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, December 31, 2007

Bleachers' Brew #88 A Hard Court Challenge

(This appears in my column is today's issue of the Business Mirror.)
by rick olivares

John Patrick Gregorio remembers two games very distinctly. There is the closed-door championship between Ateneo and San Beda in 1978 and the 1980 PBA championship where the U-Tex Wranglers rallied from a four-point deficit in the last 16 seconds to forge overtime and ultimately defeat a star-studded Toyota team. It isn’t so much as the games that stand out to Gregorio. But despite his very young age when the games were played, it was what happened on the side that made a huge impression on him. For the NCAA title match between the ancient rivals, it was how the country was riveted to their televisions sets never mind if they never matriculated in Loyola Heights or Mendiola. In the chaos that followed U-Tex’s miraculous comeback where disappointed Toyota fans pelted the court with debris, it was seeing one lady fan get busted open after being hit by one of those old but big one-peso coins. Despite the blood flowing freely, she refused to be taken away and she stayed to watch the final outcome of the match.

It was a gruesome sight for the young Pato (who was a diehard Tanduay fan) but it spoke volumes of the passion that the game stirs the Filipino’s soul. And it is that same passion that drives Gregorio now as Executive Director of the BAP-SBP.

In the days since an article came out in the Philippine Star about Gregorio’s proposal for a possible UAAP-NCAA merger for next college basketball season which is coincidentally the University of the Philippines’ centennial anniversary (Pato is a State U alum), it is perhaps the hottest national hoops topic since the FIBA Asia campaign and has drawn its fair share of critics and supporters.

“The idea is nothing new,” agreed Gregorio. “Rey Gamboa and Joe Lipa floated this idea a couple of years ago. When I met with them and they told me that they were rebuffed because they were an outside party, I wondered ‘what if the request is made by a member school?’ We consulted a lot of people – to use MVP’s (PLDT Chairman and President Manuel V. Pangilinan) terms – ‘to socialize the idea’ and everyone said to go for it.”

“Now if Ateneo which will be celebrating its 150th year in 2009 makes a similar request and then San Beda or La Salle who will also be celebrating their anniversaries after that also make similar requests, then why not? Then tuloy tuloy na ‘to. It doesn’t simply benefit UP; it helps everyone else. I understand that every school receives a certain amount from sponsorships and revenue. Then think of it this way… a united league will not only be more exciting and will elevate the quality of the game, but it will increase each school’s revenue. And that should really help their other programs. Of course there are considerations from rules to eligibility to the scheduling. Then I say address it. If the parties concerned can put together an ad hoc committee to oversee the possibility of playing together. It’s keeping an open mind and heart not going into it na hindi pa nasusubukan, eh ayaw na.”

Gregorio admitted he could have used that bit of advice when he was younger. He played two years of JV ball in UPIS before moving up to the senior ranks. On his way to the tryouts for the Maroons (then coached by Lipa), Pato took one look at the names at the back of the jerseys who were competing for his “guard” position – they were a couple of fellas by the name of Magsanoc and Altamirano – and he decided “mag-aaral na lang ako at mag-cheer para sa team.”

But even while working as a marketing person and later president for a hotel chain, basketball never strayed far from Gregorio’s heart. He spent 10 years of his life in Davao and Cebu and there he learned to appreciate hoops from a different perspective. “Kulang sa support,” he pronounced. “Unlike in Manila na mas marami. I know their frustrations so people shouldn’t view the proposal for a joint venture between the UAAP and the NCAA as being too Manila-centric. We put up national training centers in those regions and have consulted the Champions League Group of Coach Lipa and Mr. Gamboa and FilOil-Flying V Sports’ Virgil Villavicencio and Dave Dualan to develop a similar program for competition for the other regions. We want to bring that kind of excitement everywhere. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel all the time. It is part of our directive to tap existing structures, improving them, and supporting them for a common goal and that is to create a great program.”

One of the decisions has been to appoint De La Salle University’s multi-titled mentor and former national player Franz Pumaren as its youth coach. “Some people have lambasted me for giving La Salle room to recruit these players,” said Gregorio who manages to temper his school pride in favor of putting the country’s interests first. “Have they not considered that I’m from UP and if I wanted to help my school then I would have appointed a fellow alumnus to handle the team? Don’t you think that MVP would have pushed for an Atenean as the head coach to help his alma mater? The fact of the matter is Franz Pumaren is an excellent coach. Now helping him out are (Ateneo’s) Sandy Arespacochaga and (San Beda’s) Ato Badolato… that’s veteran stewardship and up-and-coming talent. Besides, this move has the blessing of people upstairs. ”

One of the SBP’s projects is to bring quality coaching clinics to every corner of the country. Most recently, the SBP licensed some 700 coaches to preach the fundamentals and science of the game to this basketball-mad archipelago. And this early, there’s a glimmer of hope. Arnold De Guzman of Roxas, Isabela texted Gregorio a couple of days ago: “Dahil po sa coaching clinic niyo for the first time nagchampion and town namin. Maraming salamat po.”

In the last FIBA Asia, FIBA Secretary General Patrick Baumann took Gregorio aside during the championship that was won by Iran. “Look at these Iranians,” marveled Baumann. “They won their age group when they were 15. They won it again by the time they were 18. And now at 22 years of age, they are champions of Asia. That is what the Philippines should put together… a comprehensive, unified, and coherent program. Only then can you regain your lost stature in basketball.”

Gregorio is a tourism graduate of UP yet he is a self-avowed history buff. The lessons of the now-defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association aren’t lost on him. He refuses to use the words “failures” or “mistakes” when discussing the learnings of going regional. “I prefer to call them challenges,” he enthused. “And our efforts for basketball are simply to instill pride in our country and pride when people put on the national jersey. I am a man of limitations and can only use the help of some of the great minds such as Coach Lipa, Pumaren, Badolato, and movers like MVP to name but a few.”

It’s 10:30 pm on a Saturday night and Gregorio, Dualan, and myself are having coffee in Starbucks Katipunan talking about basketball’s positives, problems, and what it can do for the rest of the country. It isn’t so much about the game but the passion that it stirs within us all.


Rock You Like A Hurricane

The Axe is on the Ice. As Animal Mother once said in Full Metal Jacket, "You talk the talk, but do you walk the walk?"

A loss to Quentin Jackson and now to Liddell. Some times it's better to keep quiet about things rather than calling out your opponent for a fight. But really, Silva got what he deserved... an ass whuppin' real good.

