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.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Go west

On the 11th month of the year, the Philippines leapfrogged 11 slots from a #195 ranking in the footballing world to #184. The three consecutive victories were the most we had since the 1950’s when guys like Ed Ocampo and Vic Sison donned the national colors.

Part of the credit goes to the sterling performance of the Fil-foreigners on the team. They add a huge advantage and a different dimension to our game, but for many people, it’s a short-fix solution to the problem. Myself included.

To my close friends, I’ve always decried the preponderance of our culture in the last quarter of the century over things foreign. These Fil-foreigners are everywhere: in showbiz, in modeling, in sports, and in music. I chafe at they way we celebrate that Nicole of the Pussycat Dolls is “Proudly Pinoy Made” as it says in the stickers that are tacked onto CDs. Sure I’m somewhat proud that she’s of our kin, but I’d rather not make too big a deal out of her and instead give the props and support to the local band scene (note that I said “scene” not music industry) that saw them outselling foreign releases for the first time ever.

We proudly champion a Filipino as the all-time top scorer of FC Barcelona. But wasn’t he part Spanish too? Isn’t it more accurate to call him a Spaniard of mixed ancestry more than Filipino? After all, he competed more and worked more for Spain.

Remember how the possibility of recruiting American swimming Olympian Natalie Coughlin into our national team was bandied about because her grandmother is from Bulacan. Sure Natalie would help, but what does that say to our local swimmers:
Sorry, girls. These Fil-Ams have better training and exposure so why don’t you stick to the Palarong Pambansa or what we have and the UAAP okay?

The 1987 Philippine Constitution defines a Filipino citizen as one who was born in the country during the time of the adoption of the Constitution; those whose father or mother are Filipino citizens; those who were born to a Filipina mother before January 17, 1973 and elect to have Philippine citizenship upon reaching the age of the majority; and those who are naturalized under the law.

Fine. But why are we so crazy to trump up those who chose to go to foreign shores to find their fame and fortune as opposed to the ones who left behind? James Bradley in his book Flags of our Fathers says that his father, John Henry Bradley, one of the six men to raise the US flag at the top of Mt. Suribachi in Iwo Jima, never considered himself a hero. The true heroes of Iwo Jima, he protested, were those who died on the island. I also think labels that declare OFWs as Filipino heroes are politically slanted and full of crap. Kaya nga umalis kasi feeling walang kinabukasan dito sa Pinas. I believe the heroes of our sporting scene are those who give their due by playing for their schools and their country and those who toil every day to compete in anonymity only to get bumped off because of the lack of funds and backers.

New York Yankee slugger Jason Giambi is of Italian lineage but do we hear the people from Naples or Rome trump him up any more than Francesco Totti or Marco Materazzi? In America, people are careful with distinctions such as “African-Americans” or “Mexican-Americans” because of the potential for malice and racial stereotyping. The US soldiers killed in Iraq whatever their ethnic origin will always be counted as “American KIAs” not anything else.

The roots of all this began with the Northern Consolidated Team of Ron Jacobs that had Chip Engelland, Dennis Still, and Jeff Moore. Controversial naturalized players who lead us to victory in the Jones Cup and elsewhere. But where are they now? The PBA which really kicked this Fil-Am mess into overdrive trumpeted the arrival of these foreigners as a means of elevating the game. When guys like Rob Parker and Sonny Alvardo ran afoul of the law, we promptly proclaimed them as shams. And when some of them brawled their way into the tabloid pages, it was said, lahing Kano kasi. And by the way, quite a few of these Fil-Ams who first came here are no longer in the league. They were drafted because they were Fil-Ams. Were they even scouted?

When Brian Viloria burst upon the boxing scene we were so proud of his Pinoy roots. Now that he’s lost two straight, he’s consigned to the footnote as we choose to focus on Manny. Buti na lang sabi ni Michael Buffer na taga-Waipahu, Hawaii siya at hindi taga-Ilocos, said some wags.

Some of those who competed in the last SEA Games finally came over after being invited like forever. Some finally acquiesced because their careers have stalled and they’re looking elsewhere to revive their careers.

Do we think so low of ourselves that we have to look for foreigners to wear our national colors? Our local sporting scene is so grossly bad that outside basketball, boxing, billiards, and bowling --- the “B” sports --- the others are left to fend for themselves. Then when someone from the other sports wins, they make that courtesy call to politicians who could use the photo op.

Our national sports officials spend more time bickering and politicking than prepping our athletes. Before the recent ASEAN Football Qualifiers, our coaching staff had no idea about the opposition we were facing. Before we won three straight, people said our football scene sucks. When we made the finals, people said that well, we played against teams that were ranked lower than us. Incidentally it’s only Timor Leste that’s ranked lower than us. It’s a no-win situation I tell you.

