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, January 29, 2007

The Round Mound & Agent Zero

One of my earliest recollections of Charles Barkley was when he was in Philadelphia and they were playing Portland at the Spectrum. The Trailblazers were in their half-court set and the ball had swung to their then-rookie Mark Bryant who was working the ball to Jerome Kersey. Barkley, who was on top of the key called out, “Yo!” And Bryant fell for that old playground trick of passing to an opponent. The Round Mound of Rebound hightailed it to the other end of the floor for a monster slam and guffaws of laughter on both sides.

That’s the way Barkley played the game – with feral intensity and in the spirit of fun. Easily, he is the most quoted – although he does claim, misquoted – player in the NBA. The loquacious forward has found a home on TNT’s Inside the NBA which is the funniest sports talk show since Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann ruled Sportscenter. Along with Kenny Smith, Doug Collins, Marv Albert, Steve Kerr, and Ernie Johnson among others, they have the best quotes and most fab insights. While not as astute as Kerr, Chuck knows how to make the broadcasts interesting and fun to listen to.

Barkley: Byron Scott just got out of the hospital.
Johnson: Huh? What happened?
Barkley: He got stabbed in the back (in reference to his players ousting him from New Jersey).

Chuck on Vince Carter: Half-man. Half-season.

Kenny Smith: Andre Igoudala was on fire!
Chuck: No, he wasn’t. He was just excited he got to shoot in a game (in reference to Allen Iverson’s not passing the ball).

During the recent Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings game in Sacto, Barkley subbed for an indisposed Steve Kerr to work alongside Marv Albert and he was fantastic. He playfully needled veteran ref Dick Bavetta who is 67 years of age about his apparent slowness in getting up and down the NBA hardwood to do his job. Said Barkley, “Bavetta was so old that he parted the Red Sea with Moses.” And he also added that he and Albert could beat Bavetta down the floor anytime and anywhere. Added Sir Charles, Bavetta’s tombstone would read, “He keeled over while racing the Chuckster.” TNT is proposing that the two settle the score once and for all right before the All-Star Game. Bavetta has reportedly agreed to race. Stay tuned to this if it materializes but that would be real fun since Bavetta is another jokester.

In that same LA-Sacto telecast, the Lakers’ Brian Cook found himself wide open late in the game but passed up a shot to which Barkley leapt up and yelled out loud enough even for those in the nearby seats to hear, “Shoot the ball! Shoot the ball. If you’re scared, get a dog!” Bwahahaha. That’s just awesome!

My three fave NBA jerseys today are Kobe’s #24 (yes, I have the Lakers’ purple road jersey and am one of the few MJ fans who’s a Kobe fan), Andres Nocioni’s #5, and Gilbert Arenas’ #0. Yes, Arenas. How can you not love this player who has made a career out of using perceived slights as motivation? Not since MJ lit up foes with channeled anger has the NBA seen a playa like Arenas. There’s even a term coined for his oddities, Gilbertology. He wears #0 after basketball experts once said that he plays zero minutes in Arizona, his college. That goes to show that experts know jack. And after being cut out from the US Basketball National Team to the recent FIBA Worlds, he promised to take it out on Mike Krzyzewski’s assistants on that team, Phoenix’s Mike D’Antoni and Portland’s Nate McMillan. He lit up the Suns for 54 and said he’d go for 50 versus the Trailblazers this coming February 11. And he even wrote in his blog that he’d “give up one NBA season to go back to college just to play Duke where he’d score 84 or 85 points.” Hoo-hah!

My slant, Coach K was the main reason why the US team lost at Saitama. He didn’t play his bench much and inexplicably did not use Dwight Howard in the second half during that crucial loss to Greece. Why get a team of 12 when you’re only going to a 7-man rotation? And he had Brad Miller who could break down those zones with his deadeye outside shooting. Stay in college, Coach K. Your game only works there.

