travelled to Garfield Park in
Mentor, outside of Cleveland, to take on a local AAA Squad, the Mentor Red Sox (Mentor is
the birthplace of President James Garfield). The Team was joined by Negro
Leaguer Ernie Nimmons who played for the Indianapolis Clowns. Ernie
regaled us with great stories of long ago. He was a 22 year-old 1st baseman/outfielder,
who batted 5th in the Clowns' Lineup in 1952. The #4 hitter that year was a skinny 17
yr-old who Ernie nicknamed "Pork Chop" because that was the only meal this
rookie would eat on the road. That Rookie, Henry Aaron, hit only 3 homers
The Stars started slowly in this game and were trailing 2-1 and 4-3 after the 1st and 2nd innings, as the local Mentor squad looked sharp. But, suddenly the Stars burned bright. Who knows what causes seemingly exhausted 13 yr-olds to suddenly look like the '27 Yankees?? It could have been the 20 Large Pizzas the Stars saw being delivered in the top of the 3rd, combined with the knowledge that the "mercy rule" ends the game after 5 innings. Whatever the reason, The Stars Shown this night. In the top of the 3rd, The Stars sent 13 to the plate, scoring 8, on 8 hits, 3 of them extra bases. In the 4th, they batted around again. By the time this one ended, The Stars had a 17-4 win, on 20 hits. John Etheridge had 3 monster doubles. Tito Rohena had a single, double and triple. Kyle Levozc also had 3 hits, giving Kyle 5 consecutive hits in the last two games. Notably, Kyle attributes this streak to a key adjustment he made during the Chicago game. In the midst of a 3 game slump, he inserted his "magical cup" and he is convinced that this "equiptment change" is what turned him around. Okay Kyle, whatever works and to each his own.....Alex Wilson, Bobby Hopkins and Chris Rivera each had two hit games. Brian Santiago, Rasheed Stewart, and Keith Brown also destroyed Mentor pitching as Stars RBI breakdowns were too numerous to mention (meaning, I lost track). Rohena and Hopkins handled the pitching masterfully as the Locals lost all punch after the second inning. The Stars are now 11-1 as the saddle up for the 9 hour ride to Cooperstown.
A few "beyond the lines" notes: The Mentor Comfort Inn has moved to the top of the Barnstorming Tour rankings. A great hotel surrounded by every possible restaurant option, including a Hooters in the same parking lot....with Mrs.Vernon now chaperoning the last leg of the Tour, the Coaches were given a rare, late-night pass, so, at 10:45pm, 6 middle-aged men took the short walk to the aforementioned establishment....and yep, we closed Hooters...15 minutes later, at 11pm!! Sunday nights, Hooters closes early. We ended up at a 24-hour Denny's.
As I write this report, we are on the long, long drive to Cooperstown. The boys have handled these drives beautifully. Some are voracious readers, some are great storytellers (various versions of the "coaches night out" are making the rounds), some have absorbed Steve's lessons of 5 card draw and are honing their newfound skills. One Star, John Etheridge, spends lots of time on his cell phone. Recently, John asked, "What does it mean when the phone always shows 'roaming'?"....We hope all those calls are to John's Mom....
We arrive late Monday night and don't play again until midday Tuesday, so plenty of time to see the Hall of Fame.
DETROIT, Mich. -- DAY 15
After a 6-hour bus ride from Chicago to
Detroit, The Stars faced off against the Motor City All Stars, a 13-15 year old RBI Team
from Detroit. Playing on the Manz Park Field in Detroit where Steve Garvey
and John Mayberry once dominated, The Stars made Motor City look more
like Horse and Buggy. The final was 13-6 Stars, but the game was over by the
third with the Stars up 12-1.
Stars bats came alive this day, with Timmy Vernon, Mike McGuoirk, Giovanni Morales and Kyle Levocz all recording mult-hit/multi rbi games. The mound work was handled by Vernon and Levocz, and the Stars defense was led by Ryan Walker who gunned down Motor City runners from Centerfield and from behind the plate.
With the win the Stars go to 10 and 1 for the Tour. Following the game, the Stars attended the Detroit Tigers vs Arizona Diamondbacks game at CoMerica Park. This 2 year old stadium gets the award for the best ballpark of the Tour (excluding Wrigley Field because it's incomparable). Nice downtown setting, no bad seats, quirky outfield dimensions, great food and friendly midwesterners all interested in the Stars and their travels. A great night.