How do we arrest this? Here is an easier-said-than-done proposal:
Take a long hard look at the agencies that run our sports programs. They’re too politically motivated. Two years ago, I directed a photo shoot for past and present athletes for a traveling photo exhibit in schools throughout the country. I spoke to 40 athletes and all of them told horror stories of the corruption in sports.
Have a comprehensive grassroots program to build athletic champions. Utilize the Fil-foreigners to augment our program, not to populate it at the expense of our locals. And if the Fil-foreigners are serious about competing in the national team, then they should spend quite some time here training with our athletes and coaches.
Re-allocate some of the money that goes to our politicos to the building of centers of excellence.

The message we’re sending is that we think the Fil-foreigners stand a better chance of competing with their training and exposure abroad. Let me make it clear. I am not against Fil-foreigners. I’m happy for their success and what they bring to their respective countries, clubs or organizations. The point I am trying to make is that we put things in their proper perspective.

After the end of the ASEAN Football Qualifiers in Bacolod, one football official scoffed at the ill feelings of those cut in favor of the Fil-foreigners by saying “they (those who were cut) had their chance and that they didn’t win before.” Maybe that’s true. Maybe that’s somewhat incorrect.

Whatever. Isn’t it ironic that they went to the land of opportunity only to find their opportunities were back here in the Philippines?

Monday, November 20, 2006

We go to the Scorecards

Go figure.

18, 276 people in the Thomas & Mack Center. The second biggest in the arena’s history.
Ringside seats cost $500 per ticket for 9 matches (including all the undercards). That’s like $55.50 per match.
130 pounds for each fighter to make during the weigh in.
Morales weighed 139 pounds and Pacquiao 144 after the weigh in.
10 months between all three Pacquiao-Morales meetings.
First bout went 12 rounds. Second bout had 10. And the third match, 3 rounds.
It took eight minutes and fifty-seven seconds to complete the Trilogy. The introductions and signing of the National Anthems was longer by 2 minutes.
94 punches Manny Pacquiao landed on Erik Morales out of 175 attempts. That’s 54% marksman rate for the Champ. 51 of those punches were in the third round. 1 solid punch to Morales’ left jaw sent him down to his knees against the ropes in the second round and a flurry of shots that sent him down twice in the third.
1 knockdown suffered by Morales in 50 matches (not counting his bouts with Pacman) and that was a questionable one at the hands of Marco Antonio Barrera. 5 knockdowns against Pacquiao in three highly memorable matches.
$3 million plus made by Manny Pacquiao that’s $5,586.60 per second.
$2.75 million made by Erik Morales that’s $5,121 per second.
The first two fights attracted over 700,000 HBO PPV subscriptions. At $50 PPV that’s $35 million. So by estimate, the third fight should have grossed at the very least $17, 500,000.
338 cinemas, 24 cable operators, and 80+ closed circuit venues all over the Philippines;
7 cities and 7 mayors in Metro Manila;
1 school (Ateneo De Manila);
1 radio station (Radio Mindanao Network in conjunction with Solar),
and the country’s #1 terrestrial channel and #1 cable channel to broadcast the fight.
After Pacman’s victory last January, there were 6 billboards in EDSA alone that featured Manny. Before the Grand Finale, there was only 1 -- the humongous Nike billboard along Guadalupe. Expect there to be more after this.
And there are 82 million Filipinos all over the world who are ecstatic over the win (43-3-2, 33 KOs for the Pambansang Kamao).

Eight minutes and fifty-seven seconds. That’s all it took to end one legend and for another to grow and live on. Manny Pacquiao’s sensational third round knockout of Erik Morales is for us Filipino fight fans the perfect end for one of boxing’s greatest trilogies.

Mabuhay ka, Manny Pacquiao.

Let’s go celebrate!

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Pair of Football Stories

The Resurrection
They’ve scored an astounding 252 goals in 75 matches. That’s an average of 3.36 goals per game. Not bad at all. Their women’s counterparts on the other hand refuse to be outdone. In 46 matches, they’ve scored 224 goals for an average of 4.8 goals per game.

It’s mind-boggling until you realize that’s what the foreign teams have done to our men’s and women’s national football teams in the last 21 and 15 years respectively.

In that span, our men’s football team has won six games and drew another six while scoring 36 goals of their own. The longest losing streak was 15 matches from 1996-98 but it would have been much longer had they not beaten Guam 2-0 in an Asian Cup Qualifier for they would go on to lose their next nine.

The women’s national team has had it worse: they’ve only one victory to show and one loss. They’ve suffered a pair of drubbings by the People’s Republic of China in the mid-90’s 21-0 and 16-0 and a 15-0 rout by Japan in 2003. It’s a wonder they still troop to the pitch.