Poll Results: Who is your athlete of the year?

Miguel Molina - 19 votes
Floyd Mayweather - 8 votes
Tiger Woods - 7 votes
Roger Federer - 5 votes
Kaka - 4 votes
Manny Pacquiao - 3 votes
others - 8 votes

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Who Is Ryan Buenafe?

Ryan Buenafe walked onto the patron section of the Araneta Coliseum. It was a small-sized crowd that came to witness a game with the resurgent Coca Cola Tigers. No one minded the backpack-carrying youngster who just arrived from school at San Sebastian via the LRT. In the meantime his cousin Ronjay was torching Red Bull with a dazzling array of trifectas and drives to the basket.

It was the last five minutes of the game and Buenafe took in the game intently as an aunt offered him some drinks.

It's the calm before the storm; the quiet anonymity before he sets foot in the college game where after helping lead the San Sebastian Staglets to three straight NCAA Junior titles. He is expected to carry whatever college he decides to play for.

But for now, he is a fan. Ronjay's dad played for Letran. His cousin was a star for the Emilio Aguinaldo Generals. As for Ryan... for the moment he'd rather think about how the Los Angeles Lakers swept their summer of discontent under the rug to play great basketball in the National Basketball Association. He confesses to being a Kobe Bryant fan and that were the Black Mamba to switch teams, Buenafe would readily switch his allegiance to the new club as well.

Ryan doesn't try to play like Kobe, but he tries to play a complete game on both ends of the court. It certainly helped that when he was smaller than his current height of 6'4" that he played point guard (he nearly played for PCU but chose San Sebastian instead). It helped with his court vision and sense. Now that he's taller, he's working on his post skills and shooting range. "Sinusubukan ko lang mag-improve ng laro," admitted the player with a penchant for putting up gaudy numbers in the NCAA Juniors Division. "Marami pa tayong matututunan."

He admits to feeling the pressure of being recruited by practically everyone. He isn't a household name just yet save for the rabid hoops junkies. He does get the occasional "hello" in malls that he feels embarrased about -- "Hindi naman tayo artista," he says. In fact, he enjoys the lack of attention being inside the Araneta Coliseum. He promises to give much thought to the college of choice when the school year winds down. But for now it's enjoying the show before he joins it and being a part of those tournaments at home and abroad. It's a mantra for him, "Kailaingan ko pa mag-improve."

"That's insane," laughs Eric Salamat his old teammate when I told him about Ryan's comments. "How much better can he get?"

Apparently, he's already plenty good enough. Not since Paolo Mendoza was tearing up the nets while in UPIS has there been a much-coveted player. One scout likes his skills and court savvy. "He's like a man playing among the boys," says this scout from the U-Belt area.

Says his San Sebastian coach Raymond Valenzona, "Kahit nung unang championship nung nandyan pa sila Salamat at (UE's Paul) Lee, meron na siyang playing time. Magaling na talaga at advanced ang basketball IQ para sa edad niya."

As it is there are at least three UAAP schools and two NCAA teams vying for his services. One even went as far as to ask his high school coach to ask him to wear the other school's t-shirt. Another has offered him the moon and the stars. Make no mistake, if he doesn't suit up for a UAAP team he's staying at San Sebastian. He says that there's no way he's going to move to another NCAA team. "Kung ganun lang, dito na ako sa Recoletos," he pronounces dashing any hopes of NCAA rivals to steal one from the rebuilding Stags. "Sana sa Stags na lang siya pero desisyon niya yun."

When Paolo Mendoza moved up to the senior ranks, he was still a gifted scorer, but clearly it wasn't enough to tow the Maroons to a title. One veteran coach thinks that it won't be the case with Buenafe. "He will no doubt go to a good team and make them great. He can score in many ways, but what will make him dangerous is he will make the game easier for everyone. That's how good he is."

Ronjay Buenafe exits the Coca Cola locker room with some hearty congratulations from PBA officials and well-wishers. Ryan looks on approvingly; proud that his cousin rose from being a practice player to a regular on one of the league's hottest teams. Ronjay puts his arm around Ryan and the two exit the southgate for dinner.

Old Year/New Year Fireworks

Liverpool’s co-owner, Tom Hicks in an interview with Sports Illustrated revisited his displeasure over the incident with his team manager Rafa Benitez where he said the gaffer’s attitude was “petulant” and that the media pretty much made up reports about firings and infighting.

I agree with Hicks. There were no reports quoting Hicks or George Gillet as saying Benitez was going to be fired. Even Rick Parry said so himself. If ever these comments were the theories of people in the media or some in the Liverpool organization who chafe at the famous football club being owned by Americans.

'We wanted to see what we could do with the players we had already bought,' said Hicks. 'We just wanted to see if the team was going to gel. Then he (Benitez) went to a press conference and kind of pouted and answered in the same way 20 times: 'I'm focusing on my team. The media made up everything from that point forward. They made up that we were going to fire him, that I told him to shut up, that there was a battle between Benitez and the Americans. It's really funny to watch.'

The American owners were also dismayed at the players' attitude against United at Anfield when a 1-0 defeat left Liverpool way off the pace in the Premier League title race. Said Hicks: “Our team played like they mentally didn't think they were good enough to win. They played tight.”

It will be interesting to see how the Reds come out tonight against Man City which is a point behind LFC in the standings. With Manchester United’s loss to West Ham, a win – although it will be tough against Man City – will put them 6 points behind the Red Devils. Arsenal reclaimed first place with a 4-1 victory against Everton in Goodison Park.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Making A World of Difference

In mid-2006, we worked with the office of Dr. Antonette Palma-Angeles to create this video tool that will reach out and invite foreign students to enroll in the Ateneo. It took on a greater meaning after that verdammt THES-Q rankings came out then (that the other school made a fuss out of even in their official school brochures and is now eating crow). We finished it early 2007 and we're all pleased to say that we think it's great and its got heart.

What you're watching is 90% of the vid. We did not upload the other bonus features that feature the courses and international partners.

We tapped Luis Abad and Lia Cruz to host the docu-AVP.

The docu-AVP features music by U2, the Lemonheads, Gin Blossoms, Badly Drawn Boy, Blink 182, the Dave Matthews Band, the Pretenders, John Boswell, Jim Chappell, Emil Palame, Peter White, and Stephen Jacob.

It was written and directed by me.

