Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Old Lion and the Fox: A modern take on a child’s fable

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The Old Lion and the Fox
A modern take on a child’s fable
by rick olivares

The Lion was chosen to lead the denizens of the jungle into a new era. He was deemed to be the best choice, after all, his teeth and claws were worn with supposed wisdom and age and that he too was one of them. One who toiled in the jungle through the years and that he knew the ins and outs. 

So the Lion was anointed King.

Now the Lion held office in his cave up high. As for the jungle folk? Well, one by one, they went up to the cave to pay their respects.

The first to visit was a feisty pug that was said to be a constant deliverer of controversial news. The pug was banned from the jungle.

The next visitor was the most popular figure in the jungle. But as it turned out, this popular figure was ill-equipped to take on the Lion. After all, he was just a boxer.

Then there was that old grizzly veteran of many a war. Now, this vet? He didn’t last a minute.

After the vet came the gunslinger. He went up to the cave to pledge his allegiance. But one claw from the old lion, jabbed towards his face, was enough to silence the two-gun kid.

And most recently, perhaps the toughest and meanest animal on the block came calling. For his trouble, this tough and mean animal was heavily fined. And like the feisty pug, banned.

The Fox? Well, it was cautious. He had heard all the stories about those who dared to go up against the Old Lion had never made it out of the cave alive.

Nevertheless, the Fox decided to visit the Old Lion. From near the mouth of the cave, the Fox inquired about the Lion’s health. The Lion replied that he was ill and he invited the Fox to step inside and to see to his health. 

The Fox, wisely stayed where he was and said, “I have noticed that you seem to have frequent visitors but no one ever comes out. Pray tell me, how ever did your visitors find their way out?”

“Why do you take issue with a lot of jungle folk,” further pressed the Fox. “And why are you always confrontational? Shouldn’t you be taking the high road and setting an example? The jungle folk should take centerstage and not you!" 

The Lion had no answer so the Fox left.

With some PBA coaches at the games this Saturday

With Rain or Shine assistant coaches Mike Buendia and Caloy Garcia, Alaska's Topex Robinson, and San Miguel head coach Leo Austria. My colleague Levi Verora was in the pic but the guy taking it cut him off (no intention of course). Gabbing about the pro game and the Ivan Johnson/Commissioner Chito Narvasa incident.

A time to grieve, a time to heal and a time to move forward for the Alaska Aces

This appears on

A time to grieve, a time to heal and a time to move forward for the Alaska Aces
by rick olivares

On two sides of the Gatorade Hoops Center in Mandaluyong City are two quotes from two famous basketball warriors who know a thing or two about failure and getting right back up.

There’s a larger-than-life image of Michael Jordan with the quote, “If you quit once, it becomes a habit. Never quit.”

On the opposite end is Dwyane Wade with the quote, "Whenever there is a big game and people don’t think I can do it, I always play my hardest.”

More than ever, the Alaska Aces will have to heed the calls of these basketball demigods.

The Aces have exactly one more day (Sunday) to grieve. For on Monday, they go full throttle in practice and will be asked to check their emotional baggage outside the door of the Gatorade Hoops Center, their practice facility.

After their epic fall in the recently-concluded PBA Philippine Cup where they saw a 3-0 vanish into thin air as the San Miguel Beermen overhauled the daunting deficit for a literal one-for-the-books victory, the Aces haven’t had it easy.

“We don’t talk about it anymore,” said point guard JVee Casio. “But the pain is there. It’s not something you get rid of that easily. But it will.”

The Aces returned the hardcourt for their first practice six days after Game 7. “In that first practice for the Commissioner’s Cup, we took a look at the team and decided that we had to give them a little bit of time to heal not only their bodies but our collective minds. We’re still hurting.”

“I was thinking that when we went up 3-0, ‘Ah, this is it. We’re going to win one,” recalled back-up point guard RJ Jazul. “But it never came. I think we got too caught up emotionally in the game that we didn’t play with out heads. Of course, you have to give the Beermen a lot of credit. They got the job done and we didn’t.”

The Alaska locker room was like a scene from a wake after the team left the floor during Game 7. “I have been on both sides of the court, winning a championship and losing but I have never seen a sadder one that our locker room that night,” described first assistant Louie Alas. “The tears really flowed. Not much was said. What do you say? There was nothing to say. Everything has been said.”

In their first practice last Tuesday, February 9, Compton chose his words well. “Embrace the pain,” he told his wards. “But we have to move forward. We have to do this not only for ourselves and management but also for the fans to show that we are worthy of their support. It won’t be easy but nothing is ever easy. So we have to embrace the pain and use it.”