Back to Arenas. Not since Larry Bird have we seen a player who likes to call his shots. Remember when Bird told Xavier McDaniel as they were headed for their respective benches during a timeout that he’d shoot from a certain spot on the floor (in the game’s dying minutes) and that he’d make it? The Birdman delivered on that promise on the very spot he pointed out to the X-Man.

Well, Arenas is somewhat like that. Before every shot, he’d yell, “Hibachi!” That’s because he heats up real fast like a Hibachi grill. But after Kobe Bryant said that he doesn’t take quality shots, Arenas began to shout, “Quality shot,” after every shot. And he took it out on the Lakers going for 60 points.

Well, both are headed for the All-Star Game at Las Vegas where both figure to be a big part of pro hoops’ biggest party. Barkley vs. Bavetta? Arenas vs. the League. That I’d pay to watch.

Monday, January 22, 2007

A Real Mess

Before the ASEAN Football Cup Finals, I was shocked to hear most of my friends and colleagues say that our National Team was going to get their collective asses whupped. It’s not that I had overly misplaced optimism or unrealistic expectations, but rather I believed that our team would fight and contend. While in the aftermath of the competition, my prediction might seem laughable, I like to think that we went into the finals thinking we had a chance. Look, if we’re going to go into international competitions like the Asian Games, SEA Games, Olympics or what have you and our mindset is we’re not going to win, then why bother sending a team? Let’s save the tax payers some money and just send the boxers, cue artists, wushu practitioners or the sure-ball medal winners. We’re there as contenders not as foils for players to rack up some serious personal stats.

So maybe the system Aris Caslib ran was wrong. Maybe they didn’t have enough preparation. Maybe our team wasn’t in the best of conditions – did you see how the Malaysians and Thais outran our defensive backs time and again? The way the Thais had their way with us, I swear I thought the score was 11-0. Oh, that was Singapore versus Laos? No fooling. If the Malays and Thais weren’t excited like they were at a duck shoot, they might have scored a few more. Maybe this will show people that having the Fil-foreigners is a short-fix solution.

Aside from the beatings we got, I was afraid that the losses (so are you happy we tied Myanmar?) would kill the burgeoning interest in football locally. You don’t know how pissed I was when I heard the game analyst’s comments that we are clearly out of our league and how the tourney should be a learning experience. We’ve been schooled so much over the years that I wonder if we’re inured to the lessons. Truth hurts, doesn’t it? And some naysayers opine that these losses might send Philippine football back to the Stone Age. Well, I don’t think so and that’s not the eternal optimist in me speaking. I think that more people care now and they won’t allow the sport to sink into quiet obscurity. So now it’s back to the drawing board and the upcoming SEA Games.

Our foes play some 30+ international games every year. Our team plays in much less. Shooting from the hip here, I’d say our team needs more exposure, better facilities for training, better training, and a solid comprehensive grassroots program. Not a splintered one. What’s happening is we have different fiefdoms for associations. If they aren’t feuding with one another they think their association is king. So much for team spirit.

It seems that after every debacle in some sporting event, people call for an inquiry or take the opportunity to lambaste the incumbents. But has anything been done? Time for real action, gentlemen. And by the way, thanks to the Azkals! I’m a fan no matter what.

Over in the Iberian Peninsula, Real Madrid, my favorite international football team (after the defunct New York Cosmos) is in turmoil. Yes, the soap opera continues. They are discovering much like the New York Yankees that fielding a line-up of galacticos doesn’t guarantee gleaming silverware.