Mai Ventura lovingly helped produce it along with Joanna Ruiz. Mai also greatly helped out on the video cam, directing, and editing. Trina Alejo and Ceres Lina were the production assistants. Alan Bonto, Alex Obligacion, and I alternated on the cameras. Aaron Vicencio was our photographer. Dom Pili was supposed to do the DVD artwork. We used Erwin Nolido's editing suites.

Sonia Araneta was our spiritual leader and sounding board. Glenn De Leon of the OIP and the office of Dr. Angeles of course were most helpful.

Ateneo Team B hoopster Charles Tiu made a cameo. Ditto with Blue Booters Neil Calinawagan and Zaldy Maranon. Even Poch Juinio (see if you can spot him). You'll see Eric Salamat in class. And we also featured JC Intal's game-winning drive vs FEU in Season 69. To the Ateneo students of today and the last few years, you'll see a lot of familiar faces in the vid. Thanks too to Alyson Yap and Ali Figueroa. Dr. Sio Marquez gave valuable advice.

Thanks to National Sports Grill (and its owner former Blue Booter Ponch Zamora), Chicken Bacolod, Kenny Rogers, and Manang's for the food.

There's one typo in this version so sue me.

Triple A: adidas ateneo apparel

It's incredible how these babies have been selling. The second shipment is almost entirely sold out in almost every store. I love the jacket because it's soft and keeps you snug and warm. I got one for mai baby this Christmas. Hey, Goody! I'm still waiting for mine. Hahahaha.

I did the rounds of some stores to see how they sell and who checks them out. Interestingly enough, there are buyers who aren't even from Ateneo. I think that's real cool. Like the adidas store in Ali Mall Cubao, the sales people make it a point to ask the buyers if they're from Ateneo. Some say they aren't but they either root for the blue and white or they like the designs of the two different jackets and shirts out there. Naks!

So to our friends from adidas, when will the jerseys be out?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why Are These Men Happy?

Their globe-trotting days are over for now. For Adriano, it's a return to his roots (after a stint with Inter Milan). For Ronaldo (from Inter's San Siro co-habitant AC Milan) -- the more heralded of the two -- it's an opportunity to wear THE SACRED MANTLE OF THE SCARLET AND BLACK. Just like Aldair, Bebeto, Brito, Casagrande, Denílson, Dida, Edílson, Edinho, Evaristo, Gérson, Gilmar Rinaldi, Jorginho, Júnior, Leonardo, Leandro, Romário, Sócrates, Zizinho, Zagallo and Zico who all wore the colors of the Mengao. Even Garrincha and Pelé did too for a time before they betrayed the faithful.

Flamengo is about a Brazilian football player's ambition and even an obsession. Never mind the World Cup but as long as it is the Campeonato Brasiliero Serie A then the world is all right.

And now, AC Milan has allowed the five-time Brazilian national champions to negotiate with striker Ronaldo over a possible move. It's about an enormous desire to change the course of his life.


Legacy -- Ateneo Football

Music by Yanni & U2.

I did this after the three-peat of the Ateneo Blue Booters from 2004-06. I only had a day and a half to do everything from shoot some interviews to edit it quickly. There are mistakes in the years of some players like Zaldy Maranon and I wasn't able to properly credit Tristan & Gino Tongson, Migs Siojo, and some others. Forgive me, guys.

This was first shown during the bonfire celebration at Erenchun Field that followed the feat. I was nervous about the reception but man, hearing the team cheer, seeing the late Chris Monfort's kids get a kick out of it is all the thanks I'll ever need.

Animo Ateneo! Football's up.

This is for all those who ever played football in the Ateneo and love the game like no other.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

This Used to Be Our Playground -- the Ateneo Campus

photos by rick olivares & aaron vicencio. music by death in vegas. this was the intro to the alma mater video we did early this 2007. will post the alma mater vid sometime soon.

Making Waves with Miguel Molina

(This will appear in the December 27, 2007 issue of the Business Mirror.)

Miguel Molina wishes he could have enjoyed the Southeast Asian Games more. It’s not that his medal tally of four golds (200-meter individual medley, 400-meter individual medley, 200-meter breaststroke, and 4x100 medley relay), one silver, and one bronze doesn’t mean anything to him. They do in fact. He’s pleased with them but wishes he could enjoy the celebration of life through the glory of sport in international competitions.

“When I’m competing, I’m so focused that I wish I have time to enjoy living in the athlete’s village, joining the parade, or even going out to watch the events,” confessed the 23-year old over lunch at Angel’s Kitchen in Connecticut, Greenhills. “I normally have my earphones on while listening to my music that I look like I don’t want to be disturbed. But I assure you that’s not the case. I just need to concentrate on the things I have to do to try and win. But I like meeting people and use these games to get to know even athletes from other countries.”

The oldest child of Tom and Mitos Molina was born in Quezon City but the family moved to Japan when Miguel was three years old. Tom who went to the University of the Philippines got a job teaching and coaching the high school varsity baseball team at St. Mary’s International School in Tokyo while Mitos also worked there as a teacher.

Miguel took to baseball too like his father did, but any dreams of greatness in the diamond as a shortstop and a pitcher were permanently derailed when he got real good at swimming. “It got to a point where the two sports began to conflict with one another,” recounted the senior Molina who encouraged his son to take up sports. “Since baseball was more of a recreational sport for him, he chose swimming. I’d say he made the right choice, don’t you think?”

In 2001, after qualifying for the Japan Senior National Championships and the recommendation of a Japanese national who once served as Philippine national coach, Miguel was selected to compete for the Philippines. And his baptism of fire while wearing the national colors was in the 2001 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games. “I was overwhelmed in that competition being very young at that time,” recounted Miguel of his first true international competition where he could only help Team Philippines to a bronze in the relay. “But all I needed was to get my feet wet and I knew I was ready for the next one.”

And “ready” in hindsight sounds like an understatement. In the 2002 Southeast Asian Age Group Championships held in Bangkok, Miguel won seven golds and one bronze medal while also bagging the Best Performance Award for those games.

In the 2005 Manila SEA Games, Molina continued his torrid streak in what he considers his best meet when he finished with three best times that have become national records. And along the way, he finished with three golds, one silver, and one bronze medal.

His impressive medal haul notwithstanding, Miguel is not one to rest on his laurels. “You’re only as good as your last meet and me being pretty competitive when it comes to sports, I don’t like losing to the guy next to me,” explained Miguel about his drive to be the best.