“I for one, couldn’t wait to get back to practice and for the games to start,” added Jazul. “When you’re at home resting and not doing anything, you think about it and you feel sad all over again. Over the days, you find things to smile about which is good, but we need for our Commissioner’s Cup to begin so we focus on our games. Winning and getting back will ease that pain. At least I think so.”

When preparations for the 2015-16 PBA season got underway, Compton sat down with us and pointed out that he didn’t make any changes to the team that concluded the 40th season of the pro league where they booked two finals seats but came away first runner-up each time. “I want some continuity; to further build chemistry. I wanted to go with my guys who have worked hard to get here.”

One conference later, one more finals loss, Compton is still sticking with his team. Rob Dozier is back in harness for a third time. Like some of his Alaska teammates and coaches, he’s been there too. He won a championship during his first stint with the team (the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup). He returned the following season but his team was knocked out in the early goings. He was here to witness the finals debacle. “It’s easy to say something but I’d rather not,” Dozier would later say. “I’ll just let my game do the talking."

On the day of the Aces’ return to training, Compton reiterated, “Like I said during the post-match press conference, there’s no other team I’d like to coach or be with than these guys. We just have to get over the hump.”

During the Friday practice, Jazul, Chris Banchero, and Josh Vanlandingham arrive before 12 noon at the Gatorade Hoops Center. The latter two engage in a game of horse. There’s some laughter and friendly banter. 

A few minutes later, Casio arrived, shook hands with his teammates and began stretching. 

Jazul is going from end to end, dribbling the basketball. The laughter echoes. “Now there’s something we haven’t heard in a while,” noted Jazul. “That’s a good start."

Friday, February 12, 2016

Being Liverpool: A Liverpudian’s discourse about the city, the club, and the walkout

Being Liverpool: A Liverpudian’s discourse about the city, the club, and the walkout
by rick olivares picture from this is anfield

When Fenway Sports Group (FSG), the owners of Liverpool Football Club, announced the ticketing price scheme for next season, it was met with vociferous cries of protest. In the wake of a massive television deal that ensured that no club would not go uncompensated generously on top of other corporate endorsements, the club’s supporters felt they were being unjustly fleeced.

What followed was an unprecedented walkout by some 10,000 fans at Anfield during Liverpool's match against Sunderland. Before the walkout, the Reds led the Black Cats, 2-nil, and three points looked within grasp. Coincidentally, after the walkout, Liverpool’s play inexplicably dropped and Sunderland salvaged a 2-2 draw that felt like a terrible loss given the situation. The protests grew louder with English football legend Alan Shearer taking the side of the fans. Supporters of other Premier League sides also threw in their support. Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher was one of those who joined the walkout while current manager Jurgen Klopp issued a message of concern and stating that this should be rectified soon unless it undo the work being done in Anfield. 

The week of crushing news for this proud club didn’t end there as a few days later, Liverpool was ousted by a West Ham side in FA Cup play. 

Then FSG issued a heartfelt statement of apology and imposed not only a moratorium on ticket price hikes for two years while offering better ticket packages for fans.

I spoke with native Liverpudian and long-time LFC supporter Jeff Goulding whose passionate cry of protest on fan site, This Is Anfield, galvanized the fan base to make their voices heard as well as to walk out.

What followed was an eloquent and passionate discourse into ‘Being Liverpool’ (my play on the short-lived reality television series during the tenure of former manager Brendan Rogers' 2012-13 season).

Mr. Jeff Goulding (right)
"This issue of ‘Scouseness’ is very important to locals who follow Liverpool FC,” opened Goulding. "We are defined by the culture of the city. There is a radical tradition in Liverpool, not only politically, but in terms of art and other forms of expression. Liverpudlians hate cliché and reject the generic moronic football culture prevalent at so many grounds up and down the country."

"We prefer originality and that’s why our songs are so unique and our banners witty and creative. People singing 'who are ya!' in the direction of opposing teams are frowned upon, because there’s no ingenuity to that. It’s not authentic, it’s mindless." 

"The average Scouser looks down their noses at things like ‘half and half scarves’ and jester hats because they are an expression of the mass market culture and commercialisation of our sport."

"Conversely, songs like 'Scouser Tommy' and 'Fields of Anfield Road' have been adopted and then adapted by supporters to express their emotions and love for the club. They are sung with pride and are a millions miles removed from the ‘Sky Sports’ and ‘Soccer AM’ style seal chants, that attempt to subvert football culture and monetise it."