We also stayed at our best Comfort Inn to date. The Team has learned a lot about low priced hotels. We have seen the best and worst in our 14 stops and a travel guide publication is in the offing. The real learning is that hotels are often franchisee owned, meaning you get great individual owners and you get absentee landlords. Our 13 year-olds really have it all figured out. They can tell you as soon as we walk in the lobby whether the breakfast will be edible, the showers will work and just how welcome a contingent of 30 tired Philly natives will be. So far, Detroit, Dyersville and Kansas City are leading the Hotel ratings. One criteria that is unique to this Team is whether or not there is a good spot for stickball.
Next stop is Cleveland. Game plans include and Indians game at Jacobs Field and another Stars contest at night.
CHICAGO, Ill. -- Day 14
The Stars arrived at 39th and Cottage Grove on Chicago's
Southside to play a the 15 year-old RBI Team sponsored by the Sox and Cubs. Six blocks
away the Goodyear Blimp hovered over White Sox Park as the Sox hosted the Cubs in
interleague play. It was a gorgeous night on Chicago's Lakefront and while the Stars were
clearly exhausted from their most intense 2-day period of travel yet, they couldn't help
but get excited by the setting and a raucous home crowd.
Add to that, the Stars had their most consistent and efficient pitcher on the mound in Bobby Hopkins, and you have a recipe for great baseball. Bobby did not disappoint as his line for 4 innings of work was 4 hits, 4 K, 1 BB, 1 run. The potent and large Chitown squad could not figure Bobby out and but for a hit batsman who eventually came around to score in the 4th, Bob was Maddux-like.
At bat, The Stars pounced on Chicago in the first, shocking the large partisan crowd into (temporary) silence. Alex Wilson walked to lead-off, then John Etheridge and Mike McGuoirk hit solid singles, with Wilson scoring.
With two on and one out, Timmy "Pudge" Vernon launched a rocket to deep left and his double scored two more. The shockwave continued as Keith Brown then singled home Vernon. As Chicago heads hung low, Keith capitalized, stealing second, and in his attempt to steal 3rd, the Chicago Catcher overthrew the bag and Keith raced home with the Stars 5th run.
The Chicago squad was talented and started to jell late. With Shawn "Showtime" O'Neill in relief of Hopkins, the game became tense. The Stars were tiring and it showed. Three big errors in the 5th led to one Chicago run, and it could have been worse but for Sean striking out two and a great 8-6-5 (Brown-Walker-Levocz) relay to nail a Chicago runner at 3rd.
In the 6th, with the score 5-2, the Stars were on the ropes as the first two Chicago hitters got on. With the tying run at the plate, and the Crowd on its feet, O'Neill had to dig deep. Shawn was superb and lived up to his nickname as he K'ed the next three Chicago hitters, mixing his curve and fastball to perfection. In the 7th, with their momentum stopped, the meat of the Chicago order went down meekly and The Stars had a hardfought 5-2 win. With their record now a gaudy 9-1, the spent but satisfied Stars were treated to Chicago Pizza. At the postgame handshake, one Chicago player gave them a great tribute:
"You guys come all the way from Philly on that old bus, and kick our butts!"....
Saturday's schedule calls for a 6 hour drive to Detroit and a 4pm matchup versus the strong Motor City All-Stars. No rest for the weary.
OMAHA/DYERSVILLE/CHICAGO -- Day 13
In a whirlwind 48 hour segment of the Tour, the Stars: 1)
saw a College World Series semifinal game in Omaha, 2) drove 3 hours that same night to
sleep in Des Moines (arriving at 1 AM), 3) woke at 8 and drove 5 hours to Dyersville,
Field of Dreams, 4) played on the legendary diamond for 4 hours, 5) slept that night in
Dyersville and then drove 5 hours to Chicago, 6) went on a private tour of Wrigley Field,
and 7) drove down the Lakefront to face the 15 year old Chicago RBI Team.....Whew!