But the bemedalled swimmer knows it’s not just all about personal bests. He considers his best times when he was playing for University of California-Berkeley (he graduated last May with a degree in International Relations) in college. “That was a cool experience,” said Molina with his eyes lighting up. “It's one thing to train with your fellow athletes whether its basketball, football, hockey, or swimming and then to travel with them across the United States on meets and to see them on television…wow. Now if only swimming got that much attention over here in the Philippines.”

After being overwhelmed in his first SEA Games, Molina made it a point to find a way to fraternize with his fellow athletes. “Sometimes you can only follow what’s going on through the (athletes’) village newspaper,” said Molina. “But if the schedule permits and once I’m done competing, I hang out with the other athletes. Like in Doha (Asian Games), I hung out with the swimmers from Kuwait, Iran, and Qatar.”

His strong performances in the last few international competitions aside from being named the 2007 SEA Games Male Athlete of the Tournament (Miguel was the second Filipino swimmer to be named the competition’s top athlete after current Games and Amusements Board Chairman Eric Buhain) means Molina has now been tagged as one of the country’s medal hopefuls in the Beijing Olympics next year. In his first time in the quadrennial games in Athens, Molina had a déjà vu moment when he seemed overwhelmed with the bigness of the games and the whole world literally watching.

But if anyone was paying close attention, Miguel Molina usually does better the second time around. “And I hope to enjoy the experience more,” he added with his eyes lighting up.

What does Miguel listen to a lot nowadays: the Killers and Kanye West
Favorite baseball team: the Seattle Mariners
Favorite player: Ichiro Suzuki, center fielder for the Seattle Mariners (It's a Japan thing)
Last good films he watched: Transformers & Ratatouille

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Scrooged: Scott Skiles Is Fired On Christmas Eve

Perhaps once again, the Chicago Bulls are making a case for observers to say that if you want to bet for an NBA champion, look no further than the west.

I like many others predicted that the Bulls would contend or own the eastern conference crown this year. Instead, they are floundering badly with no relief in sight. I always pegged their troubles the moment the team management tried to pry Kobe Bryant from the Los Angeles Lakers. What they got instead was Ben Gordon and Luol Deng backing off from any contract negotiations and now they've lost their coach, Scott Skiles. So was Skiles at fault? Maybe just a bit because his team --now that Deng admits to the team bothered by all the trade talks -- never seemed to get into a groove or put together a streak. Even their foes noticed that the Bulls seemed mentally off. Where they once rallied they instead keeled over and died by 20 points or more. There was no fight in this team.

I pity Skiles because he tried his darn best. "Hardly a day goes by that I don't demand accountability and stress results," Skiles said a few hours after his being given the pink slip by GM John Paxson. "Today was my day to be held accountable." I'd blame Paxson and the players. When some of them didn't get the big money they thought they deserved, they pouted and played listlessly. But who do you trade -- the coach or the players? And what about Jerry Reinsdork? This is a man who said he'd trade all six of his Larry O'Brien trophies for one World Series title with the White Sox. Unfortunately too, we can fire the owner. But we can make him feel that he sucks. And that is something money cannot cover up or buy. Bulls management historically has not been kind to its coaches. After the Dick Motta era, they fired Jerry Sloan, Paul Westhead, Kevin Loughery, Stan Albeck, Doug Collins, and Bill Cartwright. And that's not counting the interim coaches in between and the resigned Floyd and the unsigned Phil Jackson who has made a name for himself in LA.

Yes, the timing sucks and is heartless. Isiah Thomas who has destroyed two franchises is still around while one of the hardest working coaches is banished on Christmas Eve. If you may recall, another former Bulls coach in Tim Floyd resigned on Christmas Eve too after all the pressure did him in.

In 2003-04, Skiles led the Bulls to a 19-47 record. The following year they made the play-offs with a 47-35 record. Remember that memorable Game 6 where Jannero Pargo caught fire and would not let the Bulls lose? Unfortunately, Gilbert Arenas ended the Bulls' run.

The following year they were back in the play-offs with an even 41-41 record and Miami killed them in the first round. Chicago earned payback last season as they raced to a 49-33 record and became the first team to oust a defending NBA champ in the first round. The team suffered a power failure against Detroit in the second round but they seemed poised and ready to finally ascend for the first time in the post-Michael Jordan era.

Instead there are no answers forthcoming. No sign even from across Lake Michigan. Skiles coached for the team he rooted as a kid despite growing up in Indiana. He never got to play for the Bulls but he quickly remade the team into his image... tough and feisty. Despite the unmerciful end, he still had good words for the team and the organization.

"This is a great organization to coach for," Skiles said. "John is great to work with, the training staff, the players, ownership. Everything is wrapped around the Bulls having success."

"I just wish we could have figured things out this season. I won't look at my time here as failure. But the endgame is."

And so we play another lost season.

Blue Babble Battalion: Random highlights from Out of the Blue


Poll Results: Who will you invite to your Christmas Party?

Maria Sharapova 25 votes
Chris Tiu - 22 votes
Kobe Bryant - 14 votes
Tiger Woods - 12 votes
Pete Sampras - 8 votes
Jackie Pangilinan - 8 votes
Manny Pacquiao - 6 votes
NABRO Referees - 5 votes
Asi Taulava - 5 votes
Rico Maierhofer - 4 votes

Don't forget to drink and drive, er hic.... don't drink and then drive afterwards. That sounds better! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Bleachers' Brew #87 Words of Hope

(This appears in my Bleachers' Brew column in today's -- December 24, 2007 issue of the Business Mirror that's also available online.)

At the corner of 20th Avenue and P. Tuazon in Project 4, Quezon City is a waiting shed. Only no one ever waits at the shed. For some strange reason, people choose to wait for cabs and jeepneys on the street. They remind me of those people who pay a couple of hundred bucks to get a seat during a UAAP basketball match but end up standing all throughout.

The shed is inhabited by two people. Mang Lando who has a makeshift newsstand and who packs up at 6pm and Mang Benjie who lives there. Yes, he lives there if you can call having one chair and a box of a few precious belongings home. Like the barber shop just a few feet away, it’s a place for banter and small talk. Sports talk.