"Perhaps, the city’s ‘bolshy’ and creative nature is encapsulated in the music that came out of the city in the 60’s and to a lesser extent the 80’s. You couldn’t find anything more Scouse than the Beatles. Irreverent, anti-establishment, wonderfully unique and innovative."

"The people of Liverpool are fiercely proud and have a deep sense of justice and fairness. Of course things like Hillsborough and the Thatcher Government have strengthened this, but it was already there." 

"Growing up, it was drummed into me that I should always speak up for what I believe in. Just because someone may be wealthy or in a position of power, they don’t have an automatic right to respect. They have to earn it, just like everyone else."

"Above all, it’s important to understand the sense of ‘otherness' felt by Liverpudlians. The banners that read 'We’re not English we are Scouse' speak to a sense that really Liverpool isn’t part of England. At least it doesn’t feel that way a lot of the time."

"Many Scousers don’t follow the national team and feel more akin to the Scots and the Irish, than they do to people from Manchester or London."

"Why am I telling you all of this? I think that in order to understand how local fans react to the ownership question, ‘out of town’ support and ticket pricing, you need to understand the psyche of the city. That's not to say that fans from outside the city don't feel the same, but I can only speak from my own perspective."

"Liverpool’s collectivist and socialist (with a small “s”) ethos is completely at odds with the commercialization of football. Shankly spoke of everyone working hard for the common cause and everybody sharing in the rewards at the end of the day. He was completely in tune with the heartbeat of the city and the people. To a degree, so too is (Liverpool FC manager Jurgen) Klopp, I sense."

"However, this approach is at odds with the ethos of investment groups like FSG. To them the object is of course success, but I don’t sense there is a commitment to everyone sharing in the spoils of victory. Rather the supporters are seen as just another means to an end; another revenue stream."

"This is why a lot of local fans are inherently sceptical of the motives of these ‘businessmen’ running our club. Some, not all, fear that the drive towards globalising the ‘brand’ and bringing in more ‘tourists’ to Anfield will further dilute the club’s culture (of which they are fiercely proud) and marginalise local supporters."

"Most of us can see that having such a global fan base is positive, Actually the city its self is built by people from all over the globe, so I don’t believe this a parochial or racist thing. It genuinely stems from a fear that the traditions and history of the club are being ignored."

Rick: I spoke with some friends of mine from Boston about the price increases at Fenway Park (for the Red Sox, the other team owned by FSG) and this was the general response: "With a small stadium and a high payroll, ticket prices needed to rise. It's just the cost of doing business. It's a competitive league and you have to keep spending just to keep up with the competition. From an economics perspective, with Fenway always sold out, you can actually argue that ticket prices can still be raised higher because there is still demand. But, that's not an argument that will be too popular around the streets of Boston."

Jeff: This is at the heart of the issue, Rick. What we have here are two completely different approaches to the sport and the running of the club. Of course in a literal sense your friends in Boston are quite correct. At Anfield there is sufficient demand to justify a higher ‘market price’ for seats.

If every Scouser stopped going to the game, because they couldn’t or wouldn’t pay these prices there would be many more who would. According to the business model described above that would be perfectly fine. However that is at odds with the way I and many others view Liverpool Football Club.

To us it is not a business. Let me clarify that. We understand the club has to make money and the more money it makes the better its chances of competing are. However, there is a need for balance here. We feel that we are a part of the club. In fact we could argue that the club is really ours and FSG simply hold it in trust.

Local supporters view LFC as a community asset. We identify with Shankly, when he said “at Liverpool there is a holy trinity of supporters, players and the manager. Directors don’t come into it, they just write the cheques. In fact we write them, they just sign them”. This is exactly how Liverpudlians still view the club.

We understand the club must maximise revenue, but not at the expense of a key part of that “holy trinity”. If you price us out of the game, then the club ceases to be a community asset and becomes just another business. We may as well be selling cereal or some other mundane product. It will mean little to the community it serves. That may be fine for Ian Ayre and FSG, but it’s an anathema to us.

Rick: Personally, I do not like the expensive prices. Having lived in NYC, the prices to the 
Giants, Knicks, and Yankees were murder on my finances. Some folks say that the price increases will help the club compete with the bigger clubs and get better players. Is that true to a degree or can they get their money elsewhere such as TV deals?

Jeff: I think when you view the proposed price rises in the context of the £8 billion TV rights deal; it really is hard to justify them at all. As I said earlier, the club needs revenue to compete. That’s not at issue. Really, it’s a question of where the burden should fall?