I am sorely disappointed the way things have turned out after the World Cup. Their shoddy treatment of their players leaves much to be desired. I thought that David Beckham played into the hands of Ramon Calderon and Fabio Capello. All the while, the President and Coach said that the former England Captain was in Madrid’s plans. In the meantime, Becks became one of the world’s most expensive cheerleaders hardly getting any playing time. Then they said that it was Beckham’s decision whether he wanted to stay with the team. When Beckham chose the LA Galaxy’s offer, the two reacted as if Beckham had an affair with their wives. Calderon made derisive comments not just about Beckham but even the other players most notably Ronaldo, Iker Casillas, and Antonio Cassano, and Guti. Capello also said that Beckham played his last game with Real. After the backlash against their poor management of the situation, the two backpedaled. Calderon apologized to the team for his rants (he called his team a bunch of spoiled egoists, revealed to all how much Casillas makes, and pooh poohed Beckham’s deal with a supposed lousy football league) and Capello said that maybe Beckham might play out his final season. But the damage has been done. Capello even flipped the bird on one irate fan! Madrid – championship-less in three years now is rebuilding for the nth time. The players are unhappy. If management believed that the youth movement was the way to go then they should have done so after the last World Cup. As it is, many of their former players and coaches left with a sour taste in their mouths. Not exactly the paragon of a model organization Real Madrid is. Maybe after this, other players might not want to showcase their wares at the Bernabeau.

Maybe the LFP should change the team’s name to Real Mess.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Going Home

I. Homeward Bound
After seven months of living in airport terminals and a fire station, footballer Ayi Nii Aryee was finally cleared to leave last January 10 on board an Emirates flight EK 335 bound for Dubai. From there, Aryee switched flights for the last leg home to Accra International Airport in Ghana.

Ayi was contracted to try out for a pro football club Sporting Afrique in Singapore’s S-League some nine months ago, but a bad deal and a devious agent left the aspiring football player without a team and without any money. But the worst was yet to come to the 19-year old Ghanaian player. A voided working permit and an expired passport found him stranded at first in Clark International Airport then at NAIA where he was confined to quarters since July of last year.

But all ends well. With the help of local football club Union FC, Ayi was finally able to leave. Partially because of our efforts to publicize Ayi’s plight, Sporting Afrique was banned from further competition in Singapore. It turns out that Ayi wasn’t the only player being taken advantage of. The rest of the team has not been paid the previously agreed salaries promised them and S-League authorities shut down the club while its management is purportedly under investigation. In the meantime, the team’s players who are all from Africa have been dispersed to other clubs or have been sent back home.

II. A Sort of Homecoming
Last Tuesday, January 9, I received an invitation to conduct a seminar on sports writing for grade school kids from 14 different Metro Manila-based schools. The seminar/workshop was last Saturday, January 13, at my alma mater, Ateneo De Manila. Almost as soon as I said yes to the Ateneo Grade School Vice Principal Jonni Salvador, who is an old classmate of mine, I immediately regretted it.

I previously gave similar seminars in the Ateneo College and at Immaculate Conception Academy but the participants were either of the secondary or tertiary level and thereby more mature and with an idea of what they want to do in life. I wasn’t sure if these kids who were in either grade six or seven had a clue of what they wanted to pursue let alone writing being a career for them (like Janice Hardy, Michael Jordan’s old elementary teacher, I told them to go into math because that’s where the money was --- hahaha). Wasn’t this the age where Playstation games occupied their attention more than reading sports pages or what? Wasn’t this the age where they began to notice members of the opposite sex? Despite my apprehensions, I still pushed through with it. About 15 minutes into the sessions, I was so glad that I took part in it. It turned out to be a fabulous experience that brought me back to my Tulong Dunong days teaching poor kids in Marikina. And it wasn’t even imparting what knowledge I had. I think that I too learned much from them. That and being inside a grade school classroom I was last in since 1981.

The last thing I had my students do was to write about their fond memories with regards to sports and other matters (some of my students were editors of their own school newspapers but weren’t necessarily into sports). One of the participants was a Grade 7 kid named Jan who was playing for the Ateneo Grade School basketball team. Jan wrote of the difficulties of playing with more senior and better players who seemed to bully him at every opportunity. He avoided practice and wanted to quit. But good ole fatherly advice got him back on track. He’s once more practicing with the team and still faces the same challenges day in and out. Only this time, it’s with a different perspective on things. He asked me afterwards why his teammates constantly get on his case. I said that they probably ride him because they know he has so much more to give. They are pushing and probing him because of his potential. I said that if they didn’t feel he had anything to contribute they wouldn’t even bother him. After all, he’d be eating into their playing time.

