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, June 19, 2006

Fathers and Sons

The best gift I ever received was a soccer ball. Soccer was the first sport I actually played and loved so much. That ball was my teddy bear and it was held snug and tight in my arms. I was consumed by the game so much that I was oft reminded not to forget about my grades because they began to strangely resemble footballs.

There was this old sports almanac that I read during days when classes were suspended because of the weather. That well-thumbed book became a bible of sorts as I read and re-read what accounts I could of the New York Yankees which soon became my first favorite professional team. Going down to the Bronx many years later to regularly make a pilgrimage to baseball’s hallowed cathedral was a nice way to complete the circle.

As I grew older, I was amused no end by the howls, cheers, and jeers of a Toyota-Crispa match and a slick playing Golden State Warriors team. Years later, I would fly down to Chicago to watch the Bulls and drive up to the Meadowlands to watch the Nets just to get my hoops junkie fix.

Now grown up, I need no prodding to get into sports. I have lived and breathed it and it’s a part of my everyday life. Having lived in New York, I soaked in the Islanders and the Yankees; the Nets and the Giants. I’ve balled at West 4 and watched the cats rock the rim at Rucker. I’ve learned how to play hockey and have spent a lot of time in the penalty box (for fighting and high-sticking). I’ve paid huge sums of money to watch the visiting Arsenal and Bayern Munich football clubs. I’ve made like Roger Clemens back in the day rubbing the bronze plate of the Babe at Monument Park. I’ve been in that baseball heaven that is Cooperstown and have come full circle with the players whose lives and stats I have learned much from that well-read almanac. I’ve made Modell’s and the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue regular stops on my way home from work.

And most recently, there was this day when I couldn’t sleep a wink. Tip-off was at 12 noon and sure enough I needed the rest. Come game time, I tried to remain impassive and oblivious to the people and excitement of a basketball game. When I saw my son put on his jersey with our name neatly stenciled in the back above #12 (he’s a fan of Larry Fonacier), I was ecstatic. The final stat line was un-Fonacier-like: 0 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, and 2 fouls. But I was proud. Never mind that they lost. I was happy for him and his teammates because they took the defeat graciously and in stride. My other son for some reason I cannot fathom would rather mind the net than try score as many goals as his old man did. Yet I’m perfectly content to be there in the bleachers and on the sidelines cheering them on instead of trying to out-coach the coach.

On this Father’s Day, I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to my Dad for introducing me to sports. For instilling in me the sense of fair play and giving it my all. I don’t have that soccer ball and that almanac I was given all those long years ago. But I have this, my two young sons, Matthew and Anthony, who have brought me full circle to the games I’ve always loved.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Dancing on the Pitch

The atmosphere is supercharged. Fight songs and chants fill the air. A bobbing mass of humanity is ready to explode. And a goal is the match that will light the fire.

In one incandescent moment, the goal and the post-game exultation is what the sport really is about --- a celebration of life. Goals literally and figuratively are hard to come by (with the exception of a few ghastly international matches such as one where Australia lobotomized Samoa by a score of 31-0; an unbelievable score that resembles one of those Super Bowl routs) so when one is able to achieve them then a show and a shout, jump, and maybe a dance step or two are in the offing. But in soccer, those post-goal celebrations can be really wacky, crazy, amusing, not to mention highly creative.

FIFA has cracked down on post-goal celebrations to lessen the unsportsmanlike behavior that oft leads to retaliations and fights.

While we may have seen an end to it, what follows are a few examples of some of the strangest, funniest, insulting, and weirdest post-goal celebrations.

Brandi Chastain, USA (vs. China 1999 Women’s World Cup)
After scoring the tourney-winning goal, Chastain ran across the pitch, removed her jersey to reveal nothing but her sports bra. Somehow, Chastain is more remembered for the strip than her goal.

Paul Gascoigne, England (vs. Scotland Euro ’96 Championship)
After dispatching their ancient rivals with a big-time goal, Gascoigne lay on his back while his teammates grabbed water bottles from the sidelines and poured its contents into his mouth. This was in reference to a pre-tourney incident inside a nightclub where players were photographed while having alcoholic beverages poured down their throats.

Nwankwo Kanu, Nigeria (vs. Brazil 1996 Olympics)
After equalizing with Brazil 3-3 with less than 2 minutes left in the match, the Super Eagles went into extra time with renewed vigor and resolve. Kanu who scored the equalizer, blasted in an eighteen-footer to turn back the tourney favorites. Kanu ran off to Nigeria’s side of the pitch like a new-born calf learning how to walk. The rest of the Nigerian team followed suit. To the people watching, they all thought it was some Nigerian tribal dance. But the truth is Kanu felt his legs go rubbery that he had a difficult time walking upright.