Is it really fare that the club raise prices, when they are about to receive such an unprecedented windfall? Shouldn’t they be seizing the opportunity to actually freeze, or even reduce prices? Imagine if the passion showed in opposition to the price rises could be harnessed in the stands. That will only happen when supporters are treated fairly and made to feel like they are more than a ‘cash cow’.

The club currently earns £35 million from match day revenue. If they froze prices that would increase to £37 million (due to the Main Stand expansion). By increasing prices they will generate £39 million. Surely, an extra £2 or even £4 million is immaterial to a club the size of 

What would that buy in terms of players? Surely the goodwill and pride generated by a fair pricing structure would be worth far more to the club. Instead, we have a fan base becoming deeply skeptical about the club they once loved and that’s bound to translate into a poorer atmosphere at the game. It already is.

I’m sure FSG will find it much harder to market such a poor match day atmosphere and experience.

Rick: As a long time fan of the club, did it hurt to walk out on a game like that? 

Jeff: It broke my heart, truly. I never leave early. I’m there to support the team and the manager. I give everything until the final whistle and I expect no less from the players. So for me to leave early was really difficult. Others around me felt exactly the same, but we knew we had to do it and hopefully the club has listened to the message we have sent them. If they don't there will be more protests.

Rick: I am surprised with the venom towards FSG. Forgive me if I am not knowledgable of all the issues. But surely, ticket pricing aside (and I do not like the price increase too), FSG must have done some good, right? Have they? 

Jeff: I think my earlier comments will go some way to explaining the attitude of some, not all, Liverpool fans towards FSG and the previous ownership.

The first thing to say is that this protest is not against the ownership (at least not at the moment) it is primarily against unreasonable prices. The greed fans sing about is related to a feeling that they are taking more from us than they need, in view of television and other revenue.

I acknowledge that the club was in a precarious position before FSG came in and the takeover spared us potential administration. We also need to accept that they are a business and can’t possibly feel the same affinity to the club as we do. 

They have also invested in the new Main Stand and spent a lot of money (gross) in the transfer market. Although a lot of Liverpool fans will feel that the money hasn’t been wisely invested.

Having acknowledged the good things they have done, I still feel there is a real disconnect between them and us. They seem to running the operation from the States and that sense of community is being further diluted.

We have non-football people making footballing decisions. I grew up knowing that the people making decisions about transfers, were steeped in football and what they didn’t know about the sport wasn’t worth knowing. That’s not the case now and the suspicion is that non-football consideration play a much greater part in transfer decisions than they should.

Rick: I am also shocked also to read comments at TIA about those who sit at the hospitality boxes/seats. I sat there as a guest of Standard Chartered. I sang the songs but also took the time to take photos and videos since I am not there all the time. I planned for over a decade to go to Anfield and it finally materialized at great cost since aside from Liverpool, I traveled around the UK. While at Anfield, I chatted with the locals and hung outside to talk to fans and take pictures. I hope people understand that there aren't many tourists who go to Anfield and for first timers/second timers like me, sometimes, I just stand and sit in awe because I can't believe I am there.

Jeff: Again see my earlier comments for context here. I don’t want an ‘all Scouse’ support. I want people like you to love the club and be able to get to a game. I actually believe that the passion displayed by fans in places like Manila and the the rest of Asia is incredible. I watch the pre-season tours in awe of the support on show. The flares, the banners and how those supporters know all of our songs.

In a very real sense those fans are every bit as “Scouse” as I am. This is not about excluding our global fan-base. However, it is about preserving the history, culture and tradition of the club. To do that we have to ensure that local supporters have a fair chance of getting to the game. These price rises will jeopardise that.

Liverpool is a growing city. It’s a great place to live and visit, but it has some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country. The average wage is much lower than the national average. 
If you are visiting Anfield two or three times a year, you may not object too much to a £20-30 increase in your match ticket. But if you are going 19 times a season, that becomes unsustainable. If you want to take your children it becomes impossible. 

Add to that the cost of buying a replica shirt and travelling to away games, you can see how very quickly the local demographic is priced out.

Ultimately though this campaign is about making going to Anfield affordable for everyone, including our overseas supporters.

The anger fostered by this can sometimes be channeled in the wrong direction. This may explain the comments you read on TIA. However, I want to be clear you are not the problem. Overseas supporters and tourists are not the problem. In fact, entertaining corporate guests isn’t the problem either really, within reason.