Jan’s story wasn’t the only one that was inspiring. The kids from Marist, Claret, Holy Spirit and others all had wonderful and touching tales to tell. I thank the Lord for the exuberance and eternal optimism of youth. A dose of it augurs well for tired and jaded souls like ours who are tired of corruption and a world that doesn’t really care. I told Jonni that while I’m still on Philippine soil, he has me hooked up for next year’s seminar.

III. UAAP sports
It’s Monday as you read this but I spent yesterday – Sunday – watching my school team compete in various UAAP sports. I watched the Ateneo team play baseball defending champs UP at Rizal (Ateneo won 9-3). Zipped over to Loyola Heights where I had lunch with PFF’s Johnny Romualdez, NCRAA’s Poch Borromeo, Ateneo’s Jun Jun Capistrano and Ricky Palou, Adidas officials, and STI’s Mhel Garrido. Watched the women’s football team tie UST 1-1. And after I file this report, I’m off to Blue Eagle Gym to watch volleyball. Ah, the life of a sports junkie.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Rocky Balboa

As a kid, I was weaned on a steady diet of Bruce Lee movies in Binondo. That and the Marvel Superheroes. So imagine my surprise when my dad took me to watch a boxing movie in the old Remar theater in Cubao.

The brass filigree theme that opened as the word “ROCKY” in bold white letters scrolled to the left hooked me from the get-go. Bill Conti in my humble opinion penned one of the best movie soundtracks ever. The ultimate compliment I could give a soundtrack lies in one word – sensitivity. And it is in more ways than one plus it stands the test of time. As the grooves of my vinyl LP wore out, I bought the CD of it in Times Square many years later and imported the music into my ipod.

The movie opened to these simple words:

November 25, 1975

There was a huge stained glass-like mural of Jesus above a dingy smoky gym that had certainly seen better days. But you know, it was magic. Thus began the greatest underdog story ever told and the lessons about going the distance.

I picked up Sylvester Stallone’s autobiography years later and read of how he wrote the script for Rocky in 86-straight hours in his dilapidated apartment where the heater hardly worked during those brutal east coast winters. I was glad that he stood his ground when United Artists, the outfit that bankrolled the movie, asked if it would be okay for Burt Reynolds or Ryan O’Neal to star in it. And as it turned out, Sly was the best man for this folkloric character. And the film had some of the most memorable characters ever: the immortal Adrian, her jerk of a brother Paulie, Gazzo, the small-time loanshark, Apollo Creed who actor Carl Weathers played brilliantly, and of course, the late Burgess Meredith’s Mickey.

And they (and the film) had some of the best movie lines ever. The closest film with really great lines I’d say is Jerry Maguire.

Adrian: Einstein flunked out of school twice.
Paulie: Is that so?
Adrian: Yeah. Beethoven was deaf. Helen Keller was blind. Rocky’s got a chance.

Mickey: Your nose is broken.
Rocky: How does it look?
Mickey: Ah, it’s an improvement.

I worked in Princeton awhile back and it being an hour away from Philly, it was inevitable that I’d go there. I grew up a Sixers fan (before I switched allegiances to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls) and I loved the Philly soul music scene. As much as 70s rock shook me to my core, I watched Soul Train on television and “The Sound of Philadelphia” by MFSB with vocals by the Three Degrees was a ridiculous favorite in our house. I took the opportunity to go to Philadelphia to re-live my childhood fantasies one fall weekend and to run up the steps at the Museum of Art where to this day, people still run up in a tribute to Rocky. The Rocky statue wasn’t there when I got there (it was relocated at the Wachovia Center where I did get to see it as I watched the Sixers play that night) but there was this massive exhilarating feeling being atop those steps in this most historic city.