Ahn Jung Hwan, South Korea (vs. USA 2002 World Cup)
After drawing with the highly-fancied US eleven with time running down, Hwan ran around mimicking a speed skater – a not so subtle dig at American Olympian Apolo Anton Ohno, who was awarded a gold medal in a skating competition after a Korean skater was disqualified.

Finidi George, Nigeria, (vs. Greece, 1994 World Cup)
After George scored the goal against Greece that sent the Super Eagles to the second round, he got down on all fours and crawled around the penalty box occasionally cocking a leg in the style of a dog marking his territory.

Jurgen Klinsmann, Tottenham Hotspurs
Fans didn’t take to Klinsmann right off the bat as they had long memories of this sleek German tornado crushing England’s hopes on the pitch time and again. After scoring his very first goal – and it was a game-wining one at that – Klinsmann ran around with his arms spread like an eagle’s then flung himself spread-eagled on the ground. That post-game celebration is copied and imitated in every corner of the globe up to this day.

This World Cup is shaping to be one of the most exciting in recent years. We’ve seen the first ever own-goal decide a match’s outcome and tiny Trinidad and Tobago hold the world’s highest scoring offense to a scoreless draw. There are a lot more matches to be played; more awesome goals to be scored that will spawn a thousand highlights to forever be etched in our memories.

And so will the post-goal celebrations that follow.

Monday, June 5, 2006

The Fever Is Upon Us

It’s in the air. You can feel it. And watch it.
The spectacle that is the 2006 FIFA World Cup is on Solar Sports’ sister channel Sports Plus. “Solar is committed to bring the best sporting events in the world to Philippine television,” beamed a proud Peter Chanliong, the cable giant’s aggressive COO. “It’s a first step for us and a step towards helping the sport grow in the country.” Next on the pitch for Solar are the Italian Serie A and the Spanish Primera Liga.

It’s also on people’s lips.
John, an English expatriate, was in an extraordinary cheerful mood, as he got ready for work last Friday. It wasn’t solely because it was the last day of the working week but the World Cup games were a mere seven days away. While getting ready he sang himself a song (to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”): “If it weren’t for all of us, you’d all be Krauts. If it weren’t for all of us, you’d all be Krauts. If it weren’t for all of us, if it weren’t for all of us, if it weren’t for all of us you’d all be Krauts.” He let out a hearty laugh and added, “Dinna worry, mate. Don read anything innit. Its just football. Thas just football.”

It’s even on the trees and on the light posts.
In the sprawling Ateneo De Manila University campus along Loyola Heights, Q.C., streamers announcing the live showing of the World Cup games at the Blue Eagle Gym adorn almost every tree and light post drowning out the traditional “welcome back” signs at the start of every school year. Ateneo Football Center Director Jong CastaƱeda felt that showing the games in a large venue using wide screen projectors was a no-brainer. “Football is something best watched with a large group of people,” said the visible excited ex-Blue Booter. “Hindi ba mas exciting yun? In fact, we’re open to all nearby residents and students of UP, PSBA, Miriam and others.”

It’s on the stands.
The June issue of Summit Media’s popular Men’s Health magazine features a 12-page World Cup special that Associate Publisher Alvin Jimenez describes as a “visual treat for the fan.” It’s got Zidane (in his World Cup swan song), Kaka, Messi, and other players touted to make an impact this time around. On weekdays, the metropolis’ new and smartly written broadsheet, Business Mirror, has been ahead of the pack with its comprehensive Road to Germany stories.

In fact, it’s fashionable.
Sporting goods stores have reported brisk sales of football jerseys whether they’re authentic or knock-offs or whether they carry club or national colors. A source from a major footwear company likes the outlook for football in this country where the sport is wrongly perceived to be unpopular. “Basketball still enjoys more volume sales but the market hasn’t grown. Parang nag-plateau na,” he noted. “Unlike in football where sales have been consistently aggressive and better year in and out. Of course, this being a World Cup year, sales have been much better. We’ve sold out our stocks up to December yet retailers have been clamoring for much much more.”

It’s everywhere.
Bong Sillona of Solar Sports’ Cable Sales Division has reported that at least 42 major hotels and popular bars and restaurants in the metro area have subscribed to the All-Access Pass for all 64 games of the tourney. “And that doesn’t even include residential pay-per-view numbers,” he underscored.

It’s infected all of us.
“Dude, with the games back in Germany, that means the live games will be shown late at night until the early hours of the day,” lamented on excited fan. “But,” he added with a grin, “that’s exactly why I have been saving up on my vacation and sick leaves.”

Why not? The World Cup fever is upon us.