What is the problem is a business model based on bleeding the supporters dry. I believe most local supporters appreciate that and wouldn’t support the types of comments you see on internet forums. Liverpool is a friendly and welcoming place and I love the fact that so many people from all over the world come to our city and long may that continue. 

I hope you are here again soon and would love to have a chat with you and show you around.

Rick: FSG did a turn-around, apologized, and announced a moratorium on price hikes while offering more suitable packages to fans. What are your thoughts about this?

Jeff: Yes, FSG deserve credit for acting swiftly and decisively in response to the protest. However, I feel we now need to learn the lessons from this sorry event.

We still have issues to resolve but there is at least evidence the club is ready to listen in a meaningful way. Even with the freeze, tickets are still too expensive and we need further dialogue around reducing burden on supporters.

The freeze does however buy us time and goes some way to rebuilding trust and dialogue. But I keep coming back to the fundamental problem, which is one of disenfranchisement. Does the club take into account the views of supporters and do fans feel they can influence decisions made that affect them?

I feel that what we need is meaningful supporter involvement at board level. There needs to be a supporter rep with voting rights on the club board in my view. 

This would be groundbreaking and would hopefully prevent a repeat of damaging protests and disengagement of supporters.

Kelly Nabong and the Meralco Bolts: Moving forward

Kelly Nabong and the Meralco Bolts: Moving forward
by rick olivares picture by kc cruz

A couple of weeks ago, Kelly Nabong sat on the sidelines of the Meralco Gym watching the Bolts practice. He wasn’t cleared to play after being out with some minor injury.

“Man, I can’t wait to get out there and play,” he said. 

In his brief PBA career so far, Nabong is mostly known for two things — getting traded by Meralco on draft night to GlobalPort (he has since rejoined the Bolts) and later getting into a huge fight with San Mig’s Marc Pingris that saw both played fined P60,000 (aside from being suspended).

On opening night of the 2015-16 Commissioner’s Cup, it is a testament to Nabong's basketball capabilities that he’s in the line-up against Star.

It’s a power-charged match-up. For one, both teams, Meralco and Star, are corporate rivals. Second, aside from Nabong and Pingris both present for the match, the two teams figured out in the recently-concluded Philippine Cup opener that the Bolts won. It would be their only win for the entire conference.

“The goal isn’t the playoffs,” noted team manager Paolo Trillo. “Well, we want to make it there. Who doesn’t? It’s just coming from such a disappointing conference, we want to keep it simple and measurable — get better with every game. Take it one game at a time and from there’s we will assess our chances.”

You can say that it’s the same thing for Nabong who is thrilled to be in the game.

It’s sort of a slap on the face for Nabong when in the previous season, San Miguel import Arizona Reid was incredulous that the Meralco power forward scored 15 points against the Beermen that resulted in a 106-99 Bolts win during the Commissioner’s Cup. 

“I’m just going to go out and do my best,” promised Nabong before running onto the hardcourt of the Smart Araneta Coliseum for their warm-up drills. “I hope am given a chance.”

Game time, the Bolts were initially unable to get anything going from the post. Cliff Hodge tried to post up Allein Maliksi from the left side to no avail. Import Arinze Onuaku also tried with similar luck as he was double teamed and had the ball swiped from him on two occasions. 

Meralco seemed plodding trying to get a half-court offense going (more so to accommodate Onuaku who arrived less than 24 hours before). Collectively, the team threw up two airballs to the derision of the predominantly pro-Star crowd on this Wednesday evening.

In the meantime, Star pushed up the ball quickly at every opportunity. Three of their first four baskets came from inside the lane; one of which was a powerful slam by Star’s comebacking import Denzel Bowles. Halfway through the quarter, the score is 15-4 in favor of Star. 

Meralco head coach Norman Black burned a time out, adjustments were made and the Bolts methodically pounded their way back with better spacing. Onuako began scoring inside and he chipped in eight points. That opened up the outside to Baser Amer who earlier threw up an airball. With a little over a minute to play, he nailed a trey. And Nabong added a free throw to end the first 12 minutes of play, 26-18, in favor of Star.

“I think we’ve settled down,” noted Meralco assistant coach Ronnie Magsanoc.

Amer opened the second period with two more triples. When Amer went to the bench, Anjo Caram came in and hit a long jumper. The flurry of outside shots stretched Star’s defense as they were now forced to watch the perimeter. Nabong slipped in for a tip-in. Chris Newsome drilled a triple of his own. Onuaku was mostly having his way inside.