I loved the movie and its sequels. Sure not all of it was great – I especially wasn’t crazy about IV but I sort of liked V when Rocky retired and was up against one of his protégés in a street fight. If there was any movie that is the granddaddy of all sequels then Rocky is it (now it’s even-steven with the Star Wars movies, all I have to wait on is for Indiana Jones to catch up).

I remember reading Mad Magazine parody of Rocky so many years ago with the movie going all the way to a 17th installment where the Itallian Stallion is an old geezer still duking it out in the ring. Who would have thought that 30 years later we’d see the sixth and final installment (the movie was shown in 1976 when it premiered in New York’s Baronet Theater where six years prior to the movie’s screening Sly worked as $37 a-week usher)?

So I watched Rocky Balboa with baited breath and guarded optimism. Would it stand up to the mythos of the original?

I’ll try not to spoil things for those who haven’t seen the movie since it isn’t showing yet, but yes, the film does stand up and is a perfect coda to this series. The sub-plot of Rocky and Adrian’s romance was always the centerpiece of the movies and even with Shire’s absence in the movie, you feel the emotional tug of it. The scenes where Rocky mourns are powerful beyond belief. There are even more great characters this time around beginning with Antonio Tarver’s (badly underused) Mason Dixon. Just as Creed wasn’t a bad guy in the vein of Clubber Lang and Drago, Dixon is very much another tortured soul. The characters of Spider Rico and Li’l Marie make dramatic re-appearances and contributions to the story. The script is taut and poignant. And when I heard the opening strains of Bill Conti’s music which has been re-arranged for this as well as the “Take You Back” street soul of Stallone’s brother Frank Jr, my eyes welled up.

Rocky was always about going the distance and after this movie, I’d say that Tom Wolfe is wrong. Sly Stallone shows us that yes, you can go home again.

Monday, January 1, 2007

So Close, Footballer's New Year reunion fizzles out

"A horse. A horse. My kingdom for a horse, " cried out Richard the Lion Heart after his nights were besieged by Moors. The one thing that life's problems leave upon a person is not to take things for granted.

For Ayi Nii Aryee, the Ghanaian football player who's been playing out a real life version of Tom Hanks' stranded character in the movie The Terminal, home and family never seemed more desirable.

After local football club Union FC helped purchase a ticket home for Aryee after nearly six months in solitude in Clark International Airport , the 19-year old football player with dreams of making it on the international stage was going home. He left Clark around noon of last December 30, 2006 to go to Ninoy Aquino International Airport to take an Emirates flight bound for Dubai and from there to Accra, Ghana. "It would have been a nice homecoming," thought Ayi about arriving home on New Year's Eve.

He bade a teary-eyed farewell to the firemen in the Emergency Services Department (where he was confined) and Union FC who all treated him like a brother. His flight was scheduled for 6pm, but right before boarding, he was disallowed to take a seat. Dr. Rafa Rodriguez, who also plays with Union FC explained the latest snag in the Ghanaian's quest to go home: "He was withheld by United Arab Emirates pending a request from Dubai for permission to board, Dubai being his transit flight. This is the protocol of the UAE."

For the third time in a year (the first being in Singapore where he was deported after his working papers were cancelled and the second happening at Clark where he has been staying ever since), Ayi was confined to quarters. Only this time, he was more distraught. "To come so close then snatch it away, it is cruel," he lamented as soon as he found himself back in the familiar digs of the conference room of the Emergency Department Services in Clark that has been his living quarters in the last four months.

NAIA Officials have been most helpful in trying to secure the fax from Dubai that will allow the Ghanaian entrance into the Middle Eastern gateway. Said one Immigrations official, "As much as we'd like to help, it's out of our hands. Ghana embassy officials in Singapore have certified his identity. Unfortunately, this is all part of the protocol." The official however stressed that it will take three to four days to process all the papers before Ayi will be finally allowed to leave.