Things are said to be going much better however slowly. Just the other day, National Team coach Aris Caslib decried the lack of intel on our foes for the Asean Football Championships (formerly the Tiger Cup) that is being played in our own backyard of Bacolod. The football braintrust can only base their information on Cambodia, Laos, Brunei, and Timor Leste from how they performed during last year’s SEA Games.

We are currently ranked #195 out of # 205 footballing nations. Look who’s after us: Anquilla, Cook Islands, Belize, Djibouti, Sao Tome Principe, Aruba, US Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Guam, and American Samoa.

But you know what they say about when you’re down, the only way to go... is up. “With more and more people playing football nowadays,” says PFF President Johnny Romualdez, “Part of the problem is having experienced coaches to train the players.” The PFF recently helped bring in Andalusian Coaches for a 10-day training clinic for 50 of our national coaches. The inclusion of Fil-foreigners into the national team is part of the plan to effect transfer technology. The grassroots program such as the Kasibulan Youth (of the Davao Football Association) and the Under-14 boys’ and girls’ teams among many others are underway. More and more teams are being sent abroad to learn the intricacies of the game and to be exposed to a higher level of competition. Romualdez is cautioning Filipinos not to expect changes overnight. It will take some more time before we start to see bigger changes. But the national teams have been more competitive as of late. Gone are the days of those demoralizing blowouts. In the last SEA Games, opponents marveled at the National Team’s more competitive nature. For the first time in years, the football stadia in Bacolod and Marikina played to packed crowds. Football officials are hoping that the last SEA Games and the recent FIFA World Cup would continue to fans the flames of interest and growth of football to a fever pitch with the ASEAN Football Championship in Bacolod. “It’s an exciting time for Philippine football,” adds Romuladez. “We’re beginning our march towards respectability.”

Allez, Les Bleus!
England and France may sit as permanent members on the United Nation’s Security Council now but back then, theirs was a brutal relationship that is best known collectively as the Hundred Years’ War. Of course, matters today between the two countries are a far cry from the medieval times. The peace and prosperity of post-World War II has catapulted both countries into the world arena in ways their ancestors never conceived. But the rivalry still exists.

England is widely credited as the “inventor” of the game and the domestic English Premiere League is said to be one of the best leagues in the world today. How ironic is it then that a handful of Frenchmen have been accorded some of the highest honors in the EPL.

Arsene Wenger is the most successful manager in Arsenal’s history. The Strasbourg native has secured for the Gunners the most number of silverware and is the club’s current longest-running manager with over 550 matches to date. He is the only foreign-born manager to win the Double (the League and FA Cup) in EPL history and he accomplished it twice – 1998 and 2002. He led the Gunners to the only undefeated season in EPL history (in 2004). Wenger has been knighted OBE by Queen Elizabeth herself.

Former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier is another Frenchman knighted OBE. After a vastly successful six-year tenure with the Reds, Houllier is now in the midst of another successful run with Olympique Lyonnais, the defending Ligue 1 champions. With Liverpool, he won six trophies including a rare Treble in one season.

Thierry Henry plays for Arsene Wenger in Arsenal where he has become the club’s all-time leading scorer surpassing the great Ian Wright’s 185-club goals in 2005. After a failed stint with Juventus, Henry transferred to Arsenal where Wenger moved him from the win to the position of striker. To date, it remains one of Wenger’s masterstrokes for aside from Henry’s 200+ goals; he is the only player in EPL history to score 25 goals in five consecutive seasons.

Since we began this column on the Hundred Years’ War maybe its best that we end this with the man known in Old Trafford as “the King.” Eric Cantona helped launch Manchester United into a new era of prosperity during his seven-year hitch with the Red Devils helping them to the first Double ever in English football history while mentoring young studs David Beckham, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, and Paul Scholes. Almost decades after he hung up his spikes from the pitch, the crowds at Old Trafford still sing the King’s name.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Elvis Has Left the Building

The King is gone. He isn’t too far removed from this generation who will remember the 90’s with the fondness of tales by the fireside, by the bar, or among sports fora. Michael Jordan who has six rings as opposed to Bill Russell’s 11 has been proclaimed to be the greatest since his Chicago Bulls accomplished 2 trifectas in an age when dynasties are impossible.

Even in the midst of His Airness reign, his throne was constantly beset with pretenders anointed by shoe advertising campaigns and agents who secured bank-busting contracts even before their clients played an NBA minute. Grant Hill, Harold Miner, Jerry Stackhouse, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Dwyane Wade to name a few have been oft compared with the Great One. Of the eight; two so far have won NBA titles. A few others may very well win one before they call it a career but what’s this with comparisons with the Great One.