The afternoon spent on the Field of Dreams was another Tour Highlight. Frank Fitzpatrick of the Inquirer did a great story on it (go to Philly.com and get it) so I can't add much but......it was a joyful afternoon of baseball. Steve Bandura threw 2 hours of BP for the Team, coaches, brothers, friends, and for dozens of other visitors, (ages 3 to 73), all there to visit this shrine ....."this field, this game that reminds of all that once was good, and, that could be again."..... (James Earl Jones, Field of Dreams)......Then, after all the tourists had left, the Stars took over the Field, picked teams the old way, and played three glorious innings. The looks of sheer joy on their faces as they played just for the love of the game...you shoulda been there.
The drive to Chicago was the prettiest of the Trip. We crossed the "Big Muddy"-Mark Twain's description of The Mississippi River -and travelled through the beautiful old towns of Galena (home of U.S. Grant) and Elizabeth, where American Flags flew in front of every home. The bus was very still as every Star was studying the countryside. You could almost hear them thinking "I want to remember this"....
The visit to Wrigley Field was also a treat. We got a great tour and history of Baseball's best and oldest ballpark. Fittingly, The Stars wore their Throwback jerseys and the pictures on the Field and in the dugout will be great ones.
OMAHA, Neb. -- Day 12
The Stars arrived in Omaha
after the short (140 mile) bus ride from Kansas City. The Stars have become veteran
bus riders and their complaints have dwindled considerably. The only revolts
we have now occur when we pass a newly fertilized farm. Let's just say The Stars have a
great appreciation for the power of manure.
When we arrived at the pristine baseball field in Omaha, we were welcomed with a big picnic barbecue prepared by the Opposition's Moms. It included the first fruit of any kind we have eaten on the Trip (so much for fears of returning home with a Scurvy-racked ballclub).
The AAU Team we faced were the the Nationally Ranked Omaha Gladiators. They entered the game 44-11 on the year with multiple tournament wins and lots of frequent flyer miles. This was definitely the biggest test of the Tour.
In a gripping and well-played game in which both teams combined for only 10 total hits, John Etheridge and Ryan Walker came up huge to lead the Stars to a 4-1 win. John threw a gem. His line was 7 IP, 5 hits, 1 run (unearned), 3 K and 1 BB, 82 total pitchcount. Ryan Walker was the hittng Star of the game. At 80 pounds and 4'10" tall, Ryan played David to The Gladiator's 6'1" pitcher, Goliath, as he smote an RBI double over the leftfielder's head to score 2 in the 2nd. Ryan also singled in the 4th, accounting for two of the Stars' 5 hits on the day. To top it off, Ryan tied the major league record for putouts in an inning, catching 3 popups in the 3rd. The Stars' defense was again exceptional. After the game, the Gladiators' Coach called John Etheridge the best pitcher they had faced all year. He also said the Stars were the most fundamentally sound defensive team they'd faced, a tribute to Coaches Bandura, Bromley, Morales, O'Neill and Hopkins. The Stars are now 8-1 on the Tour as they head to Iowa.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Days 10-11
Coming off the high of the Negro League Museum
visit with Buck O'Neil (see below), the Stars were pumped to play at Satchel
Paige Memorial Stadium on a gorgeous day in downtown Kansas City.
A long pre-game warmup was needed as the Kansas City press corps turned out en force to hear the story of the Barnstorming Tour. Rasheed Stewart, Tito Rohena, Anthony Ortiz and Gio Morales got big "pub" on KCTV, in the Kansas City Star Newspaper, and in the Philly Inquirer today. The Stars are taking all this attention in stride. In fact, they continue to be donright humble and awed by this once in a lifetime experience.
The video and pctures that tell the best stories are the ones that chronicle the spontaneous stickball and halfball games that take place many nights in the hotel parking lot (the Coaches dominate in halfball, although I've seen some interesting Coaches rulings based on arcane 1960's Northeast Philly precedent).
Today, the Stars faced a Kansas City All-Star Team from the RBI (reviving baseball in the inner-city) program. With Kyle Levocz shuting down KC, the Stars put up 4 runs in both the 2nd and 3rd innings to eliminate any doubt in the outcome. Gio Morales and Keith Brown both had clutch singles scoring 2. Alex Wilson, Ryan Walker and and Anthony Ortiz also had RBIs. Kyle was very effecive on the mound with a line of 5 IP, 4 H, 5 K, 0 BB, 1 R. Of late, the Stars pitching and fielding has been superb. At the plate, they have benefitted greatly from the average of 10 bases on balls. The Stars now carry a 7-1 record, the only blemish being the extra inning loss to Atlanta.