Over the last few months since I moved to a small apartment nearby, I always get my daily newspaper fare there and after introducing myself a columnist for the BUSINESS MIRROR so they get to know who I am I’ve become rather unwittingly a “celebrity” of sorts in the small area. That is if one can actually equate a writer with being a celebrity. Every time I purchase my newspaper we chat for a bit about the previous day’s sports news and on topics ranging from why controversy and scandal aren’t too far away every the country sends a delegation for an international competition to postulating theories on why the PBA doesn’t matter much anymore. It’s Hard Ball or In the Zone except that the views are literally from the man on the street and those who watch this beat. Yes, even the cops stationed at the intersection who once in awhile join the “discussions.”

When I first moved to the area three months ago, Mang Benjie seemed still a little spry in his steps but of late I noticed that what I am instead witnessing is the slow deconstruction of a homeless man. He walks slowly now when crossing from the gas station across the street where he washes up. He may be homeless and hungry but he does what he can to feel like a human being. But there’s only so much a bar of soap and water can do. Nowadays he looks even more haggard and destitute and his eyes even more sullen. No doubt due to the lack of hope of his struggle for day to day subsistence.

But he still gets up for the daily discussion of sports news at the corner. Like a lot of people, he chooses not to read the headline news but instead goes straight to the sports news. “I may be poor, but I know that what our politicians are doing is hurting the country. They are creating more people like me. So I go to the sports section where it is all about achievement,” he says in the vernacular. “I may not understand most of the fancy writers who use big words, but I ask the people from the nearby botica what these words mean. Sports can lift your spirits. Especially when you’re up against seemingly insurmountable odds.”

Before, I would from time to time bring him food and watch from afar as he ate. The food isn’t much but I certainly understand that even a little goes a long long way when you have none.

Mang Benjie might be invisible to most of the people who pass by on their way to and from the daily grind, but the bystanders become aware of him when he lights up and sees the only “celebrity” he knows. Yes, it’s embarrassing. It’s not like I have a movie that’s making a killing at the tills. Every time he sees me he asks if I’ve written anything that day. If there is, he’ll ask Mang Lando to show it to him and he’d try to read it and let everyone within earshot know that – ahem – the writer is in his house. He tells everyone that I’ve met everyone from Pacman to Bata and Django to Kobe to Kareem to Ronaldinho to name a few. That’s not exactly true. While I’ve met and become friends with few of the athletes I’m not even “royalty” unlike some our more established friends from the print and broadcast media. Some of the athletes might possibly remember me or my name but the vast majority I would presume would not. And awhile I deliberately missed those morning chats because I didn’t want to call attention to myself. Little did I know that I wasn’t helping Mang Benjie.

I saw him the other day crossing the road and a car behind him was honking loudly to tell him to double time his ass off the road. I ran to the side of the car and jabbed a menacing finger towards the unmindful driver. I thought I was in for a fight, but he backed off and drove on without further incident. I thought I scared him off but when I looked behind me, the other beat cops were there… watching over Mang Benjie. Watching my back.

Mang Benjie’s eyes lit up when he saw what I did and that I brought some food for him. I stayed at a nearby water filling station and watched him as he ate. Apparently, he really missed that sports talk with me and the other tambays sa kanto.

Sometimes I forget that I am in a profession that not only reports the news and sports events, but where we have to be responsible in what we write. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything in the newspaper for the heck of it or even the money because it sure as hell doesn’t pay well. I write to inform and to document as well as to give praise and damn. But when I can, it’s to offer hope and document human achievement.

Now I have to think of what we’ll discuss on Christmas morning.

Merry Christmas to the readers of BLEACHERSBREW and BUSINESS MIRROR.

Putting Some Distance

What's that one goal worth? A seven point lead in the La Liga over Barcelona. And what does that mean for the Catalans? More pressure on Frank Rijkaard and perhaps an end to Barca's own version of Los Galacticos. How can they lose and not play well with such a star-studded line-up? Easy. All-star teams like these don't play well. Ask the New York Yankees.

The Long Hard Road (Or Another Case of Deja Vu All Over Again)

I watched the game with the same sickening feeling that twisted my stomach into knots during that Ateneo-NU second round game. That loss by the Blue Eagles had them going through an Indian Run through the Final Four where they were eventually knocked off by the DLSU Green Archers. Only this time it was an NFL game between the play-off bound Green Bay Packers and the Super Bowl XLI finalists Chicago Bears who have had a sucky and forgetable season at 6-10.

The game had some ill portent for the Packers. Snow and chilly conditions at Soldier Field? No problem for the Bears. Tough on their rivals.

The home team stayed frosty all game long and dealt Green Bay a humiliating and sobering 35-7 loss (the second time they beat the Packers this season).

Imagine the Bears scored 35 points and only one was a 3-yard TD pass from Kyle Orton to Desmond Clark. Kyle Orton! WTF is Kyle Orton? As good old JR Ross likes to say, "Damn it all to hell!"

The loss means that Green Bay will not have home field advantage throughout the play-offs and any planned roadtrip to the Super Bowl will have to go through the resurgent Dallas Cowboys.

"I've been playing 17 years, and that was the worst condition I've ever played in," Favre said. "Excuse? No excuse. It was, but they handled it better than we did. We have historically handled it well. It's kind of our ace in the hole, but today, obviously, it wasn't."

And -- knock on wood here -- let's hope that this season perhaps the last great ride of Favre's career isn't his last. And that the whole brilliant year didn't end in a snowy field in Chi-town the same way it did for the Ateneo Blue Eagles barely four months ago.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Battle of the Networks

The latest salvo in the ongoing war between Solar Sports and ABS-CBN was fired when the Lopez station was able to pry away UFC away from its cable rival. It seems that ABS-CBN offered free TV air time (aside from cable viewing) for the UFC fights and Dana White's folks never bothered to talk to Solar after that. Well, Solar I am told was upset only for a bit and then they were like, "It's okay. Not that big of a loss anyway."

So we'll see.

But we'll feature a history of that long-brewing war sometime before the old year.

The Big Thing in Boxing is Moving On to the Next Big Thing

Floyd Mayweather. Love him or hate him but you can't deny his drawing power. He had two fights in 2007 and both collectively drew 3.25 million pay-per-view buys that netted some $200 million. So much for boxing going the way of the dinosaur.

But with not much left to conquer inside the square ring, Mayweather has cast his eyes to the Octagon and Mixed Martial Arts. And look who's leading him into the world's fastest rising sport... billionaire Mark Cuban.