The Bolts had come alive. With the lead in sight on several occasions, Meralco botches them with bungled plays and missed shots. Newsome had the best chance to knot the count at 43-all but he missed a free throw right at the end of the first half of play to send Star to the break holding on to a precarious one-point lead. The battle had been joined. Meralco was not broken by the early onslaught.

The second half was different. Meralco came out more energized and this time, they finally seized the lead. After holding the lead for some five minutes, Star came right back behind Bowles, Maliksi, and Mark Barroca for a 61-58 lead. The lead changed two more times until the mid-fourth period when Newsome’s defense and huge buckets propelled the Bolts to the lead for good. Nabong in the meantime is a warrior alternately guarding Bowles, Pingris, and Ian Sangalang inside. 

Unfortunately for him and his Meralco side, Nabong fouled out with a minute and change. The 6’7” native from Sacramento finished with 7 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals against 3 turnovers. But what cannot be quantified was his energy, hustle, and physicality inside. 

“A win means a lot to our team. And of course, for myself. I just want to contribute. Am glad that Coach Norman placed his trust in me,” Kelly later said.

Star still threatened but a Cliff Hodge free throw and a huge hook inside the lane by Onuaku allowed Meralco to hold off their foe for the second consecutive conference opener, 90-86.

It was a team effort with different players contributing at different intervals. 

Onuaku was a trooper. He arrived the night before close to midnight. By daybreak the following day, he went to the PBA office to get measured followed by a trip to the office of the Games and Amusements Board for all his work requirements . By the time he got back to his condo unit, it was 3pm. He only had a few hours to rest before the team departed for the Big Dome.

During the game, he was clearly jetlagged. He hardly went for offensive boards to pace himself. But when he found his rhythm, he was a force inside. Onuaku finished with 25 huge points that he scattered across four quarters to keep Star honest on defense. He also hauled down 22 rebounds and also had three assists versus two turnovers. 

Newsome was massive as he sparked the team to its last salvo. Newsome’s stat line is 16 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 blocked shot versus 2 turnovers. Cliff Hodge and Baser Amer also contributed double-digit scoring with 12 and 10 points respectively. 

In the joyous Meralco locker room following the match, there were happy faces. They were happy to get that win. It was sorely needed after all. But that’s just one. They need to add a few more, hopefully more Trillo later remarked, before the conference is over. 

Nabong, with his knees wrapped in ice bags, was happy. “Am just happy to contribute man. You’re just grateful for the opportunity. That’s all you ever ask for."

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Second Act: Life after volleyball for Denden Lazaro.

This appears in the Friday February 12, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

The Second Act: Life after volleyball for Denden Lazaro.
words and pics by rick olivares

She’s slumped across a cushioned seat inside Starbucks at the Rockwell Business Center. She’s organizing her notes and a fissure of a brow knots itself across her forehead. Tough day at school?

I enter and her face lights up. Well, not in the way her face does when she sees her boyfriend. Let’s just put it this way… Denden Lazaro, freshman at the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health, is grateful for the break.

Denden's notes.
“It’s tough,” she states the obvious of life in med school. "I have four-hour classes in the morning; another four in the afternoon. I only have a one-hour break in between classes. Obviously kulang yun sa akin but ganyan talaga. Then I have to study at night.”

It’s takes some getting used to when seeing her in her white school uniform that clearly marks her as a med student instead of the jersey of the Ateneo Lady Eagles. “Well, at least I still wear rubber shoes,” she points out.

My eye spots the name plate on her white school uniform. It reads: "Dennise Michelle G. Lazaro. Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health Class of 2020.”

Her eyes squint at the thought of the long long road she still needs to travel. "Four more years to go,” she says under her breath. 

Yet like her Lady Eagles were three years ago when they climbed up that step-ladder on the way to Ateneo’s first women’s UAAP volleyball title, she reverses the tide. "School can be fun and at times not fun at all. But if you put things in perspective, you’re doing this to help save someone’s life. And that's a good thing to help others."

Her first few months in med school were a break-in. Refreshers from stuff she took up in college. Nothing too hectic. "Then bam!” she emphasizes with her small fists banging the table. "It got heavier along the way. Pahirap ng pahirap. Ang hirap talaga. Isang buong libro aralin niyo sa dalawang linggo.” 

Denden continues her description of life as a frosh. “People said that when I got to med school, I’d have no life. Zero. You know — all-nighters with an hour of sleep before an exam. Except I don’t stay up until early morning. Usually, around 11 in the evening, I start to get sleepy. By 12, I’m in bed. Hindi ako nagpupuyat up to 3am. Mga classmates ko sleep for one or two hours. Ako? I sleep. Surprisingly, pumapasa ako. That works for me. Ayoko rin pagurin sarili ko because I might fall asleep when I should be awake.”