To end an incredible day, the Stars attended the Royals-Tigers game. Tomorrow's plan is to rise early, and bus 4 hours to Omaha, Nebraska for a game with a nationally ranked AAU squad, and then attend a College World Series game at night.
As the Stars reached the halfway point of the
Barnstorming Tour, they had their greatest experience to date. On their visit to the Negro
League Museum in Kansas City, they were met by Buck O'Neil, the 92 year
old Negro League Legend, immortalized in Ken Burn's PBS series "Baseball.".
Buck spent the entire 3 hour tour captivating the Team, with stories, lessons and
parables on life in the Negro League. Buck was joined by two other Negro Leaguers, Bert
Simmons (who was with us on our Baltimore stop) and Herb Simpson,
a pitcher/outfielder 1942-51).
For History and Baseball lovers, The Negro League Museum is the equal of The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown-and in many ways more impactful-because the League's birth, heyday and deciline are so directly tied to the history of Race Relations in the USA. As the Stars walked through the museum, they got to hear and see the incredible Negro League saga through the news clips videos, songs and the oral histories of the old ballplayers walking with them.
Their stories were filled with the joy and wonder of long-ago games; the travels and friendships of their youth. But, you also couldn't help but hear the pride, passion and yearning in their voices as they spoke about the their fight for respect and recognition; for what they achieved and their legacy to Baseball, and American History.
Did you know...
--- there are only 200 Negro League Ballplayers still alive.
--- From 1930-50, the Negro Leagues were the 3rd-largest African-American owned business in the USA.
--- 40% of Negro League players had a College Education vs. 5% of white Major Leaguers.
This stop on the Tour really had a huge impact on our Team. Buck O'Neil kept thanking the Team for celebrating the Negro Leagues and diversity through the Barnstorming Tour. Imagine being a 13 year-old from Philly and having Buck O'Neil thanking you...
Buck O'Neil on Jackie Robinson:
"Jackie was only the 4th or 5th best player on his Kansas City Monarchs Team when Branch Rickey picked him to integrate Baseball. Could he play? Oh, my yes, Jackie could play. But, Mr. Rickey chose him more because of the man Jackie was. A UCLA College Man, a 4 sport athlete, a WWII Veteran, a good husband and father. He knew Jackie had the Character."
ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- Day 9
After a 5 hour trip from Louisville to St. Louis, the Stars
bus unloaded to within 20 feet of the Busch Stadium entrance. It was Lou Brock
Bobblehead Day with the Cardinals facing the Reds. Ken Griffey's lifetime
homer total stood at 499, and the sellout crowd of 45,000 included Stars Players and
Coaches, all primed to see history being made. Griffey didn't dissapoint as he hit a bomb
to the upper deck in rightfield. The Cardinals crowd gave him a lengthy standing ovation
and fittingly, on Fathers Day, Ken Jr. climbed into third base stands for a bearhug from Ken
Sr. The Stars then travelled to Cool Papa Bell Park in St.
Louis for an early evening game with the St. Louis Panthers, a good AAU squad.
The Stars sent Bob Hopkins to the mound and, on a day when Stars Bats were less than State of the Art, Bobby threw a Masterpiece, painting the corners with his curvball and changeup. The Hopkins line for the game was 7 innings, 3 hits, 0 runs, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts, and a pitch count of 74. A huge outing, especially given the pitching demands on a 16-games-in-20-days schedule. The Stars defense was the best of the trip with no errors and a key 6-4-3 double play in the 2nd inning, the only time the Panthers threatened.
The Stars' line was 4 runs on 6 hits with the biggest blow coming on a John Etheridge double in the 7th to score 2. Rasheed Stuart and Alex Wilson also picked up RBI by putting the ball in play with runners in scoring position.
The shutout was completed in 1 hour and 44 minutes, giving the Stars a 6-1 record for the trip to date and their first full night's sleep in a week.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Day 8
Sunday was no day of rest for the Stars as the schedule
included a 4 hour bus ride, a visit to Churchill Downs to see a horse race, a stop at the
Louisville Slugger Museum and a night game versus the Louisville Brewers.