I guess there was a reason why the Dallas Mavericks' owner was a part of Mayweather's entourage even carrying his championship belts before his fight with Ricky Hatton (to set the record straight I was rooting for the Englishman).

But does MMA pay the kind of money boxing or a Mayweather fight will command? The champ netted $50 million for his fights against Oscar De La Hoya and Hatton?

When he gets back from his break, Mayweather will discuss Cuban's offer to fight in the latter's HDNet TV. But he can't let his ego get the better of him, MMA is way different from boxing. MMA fighters are equally skilled in hand-to-hand combat as they are fighting with their feet. Mayweather hasn't even used his footing except to dance away or to inch close for a knockout punch.

But what Cuban wants Cuban gets.

Stay tuned for more details.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My Game

A couple of months ago, I attended a press conference at Mezze where Nike introduced to a select few members of the media director Carlo Ledesma and producer Mel Lozano who were both working on a documentary called My Game. Prior to this, my buddy Jobe Nkemakolam told me that he was included in this film and that made me proud of him and excited about the project.

During the press conference, I got to chat with Direk Carlo and he told me that he included Jobe because of a column I wrote about the Ateneo Blue Eagle in the Business Mirror. So there was an even more personal interest now.

Post-production was finished not soon after the UAAP season and a premiere was held at the Power Plant last October 18. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around because I was in Thailand. I only finally got to see it the other day when I was able to acquire a copy and I totally enjoyed it. I thought it was sensitive and moving although at times, I got the feeling that there were certain portions where there was a certain level of “acting” that took away from the spontaneity. You pull for these guys – Don Don Hontiveros, Rico Maierhofer, Jobe Nkemakolam, Ren Ren Ritualo, Arwind Santos, and James Yap – and what odds they overcame to get to where they are now. The cinematography was great and the score equally sensitive to the mood. The various anecdotes aren’t too long and aren’t too short. Excellent editing if I may say so myself.

On the other hand since they touched on rather briefly on the history of Philippine basketball, I could make the case for some missing nuggets such as Caloy Loyzaga and Ed Ocampo, the old MICAA and the Crispa-Toyota rivalry that increased the popularity of the game. If their non-inclusion was for brevity’s sake then I understand, but if you tell me that talking about the history of hoops is altogether another story then I’ll still say that the use of pictures would have sufficed.

And of the stories of the ballers I thought that they were all perfect except for Ritualo’s. Yes, I know he’s a bemedalled hoopster, but his story is better suited for a La Salle legends DVD or something. In contrast, Maierhofer’s was even more interesting. Yap’s or Hontiveros’ stories are similar in some ways.

Nevertheless it still is a great piece of work.

I’ve got a stack of unwatched DVDs on my shelf and I am so glad that this is the first one I placed inside my player.

Lionel Messi

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Rising Tide: A Chat with the 2007 SEA Games Swimming Star Miguel Molina

This was intended to be a short video interview since I did a lengthier one with Miguel and his dad Tom earlier. I just got this for blog purposes. The longer story will appear in an upcoming issue of Business Mirror.

A Different Shade of Blue

You can take the man out of the show but you can’t take the show out of the man.

The Blue Babble Battalion has had a history of enlisting “showmen” in its ranks. If it wasn’t the class comedian, it was the jock who didn’t make the cut. If it wasn’t someone who had a megaphone for a voice it was someone who likened cheerleading to commanding a large body of people. But the battalion too has had their share of folks who took to the floor because they liked fame (although others would describe it as notoriety) and wanted a jacket and a free ticket to the games.

Whatever their predilections, last December 16, 2007, the famed cheering squad unveiled a different side to itself in a concert dubbed Out of the Blue.

“What we wanted to really say was, ‘we’re more than just a halftime show,’” explained battalion captain Miko Medalla of the impetus to hold their first ever concert. “The battalion has always had a lot of talented individuals and the annual cheering competition isn’t enough of a venue for us to showcase what we can do. A concert seemed like the best next thing.”

Cheerdancers captain Barbara Escueta cited the concerts of the highly-decorated UP Pep Squad and UST Salinggawi as inspirations for the oldest cheering squads in the entire world to do their thing. “A little known fact that it’s a requirement for all the cheerdancers to attend classes on dance, ballet, hip-hop, jazz, and gymnastics among many others,” added the younger sister of the Blue Eagles Yuri Escueta, “Out of the Blue is an outlet for us to show that we can do more than tumble and shake pompoms. I mean, we may not dance for a living, but we have some very talented individuals in the group.”

“During the games, we express our love for the school; the concert is our way of expressing ourselves,” summed up the Lifters captain Arc Tolentino who like Medalla and Escueta is hoping to end their cheerleading days with a bang of a concert.

Out of the Blue was held at the Fr. Henry Irwin Theater in the Ateneo Grade School and featured a two-part program. The first part was a dance competition between three schools – Miriam College’s Sayawatha, La Salle Greenhills’ Air Force, and the Ateneo High School’s Indak (Indayog ng Atenistang Kabataan) that the home troupe won unanimously.

Then the battalions’ different squads -- the cheerleaders, cheerdancers, the band, the brass band, and the lifters – stepped into the spotlight with their own group presentations that ran the gamut of hip-hop street dancing, ballet, song and dance routines to a unique number that movie goers will recall as something similar to Dolby Digital Sounds’ “Stomp” video where different people used ordinary and everyday tools like car keys, trash can lids, pails, and brooms to create music. Every number required a change in costumes and the performances looked to have been lovingly choreographed and tirelessly practiced.

“Everyone trained long and hard for two months just for this,” divulged Escueta about the difficulty of balancing practice on top of attending classes and games by the school’s various sports teams. “We wanted to go and put out a good show,” she added with that winsome smile of hers.

The concert was well-attended by schoolmates, family members and relatives, Ateneo varsity athletes, alumni, as well as the supporters of the troupes from Miriam College and La Salle Greenhills.

After a triumphant ovation and a stamp of approval from the school’s University Athletics Director Ricky Palou at the end of the successful show, the members of the battalion let out a sigh of relief and exhilaration as they posed for pictures and jokes with others.

“Well, it’s done,” said a tired yet overly happy Medalla after the show. Not even a few technical glitches could put a damper on a great performance. “We can relax a bit – syempre kasi Christmas and all. But after that we still have the second semester sports to cheer on and there are a couple of cheering competitions we’re going to take part of. After I graduate, I will be finally able to watch the games and heckle.”

“But this is a nice legacy to leave behind.”