When the Bulls won their third straight in 1992-93, Bill Russell was asked in the middle of a golf game what he thought of the Bulls’ accomplishment. Replied the Lord of the Rings, “Not much. Let’s talk when they’ve won eight straight.” Russ will forever be one of the all-time greats and he has earned every right to talk so since his Boston Celtics won 11 titles in 13 seasons. The man has a championship ring for every finger and one toe. How’s that for the ultimate bragging rights?

Russ was great for his time (16 teams and 2 rounds of play-off ball). In an age of free agency, 29 NBA franchises, rap albums, and an uncanny sixth sense for ESPn (pun intended) highlights, eight straight is downright impossible. Of course there are those who say that MJ’s Bulls would have won eight straight had he not gone to chase curve balls (as much as I am a Bulls fan I don’t believe eight straight would have possible) but I’m here not to extol the greatness of MJ. Many have done so before me and in a much more verbose way. I’m writing because I chafe at media’s constant comparisons between MJ and this year’s Next-Jordan Model. SLAM years ago proclaimed Grant Hill to be just like Jordan... only better. Uh huh. Boy, were they red in the face after that. Grant... I love his game, but right now – overall, he’s gone nowhere just like wife Tamia’s singing career (Ouch!). Kobe Bryant’s 11-year career in the NBA is spectacular by any standard, but he gets as much rap for his petulance and his game. Vinsanity? The only thing he has in common is that he’s a former slam dunk cham and an UNC alum.

Chris Ekstrand recently wrote in his Inside the NBA column in Sports Illustrated of Lebron James’ potential to surpass Jordan in terms of accomplishments. Of course that’s definitely possible. Even MJ acknowledged that in his book For the Love of the Game: My Story that someone will one day surpass him (I think he sort of implied Kobe to be the Air Apparent in his book).

Now let me get this straight, I think Lebron is an awesome player and will probably win an NBA title before he abdicates from his throne, but can he simply be Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers swingman? People love to compare all the time since it makes for great discussion and debate. But puh-leeze, none of the aforementioned are anywhere close even in their respective careers with the one true king Michael Jordan!

Lebron won his first play-off series a year before MJ? C’mon, Michael brought his team to the play-offs every year of his Bulls career! In only his second play-offs, he already began to carve out his legend with no small thanks to Larry Bird’s “God-disguised-as-Michael-Jordan quote.” Lebron has played in the Olympics and the FIBA worlds already and the first time up, he was benched. In Saitama, Japan, he disappeared when he was needed leaving Carmelo and D-Wade to hold the fort. Jordan has two Gold Medals from Los Angeles and Barcelona and a Gold from the Tournament of the Americas (won in Portland) prior to the 1992 summer Games. Remember how Spanish guard Fernando Martin described his memories of the 1984 Olympics’ Men’s Basketball Finals: “Jordan. He jump, jump, and jump.

Lebron for the most part last season was pilloried for not wanting to take the last shot. He would pass off to Damon Jones or to Flip Murray. James reasoned that, “Clutch playing means knowing what kind of play to make at he last minute. It could mean a pass that leads to a basket or a stop.” Well, it could also mean you don’t want the responsibility. Heck even Kobe would want the ball in crunchtime during his rookie year. Toni Kukoc wanted the ball in his hands every time out! I remember him missing a last second shot in a play that was called for him – not Nick Van Exel or Eddie Jones or Cedric Ceballos, but Kobe. He missed and was distraught over that, but Chick Hearn went on to say that he’ll be making many of that in years to come. Incidentally Hearn once worked as a fortune teller at # 1111 South Figueroa St. in downtown LA (that’s the address for Staples Center in case you haven’t been there).

So with Lebron... let’s not even bother with the stats coz that’s all he has for now. Let’s talk 10 years from now and maybe I’ll be eating humble pie.

King James... that’s a pretty snazzy campaign that Nike came up with during his rookie year. Chamber of Fear, his sophomore ad campaign (something out of a Quentin Tarantino film) and the latest, Meet the Lebrons are eye-catching and witty. But right now... he’s just another highlight reel – hey, I did like his slam over the Big Fundamental the other day. One play-off win doesn’t mean much. Karl Malone made the Finals twice. Ditto with Jason Kidd, but their stints will also be remembered for their futility.

Whether rightly or wrongly, winning is how these players will eventually be judged. Lebron looks good in his career path right now. He might even win a title or two. Even in Fantasy Leagues, he’s just as ideal for his propensity to rack up good numbers, but right now, there is only one king of the NBA and he already left the building.

Hmm. Did I just compare Michael Jordan to Elvis Presley?