The Churchill Downs stop was an eye-opener for the Stars and may explain why Coach Bandura decided to teach the Club all forms of Poker and Blackjack that day on the Bus. Yes, this is a Baseball Tour, but there is no better way to teach the evils of gambling than having the boys experience the addictive elements in a controlled, supervised setting (Just Kidding! I just wanted to make sure the Moms were reading...)
The Louisville Slugger Museum stop came in handy as the Stars switched to wood bats for their game versus the local Brewers squad, who were young and overmatched. The game was played on 75 foot bases and with a 200 ft outfield fence and the Stars exploded. We stopped keeping score early. Kyle Levocz hit a grand slam that cleared the fence by about 100 ft. All other Stars raised their batting averages considerably.
The game was followed by a KFC (it tastes the same in Kentucky) picnic with the Louisville Locals. Thankfully, this broke the 7 consecutive nights of Dominoes Pizza streak.
The greatest part of this trip is watching the Stars interact with the opposing teams in these postgame picnics. We have yet to play another integrated team, so just seeing the camaraderie and brotherhood of The Stars really has an impact.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Day 7
The 6-hour Atlanta-Nashville Bus trip
included the obligatory Bus Breakdown, just 15 minutes to make some kind of fan
adjustment. The unsung hero of this trip is Tom Murphy, the PHD Mechanic
that travels with our 1947 Bus. We also have two great bus drivers, Tony DeMartino
and Mary Dyer. Without their patience and perseverence, this Tour would
have been a short one. Luckily, Tom, Tony and Mary are also big baseball fans.
The Stars faced a tough Wilson Wildcats squad, a Nashville based AAU Team. With crafty lefty Shawn O'Neill throwing strikes, and backed by strong defense, The Stars broke open a tight 7-6 battle in the 6th inning with 6 runs to win going away.
Tito Rohena and Kyle Levocz delivered clutch hits and also scored 3 and 2 runs, respectively.
Besides pitching a fine game, O'Neill also singled and scored twice.
Following the game, the Stars made it to the Nashville Sound minor league game in just enough time to see the postgame fireworks.
ATLANTA, Ga. -- June 17
After a memorable visit to the Martin Luther King Jr.
Memorial Park, the Stars were greeted with on-field introductions at the Braves-Royals
game. The Stars then geared up to face Atlanta's Cresheim Valley Cobras, a highly touted
local AAU Team (coached by a Mt. Airy transplant, thus the Cresheim Valley
monicker). This game sizzled throughout, as the Stars refused to wilt on a 96-degree
Atlanta summer night. The game featured five close plays at the plate, a hotly debated
umpires judgement call and the first extra innings of the Tour.
Through the 4th, the Cobras held a 5-1 lead despite Tito Rohena's solid game on the mound. Three early Stars errors gave the potent Cobra offense too many extra at-bats. Make no mistake, Southern weather and lots of at bats make for better bat speed up and down the lineup. For the Stars, only Shawn O'Neill and Alex Wilson had singles, with Alex picking up an RBI in the 2nd inning.
In the 5th, The Cobras scored following a walk, 2 stolen bases and a sacrifice fly. The Stars responded with 2 when, after Anthony "Kid Dynomite" Ortiz doubled and an Alex Wilson fielder's choice, Kyle Levocz drove them both home with a clutch single. 5-3 Cobras through 5.
It stayed that way until the 7th when the Cobras picked up one on a walk, two stolen bases and a sacrifice fly. The Stars faced their last frame down 3, and they clawed their way back. After a Ryan Walker walk, Anthony Ortiz worked the Cobras closer through an epic 13-pitch at bat, finally walking, and rattling the Cobras in the process. Two more walks followed, scoring 1. Stars still down 6-4. With two outs, the bases loaded, a 3-2 count and the runners moving, Mike McGuoirk grounded to short for the apparent game-ender, but the ball rolled through the Cobra shortstop's legs and 2 Stars scored on the play to tie it at 6.
Regulation ended tied at 6, but the Cobras didn't waste any time putting up 3 more in the 8th to take what looked like an insurmountable 9-6 lead. But, the Stars wouldn't quit and coaxed three walks quickly. With the sacks full and 1 out, "Kid Dyno" Ortiz popped one into short left. It fell softly to the turf in no man's land in front of the diving Cobra left fielder....2 runs scoring. But, the base umpire had called infield fly and Ortiz was out and only one run was allowed to score. A ten minute discussion ensued covering everything from Abner Doubleday's original intentions to the lineage of the field ump, but in the end, the call stood and the score was 9-7 Cobras with two out, Stars runners on second and third (versus what could have been a 9-8 score, one out, runners at first and third). Alex Wilson lined out to first to end the game and the Stars had taken their first loss of the trip against three wins.