As a wise man once said, “you can take the man out of the show but you can’t take the show out of the man.”

o O o

Thanks to Miko, Baba, and Arc for inviting me and muchos gracias to Coach Ivan for the mention during the intro. Hindi ako sanay na special guest sa mga ganyan. Hahaha.

I went to the concert with an open mind and not expecting anything. That Sunday, I was on my third day of being so heavily sick that it was hard to walk and breathe, but I am so glad I went. Truthfully, I thoroughly enjoyed it and have only good words and the highest of praise for the Battalion. It was a great show and am convinced I was present for a milestone that could chart the BBB's destiny into previously unexplored waters. Now here's hoping that you won't become like the Kundirana. But hey, there's a thought!

Congratulations on a successful first concert and a job well done!

Animo Ateneo!

One Big Fight!

NY Knicks Fans Give Isiah Thomas the Pink Slip

Now if we could only give the same to MMDA Chairman BF as well. And maybe some smarts here and there.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ateneo Women's Volleyball Match #4 vs UE

You Could Sit Next to Them in the Next NBA All-Star Game

This season, join six of the NBA’s best in a first person journey straight to the top of the NBA. In The Rook from adidas, you begin your quest to the NBA Finals by signing on the dotted line, as a rookie in the greatest basketball league on Earth. Remember to bring all your best moves, because every one counts on the court. As the Rook, you’ll be competing against players from all over the globe in five live action Gamisodes. But you’re not alone, Rook – none other than Tracy McGrady, Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, Gilbert Arenas, Kevin Garnett and Chauncey Billups are in your backcourt, schooling you on the ways of big-time basketball. You’ll enter the draft, battle your way past shifty agents, learn how to beat the buzzer, participate in skill drills, and take it to the hole in a one-on-one showdown. If you heed the advice of your superstar teammates, make the right calls, and elevate your game, you could find yourself sitting courtside at the 2008 NBA All-Star game in New Orleans, courtesy of adidas and the NBA.

It’s time to join The Brotherhood, Rook – the team of a lifetime. So head to and begin your climb to the top. The ball’s in your court and the Brotherhood is waiting.

In under 3 months we've been keeping track of stats, The Brew, has had more than 33,000 hits (so that round about averages to 11K minimum hits a month) from 6,700 unique visitors from 68 countries.

The Top 20 countries in terms of hits are (in descending order):
United States
Hong Kong
United Kingdom
United Arab Emirates
Saudi Arabia
New Zealand

Thanks, folks. Merry Christmas, ya'll!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Time Out for Two Questions with Kaka

The year's best receiving it from the all-time best.

AC Milan doesn't seem to be doing to well in the Serie A, but when it's time for the Champions League or an international tournament, the club plays well. Why is this so?
Kaka: Certainly for Milan the most important tournament is the Champions League. We would be very happy to do well in Serie A but our heart is in the Champions League. Of course we will try to do better in the domestic game but our main objective is to win the Champions League, it is important to do well in the league to qualify for the champions league.

In my opinion the Champions League is the most important tournament for a Club to play in although you don’t have to play that many games, when you play you play against the best of the best. To win the Italian league you have to have a large group of players in my opinion this season Inter Milan has the strongest group of players in the Serie A.

But you'd still want to beat Inter Milan, right?
Kaka: To play against Inter Milan is always the most important match of the league and it is important for both AC Milan and Inter Milan players. When we come back from Japan we will play this match against Inter Milan and then have a good 10 days of rest.

Ateneo Men's Volleyball Match #7 Breakthrough

Ateneo vs. La Salle
21-25, 25-19, 25-22, 25-23
by rick olivares

Match 7
December 18, 2007
Blue Eagle Gym

AJ Pareja was a fearsome volleyball player for Lourdes while in high school. He was recruited by several programs most notably La Salle’s. Ronald Dulay should know, he along with the school’s boosters wined and dined him in Shangri-La EDSA just to get him to wear the green and white.

But never underestimate blood ties. AJ’s older brother Paolo was already on the Ateneo Men’s Volleyball Team and it didn’t take much to sway him to move to Loyola.

At 1-5, AJ has been having a rollercoaster of a season. Sometimes his powerful spikes have been there and sometimes they have not. “If he could control his attacks better he will be an unstoppable player,” remarked University Athletics Director Ricky Palou early in the first round of Season 70.

The team like AJ has been gathering steam of late. They secured their first win of the year with a 3-1 win over NU. And their final assignment of the first round was De La Salle.

The entire coaching staff of Ateneo has ties elsewhere. Dulay played and won a title with FEU. His assistants Micmic Laborte played for La Salle Bacolod, Clint Malazo suited up for Letran while Oliver Almadro donned the colors of San Sebastian. Except for Laborte, it is with La Salle where the three of them cut their coaching eyeteeth. But nothing seems forever. If they thought they were safely ensconced in Taft then imagine their surprise when they were eased out because of political maneuverings. And for Ateneo whose program is on the upswing, one fool’s garbage is a wise man’s gold.

So there was extra importance in the match. It became a must-win match although one party (ours) tried to downplay it.

The La Salle Men’s Volleyball team isn’t the powerhouse it once was. Nevertheless, they’re still a tough team and a contender for a final four spot. Some like to describe their game as one of pure aggression, but to put it in the vernacular, the term is “maangas.”

The Blue Spikers stood toe-to-toe with their Taft counterparts until a series of reception errors and high-flying spikes allowed La Salle to pull away for a 21-25 win in the first set. Thinking that the Ateneans were done for, the La Sallians ratcheted up their taunting, finger pointing, and trash talking with every point. And it seemed that a rout was beginning as DLSU raced to a 7-2 lead.

Dulay sued for time and reminded the Blue Spikers to ignore their opponents’ taunts. “Talikuran niyo” was the term Malonzo used. Then a succinct rallying cry -- “tapatan niyo ng aggressive play.”

Mike De Joya, AJ Pareja, and Julborg Africa answered the call with a punishing attack that saw them overhaul the deficit to lead at 10-8. Along with Macky Limgenco, the Ateneans put up an unforgiving defense that stymied La Salle’s big three of Russell Raz, Chris Macasaet, and Eman Boquiren.

A curious change for the game was inserting Paolo Pareja at libero for Juan Carlo Dulu and the graduating team captain played one of his best games with his receptions and digs. With their backline defense shored up, Limgenco leveled the match at a set-apiece with a powerful smash at the net.

