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.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bleachers' Brew: In Through the Out Door

from my Bleachers' Brew column in Business Mirror August 27, 2007
In Through the Out Door
by rick olivares

A few months ago, I wrote a story about an Ateneo Team B hopeful who narrowly missed making the school’s UAAP squad. I received quite a few emails not just from Ateneans but also from alumni and parents of boys from other schools whose sons went through similar experiences (yes, including a former varsity player from La Salle).

Someone asked me why a “nobody” merited a column to which I replied a terse, why not? Where is it written that we have to heap praise and write about people who have far too much press and air in their heads? Sports is rife with stories of failed campaigns or athletes who never made the cut. And sometimes, their stories are way more interesting than that of the winner’s.

What follows are three more true stories of athletes who are all trying to fight for a place in their sport. I chose not to reveal their names.

Death of A Dream
His palms were sweaty in spite of the air-conditioning. He scratched some unknown itch on his nape then stopped because he didn’t want to call unnecessary attention to himself. That was funny. It’s the attention he wanted -- that his name would be called out as a draft pick in the pro basketball league and now he was well on his way to becoming the incredible shrinking man.

He stole a look around. Everyone was lost in his thoughts. Perhaps they all had the same sickening knot in their stomach. He worshipped the basketball gods all his young life – the ones whose posters decorated his bedroom walls more than the pictures of his fawning girlfriend. And suddenly for one Sunday, he along with the dozens of hopefuls got religious. If he knew how to say the Rosary he would. He didn’t have time for that. All his time was spent on the court trying to get better.

At an early age, his family and neighbors noticed that the one thing he could do well was put the ball into the hoop. If you were to go to his Barangay and ask around for the names of 10 famous living people today odds are he’d be in the top five. That’s how good and popular he was. He was the meal ticket out of their family’s miserable days. They thought he was a can’t miss proposition that they told him to forget his studies and concentrate on being the best possible player alive. And that’s what he did.

The problem is, he never went to a name school much less one whose games are televised. He wondered if he had done the right thing by attending the proceedings. Time was fast. Time was agonizingly slow. Until there was room for only one more. A name was called. It took a few moments for the person next to him to realize that his name was called. He slapped the lucky person’s back. Congratulations he mouthed but it was devoid of heartfelt praise. He wished it were he walking to the podium to a life of fame and fortune. It was over and he was out of the room in a flash. The words of the OIC that they are now free agents who can negotiate with any of the ballclubs for a reserve/practice player slot didn’t matter to him.

It was attention he was looking for today. And for the first time in weeks, he’s glad that the masses inside the mall didn’t recognize him. He took a cab and went home.

A Series of Unfortunate Incidents
He comes from the far south where football is king. If you ask him why he plays the sport and not basketball considering that there is no pro league to gravitate to after one’s school days or even national commitments are done, he’ll shrug and fumble for words. All he can say is that he loves the sport and that’s all he knows and is good at. If anything, just to prolong his career, he’ll probably join the military teams.

He is considered one of our country’s best and trained with the national team for quite awhile. But leading into the Asean Cup Qualifiers, he was cut at the last moment by Fil-Foreigners who arrived merely a day before the competition. The sad thing there was that the person who replaced him hardly contributed and only alienated others by throwing tantrums and even dissing the food, Filipinos, and local culture. After the tournament, those players who were cut in favor of the reinforcements were once more elevated to the national team. The insulting thing there was they were asked back so they could warm the spots for the Fil-Foreigners until they returned for the competition proper. But he knew that the team needed the extra bodies since there weren’t enough to hold practices and scrimmages. He swallowed his pride and stayed on hoping that he’d still make the line-up. And then another whammy was dropped on them by sports authorities… we couldn’t field a football team to the next SEA Games because they weren’t contenders. There just wasn’t enough money.

Now he wishes he played basketball.

Avoiding A Third Strike
He’s from the Dominican Republic where the biggest export next to mining resources and agricultural produce are baseball players. As a wiry pitcher whose frame resembled a stick of sugar cane, he did well enough to be signed by a club from Los Angeles. Only he was designated for its farm system where he toiled for four years. The first time he went to his mother club’s ballpark, he was in awe and refused to step onto the field. He told his teammates that the only time he would step onto the field was if he was going to make the team.

If in his native country he could get batters to flail away at his off-speed pitches, against the bigger and well-trained players in America he was serving up home runs like it was batting practice. His club not once but twice released him. He understood the first time, but after the last one, he cried to the high heavens and asked why.

And He answered by putting the pitcher on the roster of the world’s greatest baseball team. After an initial lousy performance where he was demoted to the minor leagues, he bounced back to the majors with a pair of sterling performances. He knows success is fleeting and you are only as good as your last win in such a demanding sport. Yet he’s hoping that this time, he’s on the field for keeps.

Recommended viewing: No Heart As Big: Liverpool FC (the story of their 2002-03 season) DVD and Can I Keep My Jersey by Paul Shirley (the book sold out at Fully Booked but you can re-order through their customer service).

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