Yet she did fall asleep one time. An embarrassing moment for her if there was ever one.

"One time, I fell asleep during a test,” she recounts while unable to hold back her laughter at the memory. "As in I was really asleep. As in tumutulo pa laway ko while asleep. And I went ‘Oh, my God! I fell asleep!’ And I wasn’t even halfway done through the exam. But luckily, I passed it.”

"My technique is I listen in class. I pay close attention to what the professor says then I do supplemental reading. When I come across something, I’ll go, ‘Ah, this is what was discussed in class.’”

Spoken like a true libero who receives and digs booming spikes with ease.

So far, she’s doing well in school even if she tries to cling on to a previous life as a college student-athlete. “School can be tough and really hectic, but I find the time to go out with my boyfriend, chill, go to the games or the mall. Bilib nga ako sa mga ka-batch ko kasi nasisingit pa nila mga party and lakad nila. I hear from other people na wala ka nang buhay when you’re in med school because the pace is fast. You have to keep up or you’ll be left behind. But finding ‘me time’ is important. It keeps me sane."

She admits to missing volleyball. “That’s an understatement,” she interjects.

"I do a little panel work for ABS-CBN (as an analyst for UAAP volleyball matches). It’s fun but it’s different. I miss the game. When I know Ateneo has a game, I try to remember what I would do. What if maglalaro pa rin ako? How would I be today? How would I visualize the game? I think, “Oh, this is the time when I am riding on the team bus. This is when I start to stretch. This is when I run to the court and I hear the drums and my heart starts to beat fast."

"Then I realize it is not part of my system anymore."

“Life is very different now. And I realize that I won’t experience that same feeling again."

After Jia Morado dropped a shot for championship point last season, Lazaro’s first thought was, “Champions na kami.” It didn’t sink it that it was her last game. At least not yet. “I knew it was over but it took a couple of months for that to sink it. I asked Ella (De Jesus) if she felt the same way. And yes, it also took a while for her to get used to it."

"Actually mas lalo na ngayon ko na-realize na I am done. Because I am not on the court. I am now a spectator if not a part of the broadcast panel. I tell you, mas nakakakaba watching than playing. It’s so different."

As much as she misses the game, Denden knows all too well that good things do come to an end and it’s time for the next stage of the journey.

In the halls of the ASMPH, she’s just a face in the crowd.

Most of the student body don’t really follow sports. Her classmates used to get shocked when people would ask for pictures. “Ganyan pala buhay mo dati,” she recounts some of the comments of her life as an Ateneo Lady Eagle. A very popular one. Meron pa mga comments, ‘Sino ba mga yan? Bakit sila nagpapakuha sa picture.’"

"Some of my batchmates natatawa na lang when people ask to have their pictures taken with me. They would sometimes stop it and say, ‘Quota ka na sa pictures’ or ‘Next time maniningil na kami ng bayad sa mga nagpapakuha kasi sobra na.’ It’s flattering that they look out for me. But in school, most of the people here don’t really follow sports so I am just a face in the crowd."

"Yung iba they saw a picture of me of a time when I was in Chowking with chocolate between my teeth. It’s not a good introduction to get to know me (laughs) but it’s all right. It’s nice to not call attention to myself."

We’re wrapping up what turned out to be an hour and a half of catching up and swapping stories (as she still has class and I have to go to another interview for an altogether different story).

Over at the table across us, a group of seven just sat down. They’re looking at Denden. One of them wonders,”Di ba sa Lady Eagles siya?”

One other, not sure at all at first then says. “Hindi siguro. Naka-attire ng doctor, eh.”

Face in the crowd indeed. 

The second act of Denden Lazaro’s life is just beginning.


I befriended Denden during her sophomore year in Ateneo as a long-time supporter of the Lady Eagles. That began with a podcast interview that I conducted that was well received. Since then, we've been good friend and we try to help each other out in different ways. Denden was my Gatorade Brand Ambassador for two years.  In turn, she has been supportive of my charity work and has donated a lot to my private cause. 

5 points from the Ateneo Lady Eagles’ win over FEU

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5 points from the Ateneo Lady Eagles’ win over FEU
by rick olivares

The Ateneo Lady Eagles defeated the Far Eastern University Lady Tamaraws in three sets (25-22 25-19, 25-15) to finish as the last undefeated squad in UAAP Women’s Volleyball, 3-0. The two-time defending champions were given trouble by FEU at certain intervals but when it was winning time, Ateneo found their collective resolve to take the win.