Definitely, this game will be remembered. Tito Rohena and John Etheridge (throwing smoke in relief of Tito)had huge games on the mound and Anthony Ortiz earned his nickname at bat. Ryan Walker was fearless at short, nailing two runners at home as the Coaches yelled for him to take the easy outs at first. The Stars pushed a bigger, more talented team to a virtual draw, and by showing resiliance and class, earned a lot of respect.
As they trudged to their bus at the end of day 5, The 15 Stars appeared spent but satisfied, 1000 miles into the deep south, with a growing understanding that what they were doing wasn't just about baseball..... Friday's destination is Nashville, 6 hours by bus.
STILL IN NORTH CAROLINA -- June 15
In the last 24 hours, the Philly Stars have
toured Duke University, visited the headquarters of Baseball America Magazine and attended
Minor League Baseball Games at the homeparks of the Durham Bulls and the Charlotte
Knights, both Triple A Teams. Whew!
The Duke visit included some quiet time in the Duke Chapel (one of the Stars pointed out that the Bible is really just a Baseball Book because it opens with "In the Big inning"...). We then headed to Duke's Cameron Arena; no sign of Coach K but stiill awe-inspiring. The Team then met with Coach Yurkow of Duke Baseball who emphasized the importance of "hitting the books," especially for any athlete hoping to play Sports in College.
The two minor league games included some quality time with players as they warmed up (Durham) and introductions of the Team on the field (Charlotte).
After a 5 hour bus ride to Atlanta on a 97 degree day (no AC on the 1947 bus!), the boys got some quality time in the hotel pool. Thursday's schedule includes a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, on-field introductions at the Braves game and The Stars versus an Atlanta All-Star Squad at night.
DURHAM, N.C. -- June 14
The Stars traveled 130 miles on the third leg of their
day to Durham, NC for a game with the Durham All-Stars. This game was
played in the original Durham Bulls minor league park (also the set of
the movie Bull Durham) on a beautiful, muggy night under the lights. The
Stars went 3-up/3-down in the first. The Durham Team then loaded the
bases in their half against The Stars fireballing righty John Etheridge
(attending La Salle this fall). John struggled with his control but
still managed to pitch his way out of the jam by striking out two and
benefitting from a nice 2-4-2 exchange from Catcher Chris Rivera to
second baseman Bobby Hopkins and back to Rivera for the tag at home as
all 3 Durham baserunners tried to advance on a passed ball.
In the Stars half of the second, Mike McGuoirk singled in Tito
Rohena, who had walked and stolen 2nd. In the home half, Etheridge's
wildness caught up with him as he walked three Durham batsman after
giving up a single to start the inning. Coach Bandura immediately went
to the bullpen for lefty Sean "Showtime" O'Neil. Sean didn't disappoint
as he induced a nifty 1-2-3 double play on his first pitch and then
struck out the next man to limit the damage to one Durham run.
With the score knotted at 1, the Durham Club put up 4 in the 3rd.
Sean Spicer clubbed a long triple to center and 2 singles spaced among 3
batters hit-by-pitch led to 4 Durham runs.
Trailing 7-1, The Stars bats were silent until the 5th when they
erupted, sending 15 batters to the plate and scoring 10. The Stars 7
hits during the inning included 2 by Bobby Hopkins (2 RBI) and a
double by Mike McGuoirk (2 RBI). The Durham Team came unglued as the
Stars ran the bases with a lot of pent-up aggression, as though they'd
been sitting on a bus all day.....the inning ended with the Stars
The Stars put up 7 more in the 6th, sending 12 batters to the plate.
Durham was down 18-7 entering their final frame and with a large vocal
home crowd urging them on, scored 5 runs on solid hits to close the gap
to 18-12. The soring ended there and the stars posted their 3rd
consecutive win. Multiple hit games came from Kyle Levocz (3 for 5, 4
rbi's), and Bobby Hopkins (2 for 3, 3 rbi's). Timmy Vernon got the win
with three solid innings in relief.