"It's a little problem. Just a few more days," says Ayi trying to sound upbeat. "But at least I know that it will not take another six months."

New Year’s Resolutions

Sports are a metaphor for life as one has oft heard. But many times, the lines are blurred when the unscrupulous and the greedy take over. Here are a few New Year’s resolutions for certain people and if they listen up, then maybe the world will be a better place in 2007 and forever.

For our homegrown athletes who toil in anonymous hardship:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It's not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. – Timo Cruz (Coach Carter)

For a controversial college basketball coach:
l came to coach basketball players, and you became students. – Ken Carter (Coach Carter)
We trust that you’re a fine, upstanding, God-fearing man with Christian morals and principles who will set an example and a standard of leadership for our boys – tell me, do you believe in zone defense or man-to-man? – Town member to Coach Norman Dale (Hoosiers)
I’d stress on the Christian morals, Coach.

For the hopelessly inept referees who call the games:
We come to work, and we work extremely hard at this, only for the officials to screw us. We fought, but that doesn't mean anything when you have the officials take over the game like that. You go with the three blind mice, and it's just sad that Tom screwed up that game for us. – Jason Kidd after a controversial New Jersey Nets loss to the Detroit Pistons
Man, I saw some of the worst officiated college basketball games last season. Boo!

For the promoters, managers, and sports officials who take advantage of our poor and ill equipped boxers, know this:
If there’s magic in boxing, it’s the magic of fighting battles beyond endurance, beyond cracked ribs, ruptured kidneys and detached retinas. It’s the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you. – Eddie Dupris (Million Dollar Baby)
Why do some people with zero ounce of talent make money out of those who give their bodies to the pain?

For our sports officials who engage in mudslinging:
Reporter: Rocky, do you have something derogatory to say about the champ?

Rocky: Derogatory? Yeah, he’s great. – Rocky Balboa (Rocky II)

For selfish pro athletes:
When you put on that jersey, the name on the front is a hell of a lot more important than the one on the back. – Herb Brooks (Miracle)

For team managers/coaches, may you learn from this:
One February 13, 1999, Arsenal played Sheffield United in a FA Cup match. With the scored at 1-all, a Sheffield player went down an injury. Football has an unwritten rule where the opposing team kicks the ball out of bounds when a player is injured. When play resumes, the team with the injured player kicks the ball back to the opposing team. But on this day, that rule was broken when Arsenal rookie Nwankwo Kanu stole teammate Ray Parlour’s inbounds pass to Sheffield. Kanu passed to another teammate who scored as Sheffield players stood around in shock. The referee let the goal stand and Arsenal won 2-1. Except that it wasn’t a satisfying win for Arsene Wenger, the Gunners’ manager. He asked the Football Association to replay the game and for the first time in 127 years, a match was replayed with Arsenal winning by the same margin 2-1.

For George Steinbrenner, Owner of the New York Yankees:
Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all time thing. You don't win once in a while, you don't do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing. – Vince Lombardi, Hall of Fame Coach of the Green Bay Packers
I believe that the problem of the Yankees is that the Boss has eschewed what Manager Joe Torre brought to the organization by playing a National League type of game in the American League. That’s small ball as opposed to the majestic home runs that people love. That was the secret of the 1996-2001 Yankees. They grinded it out, were the most patient of batters, and won by the contributions of the team. I miss guys like Mariano Duncan, Charlie Hayes, Tim Raines, Paul O’Niell, Joe Girardi, Luis Sojo, and Gerald Williams. Those guys played hard and only cared for the team’s ultimate goal.

For everyone, here’s a point to ponder for the New Year by one of the greatest athletes of our time:
My childhood ambition was to beat my dad in a game of golf. But my biggest ambition yesterday and today – how can I become a better person tomorrow? – Tiger Woods

Happy New Year, everyone! It’s going to be another great year in sports.