Here’s what we can take away from that match.

They looked shaky at times but the got it done.
The best offense is good defense. You’ve heard that so many times. But more so in volleyball because that also determines how you attack. That was the hallmark of their championship season the previous year. With graduations to key personnel, you can infer that the offense is even better although the defense has taken a hit.

Following the UST match, their second of the season, the Ateneo Lady Eagles were tops in blocking, dead last in digging, and fourth in receiving. 

Looking at the tables prior to the third games of the season, La Salle looked really frightening. Third in blocking, second best in digging, and tops in receiving. And there were the offensive categories where the Lady Spikers looked darn good as well.

Following the results of the Ateneo-FEU and La Salle-NU matches where the Lady Eagles took down FEU in three sets and the Lady Bulldogs upended the Lady Spikers (25-16, 26-24, 14-25, 25-23), the Lady Eagles fell to second (by not much) in blocking to La Salle, climbed to sixth spot in digging, and moved up one notch to third in receiving.

You really have to take it day-to-day and game-to-game. There’s a little more parity to the UAAP and defending champion or first-runner up or not, anyone is capable of beating the other on any given day. For all the supposed imperviousness of La Salle, UP took a set from them, and now NU took them down in four sets. Ateneo has looked shaky in spots — conceding points in bunches before rectifying matters and pulling away for a win.

Against FEU, it was the same plot. 

In the first two sets, the Lady Eagles raced to a sizeable lead after which the Lady Tams roared back through solid blocking and hitting and solid serving (wreaking havoc on the receiving end). But Ateneo regrouped and nailed FEU. In the three-set sweep, FEU looked good heading into the second set, but they blunted their momentum by falling once more into a hole in the second set before tying the match at 10-all. However, the Lady Eagles never allowed the Lady Tams to take the lead.

By the third set, FEU was broken.

Jia Morado rebounded quite well thank you.
Her best setting game of the campaign thus far as she finished with 38 excellent sets. In the first set alone, five of her teammates scored. She picked her spots well in her drop shots and called a great game. Better balance in the scoring with three players in double digits. 

Alyssa Valdez didn’t have to exert herself too much as she finished with 15. Maddie Madayag in this magnificent start of hers put in 11 while the always impressive Jhoanna Maraguinot had 10. 

You get spoiled watching Jia and La Salle’s Kim Fajardo play and hold them to a standard. That they rebound from a poor outing shows their terrific attitude and willingness to get better.

Maddie Madayag is killing it.
Her breakout season is just as impressive as Bea De Leon’s rookie year. Solid game. Unassuming. Plays the game the right way (no angas unlike other middle blockers). And the girl does pack a mean running spike. 

Maddie’s 11th in scoring, fourth in blocking and is tops in serving with eight aces versus three faults. Three times during the match she held for long serves. That means FEU didn’t get to kill the ball. 

The tag team with Bea De Leon — damn. That’s a force right there. 

Jhoanna Maraguinot 
She sat out her first two years because she needed to fix her grades. Watching her on the sidelines as her teammates went to the Finals in Season 75 before winning it all in Season 76, she was quiet. Always quiet. When she finally joined the team, she came on for Mich Morente before she started regularly in the second round. All the waiting, you’d think she’d play with some gigil but no. She’s composed. Love her game face. It’s the same one I saw in the sidelines when she was waiting for her turn. All business.

Hopefully, she gets a few more sets her way because that high-scoring trio with Valdez and Madayag will give opposing teams a fit when it comes to blocking.

It was good to give Jamie Lavitoria playing time.
It looked good and then bad. Jamie Lavitoria was sent in the first set after Gizelle Tan struggled with her receiving. And Chin Basas served up an ace that Lavitoria mis-received. She could have fallen apart after that but not. She played better. Her eight excellent receptions might not be on a Denden Lazaro level but its a good start. She put in quality minutes and wasn’t a late game blow out sub. 

As for Gizelle, shaky in spots but she did come back better. Maybe Coach Tai has to rein her enthusiasm in a bit for in her desire to make it up she runs into teammates when they have a better chance of receiving the ball. But give her props for her determination and not hanging her head in defeat. Fighter she is.

Incidentally, Tan is sixth best in receiving in the league (although teammate Alyssa Valdez is ahead of her in fifth). 

How do I sum up the Ateneo Lady Eagles after three matches? They start out strong, sometimes slow, waver a bit before finishing strong. Work in progress. Kinks here and there but they have found ways to win.