Baseball Volunteers Could Do Wonders

By Stephen A. Smith (Off BASN Wire)
Updated: August 8, 2007

MLB LogoPHILADELPHIA, PA— Sometimes, it’s us. We are the problem.

It’s not someone else with their hand extended, begging for excess without appreciating what they already have. It’s not millionaire athletes, or the organization that signs their seven-figure checks, soaking pennies from the poor with no conscience whatsoever.

It’s the journalist, instead, who’s too busy with a story. An accountant too enamored with numbers and cash – not lives. Or the average American citizen working a 9-to-5, too engrossed in their own lives to assist paupers, oblivious to our corrosive contribution to segments in our society.

Specifically, those segments distant from our own.

But there are those that set the right example.

The Phillies, collaborating with the Philadelphia Department of Recreation and several corporate sponsors, helped form Rookie League programs citywide in 1989, offering organized baseball to kids 12 and under in destitute neighborhoods. More than 14 years later, they haven’t stopped.

In 1993, they helped introduce a program called Reviving Baseball In Inner-Cities [RBI], adding ages 13-18 to the fray. Today, the program is one of the largest nationwide.

There are approximately 5,500 Rookie League participants, more than 2,000 RBI participants in more than 170 cities across America.

The result has been city championships, exposure and new experiences for kids in desperate need of life beyond a one-mile radius.

From South to Northeast Philadelphia, lives have been touched because of RBI.

And still, they need to be fed.

By parents who prefer to play an inactive role in their children’s lives. By corporations filled with individuals who’d eagerly give their money, just not their time. By professional athletes who come to speak one day, forgetting there are another 364 days in which to touch someone’s life.

Especially in inner-city communities, dominated by black players, where the absence of parent participation is flagrant and disturbing.

Sometimes, because of their work schedules. Sometimes, because of apathy.

“We could always use more money, but that’s not what we need or what we’re asking for,” explained Steve Bandura, the recreation leader at Marian Anderson Recreation Center in South Philadelphia.

We don’t need playing fields. We don’t need equipment. We don’t need facilities. We just need community participation.”

Bandura would know.

He’s been at Marian Anderson for 14 years. He served six years as a volunteer. He coached a team of 9-year-olds to a city championship in 2000 and is coaching one of just eight teams en route to the RBI World Series Championship tournament in Houston, beginning on Aug. 6. So he’s seen the things some of us can only imagine in our nightmares.

In this place off 18th and Fitzwater streets – enveloped with the kind of poverty others leave to their imagination – the Anderson Monarchs’ 18-year-old squad will represent Marian Anderson in the World Series Tournament.

There will be no flights. No train ride. If their trip is anything like the one the 9-year-olds took in 1997, it will be in a refurbished 56-year-old bus that doesn’t have air-conditioning, TVs or a restroom.

Yet, they’re still rich because of the Phillies, Bandura and Marian Anderson.

Inside Marian Anderson is a baseball training center, filled with seven stations capable of handling up to 14 kids at a time, to work on hitting and mechanics. In an hour’s time, they get about 200 swings, which is about a season’s worth of batting practice, according to Bandura.

Pitching instruction and video analysis for hitting and pitching also are provided – just like the suburban academies – all assisted by the Phillies, who’ve provided the baseball necessities citywide for the RBI program, Bandura said.

Just enough to provide kids with alternatives to sitting around the house, hanging outside, doing nothing but getting themselves in trouble.

Which begs the question: Why aren’t there more programs like this?

“Very few volunteers,” Bandura explained. “I’m talking about four people for four hours a week, two hours a night for two days a week. That’s all it would take to open up another recreation center. There needs to be a big publicized effort to make that happen, to help get other kids involved.

“People say baseball is not an African American, inner-city sport, but they’re wrong,” Bandura said. “I’ve talk to guys who played in the Philadelphia Stars Negro League team.

Gene Benson use to come here all of the time. He would come talk to the kids and he’d tell them this very [Marian Anderson] playground was a hotbed for black baseball players in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.”

It’s 2003 and baseball is no longer what it was.

Football has become America’s Pastime. Basketball has supplanted the others in popularity. Soccer and tennis struggle to grow, and hockey appears too expensive, to foreign, to stand much of a chance.

To some, baseball resides in third place with a chance to recapture the lofty status it once held.

But not without us, our involvement with our youth, combined with the culture that baseball can bring along.

“Baseball in the inner-city could mean a lot,” Bandura said.

But only if the kids mean that much more to the rest of us.