This one will be remebered for a long time for the stirring Stars
comeback in front of a raucous Durham home crowd on a beautiful southern
summer night. It doesn't get any better....Next stop for the Stars is a
tour of Duke University.
RICHMOND, Va. -- June 13
After a visit to the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore and a local Negro League Collector's home, the Stars made the 3 hour drive from Baltimore to Richmond to play one of the Richmond RBI (Reviving Baseball in The Inner City) teams. With Anthony Ortiz in complete control on the mound for the Stars, Richmond's bats made less noise than the Cicadas in Philly. Ortiz scattered 3 hits, struck out 5 and walked only 2 in 5 innings of work. The Stars opened with 3 runs in the first and never looked back while coasting to a 13-2 win. Offensively, Philly was led by Mike McGuoirk, who singled twice and had 3 RBI. Through the first two games of the trip, Mike is 4 for 4 with 6 RBI. Rasheed Stuart also had a clutch single that scored 2 as the Stars broke the game open in the second inning with 5 runs. Giovanni "Clemente" Morales also scored 2 while reaching base three times and playing an excellent second base. A good win for the Stars was followed by a barbecue hosted by the hospitable Richmond fans.
BALTIMORE, Md. -- June 12
After a great Anderson Yards send-off from hundreds of friends, family
and sponsors, The Philadelphia Stars boarded a vintage 1947 touring bus
on the first leg of their 3,700-mile Oddysey. First stop Camden Yards to
see Barry Bonds and the Giants take on the Orioles. Bonds went yard
early and Rafael Palmeireo countered with 2 in a slugfest won by the
visiting Giants in extra innings.
The Stars then travelled to historic Leon Day Park in North
Baltimore to compete in an 8 inning contest versus two local Baltimore
All-Star Teams, the Leon Day Club and the Liberty Road Redwings.The two
local teams both fought for the chance to play the team from Philly, and
the split-game format was the compromise. Before the game began, two
original Negro Leaguer Stars, Harold Gould of the Philadelphia Stars and
Bert Simmons of The Baltimore Elite Giants, warmed up with our kids in
the evening sun.... .. two 80 year-old legends and 15 kids from Philly
united by a baseball catch.....Harold also gave a short speech over the
public address system, saying: "I feel born again, just like when I was
starting out, to see these kids playing ball and making friends". Bert
and Harold then threw and caught the first ball and the game got
This was a 3 hour and 40 minute donnybrook with multiple lead
changes and baserunners calling for oxygen. The Stars pounded out ten
hits and also walked ten times and won going away 14-10. The game that
began in the warm sun at 7 pm ended at 10:40 with fans wrapped in
blankets. Tito "The Hurricane" Rohena ( John Wanamaker MS ) opened on
the mound for Philly, and while striking out 4 in his 2 innings of work,
also gave up 5 hits and 2 runs to the tough Liberty squad of 14-15 year
olds. The Stars broke out for 4 in the top of the 3rd as Rohena knocked
in 2 with a double in the gap and Alex "A-Will" Wilson (Germantown
Academy) and Mike "Big Mac" McGuiork (Disston JHS ) also had line drive
Liberty responded with 3 in their half, all coming as the
Redwing's Brandon Stevenson launched a Titanic triple to clear the
bases. It could have been worse but for an athletic-scoop and sweeping
tag at home plate by Timmy "Pudge" Vernon (GA) as Stevenson tried to leg
his triple into a homer. Kyle "Bigwing" Levocz (St. Catherine's) pitched
3 tough innings to get the win, with help from Bobby "Lightning" Hopkins
(St. Matt's) who picked up the save, entering in the 6th with the Stars
up 11-9. Hopkins didn't give up a hit in his 3 innings of work and
struck out 3 with a knee-buckling curve ball.
Other hitting Stars on the night were Chris "Macho" Rivera (Warren
G. Harding MS) and Brian "The Bull" Santiago (Roberto Clemente MS) who
both had clutch RBI singles. John Etheridge (Our Mother of Consolation)
and Mike McGuoirk were also 2 for 2 on the night.
Overall, a great first game for the Stars, but more importantly an
incredible start to this 20 city journey. The stars made a lot of
friends today; these 15 sons of Philly spread some Brotherly
Love.....After a stop at the Babe Ruth Museum, Sunday's destination is