La Salle took to the court still cocky with Raz challenging the Ateneans to “pustahan na lang.” DLSU quickly raced to a 4-0 lead and their mouths still running. But a spike by Africa, a pair of dinks by Timmy Sto. Tomas, and De Joya’s net aggression soon forged a tie at 17-all. Ateneo would not relinquish the lead back to their arch-rivals as they pulled away for a 25-22 win in the pivotal third set. Seldom used Tyrone Judes Casumpang even made a surprise appearance and scored on a service ace that raised Ateneo’s confidence.

The fourth and final set followed a similar plot but it was Ateneo that led early on. The teams battled through 10 deadlocks before the Blue Spikers displayed steel nerves and held on for a scintillating 25-23 win. And for the first time since… well, no one can remember anymore – the alma mater song was sung during a men’s volleyball game. And the Blue Babble Battalion whose very presence gave the team a dose of energy and an emotional lift led the croaked yet impassioned singing.

In the season thus far, the team took its first set from FEU in years, nearly beat Adamson and UP, and now upended the Green Spikers for their first win against their arch-rivals in years. They finished first round play with a 2-5 record and moved up to sixth place in the team standings. If they continue their winning ways they can find themselves playing for a seat in the final four.

It was a most joyous team that gathered at halfcourt. They received hearty congratulations from the coaching staff and athletics officials. They made plans for further training during the holidays so they don’t lose their shape and momentum come the New Year. “Nandito na tayo,” said AJ Pareja who finished with a game high 25points. Panindigan na natin.”

The team broke the huddle with a noisy yet throaty “One Big Fight.”

Notes: Ateneo is at 6th place ahead of its two vanquished foes, La Salle and National University. AJ Pareja and Mike de Joya are in second and third respectively in the tournament’s Best Scorers rankings. Mike De Joya and Juan Carlo Dulu are at fifth and seventh respectively on the Top 10 Attackers list. Macky Limgenco and Timmy Sto. Tomas are at third and eighth in the Top 10 Best Blockers. AJ Pareja, Mike De Joya, and Timmy Sto. Tomas are at fifth, seventh, and eighth in the Top 10 Best Servers list. Juan Carlo Dulu is the first round's 10th Best Digger. Sto. Tomas is the league's fourth best setter.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Congratulations to Kaka 2007 FIFA Player of the Year


Ateneo Lady Spikers vs. DLSU Round 1

Ateneo Men's Volleyball Match 6 Finding Heart. Fighting Heart.

Ateneo vs. National University
25-22, 25-23, 23-25, 25-19
by rick olivares

Match 5
December 13, 2007
Blue Eagle Gym

At the end of their hotly contested four-set loss to FEU, Ateneo coach Ronald Dulay placed his hand on the chest of several players. “Nararamdaman niyo ba yung tibok ng puso niyo,” he asked. “Meron di ba? Malakas kasi lumaban kayo at pinahirapan niyo sila.” Ateneo has not won a single set against FEU in years. But last Thursday, December 13, they surprised an athletic and fast-playing FEU team through a series of relentless attacks and punishing defense at the net. They took the first set, but lost the next two by a whisker before eventually falling apart in the game clincher. Were it not for the ten-plus service errors it might have been a different story.

The last few losses found the team at the receiving end of another litany of do’s and don’ts from the coaching staff. But after the FEU match, anyone would have sworn the Ateneo men’s volleyball team pulled off a win. Despite being 0-4, the team was noticeably getting better. “We’re building momentum for the second round and we hope to get some wins in the next couple of games,” said a visibly elated Timmy Sto. Tomas after the game. No doubt, their confidence was soaring.

And true enough, the Ateneo Men’s Volleyball Team won a pair of close sets before closing out the National University Bulldogs in the fourth when Macky Limgenco put on a block party and Mike De Joya and AJ Pareja combined for a smashing victory.

In the days before the NU match, the team heavily practiced their defense at the net and their receiving. “We wanted to let our defense do the talking,” said AJ Pareja who was clearly enjoying this long-coming win.

In the fourth set, NU tied the match at 12-all and with every point, the Bulldogs were starting to think that a comeback was a possibility. But with De Joya serving, Sto. Tomas, Pareja, and Limgenco scored four straight points off blocks. Senior Mark Salvador ensured the momentum would keep on going for the home team with a great dig that his teammates converted for a point. By the time NU stopped the run, Ateneo had nearly broken the game wide open with a 19-12 lead.

With the team three points away from the win, Dulay dispatched Paolo Pareja to come in for Juan Carlo Dulu. And most fittingly, the senior, who has endured long losing seasons helped put the win in the bag with superb receptions from NU’s jumpserves. When Mike De Joya finished off the Bulldogs, it was a joyous team that took to the floor in celebration.

Moments after the game, the coaching staff and University Athletics Officials came over to congratulate the team and give encouragement. The team might not strike fear in the hearts of their opponents. They might not have the most heavily recruited players in amateur volleyball. But if the have the heart, as they shown they do posses, it will more than compensate for any other shortcoming, real or perceived.

And now that they know they have it, it’s all about bringing more consistently.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bleachers' Brew #86 Yo, Adriatic!

(This appears in my column today, December 17, 2007 in the sports pages of the Business Mirror.)

As a fan of military adventure movies, one of my all-time favorites is Behind Enemy Lines starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman. Hackman, who is splendid playing uncompromising authority figures (see Uncommon Valor, Crimson Tide, and Hoosiers), his intense performance in Behind Enemy Lines was right up his alley. But for Wilson, it was a pleasant change and one of his best films. Sorry but I’m not really a fan of his attempts at comedy except for his part in the remake of Starsky & Hutch. A brief synopsis about the film: a US Navy pilot (Wilson) has to evade Serbs forces when his plane is shot down during a recon mission in war-torn Bosnia. With time running out, Hackman who plays the captain of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Carl Vinson, risks everything by launching a renegade rescue mission against strict NATO directives to bring the pilot back home.

Shameless plug: Read Bill Carter’s Fools Rush In and Joe Kubert’s Letters From Sarajevo. These books about the war in Bosnia should change your life. If it moved U2’s Bono, it should move you as well. The former in particular helped change the perception and western involvement in the Bosnian war.

Although fictional, one of the striking images of Behind Enemy Lines was that huge statue of an angel that stood on a mountain edge. It reminded me of the Christ the Redeemer in Brasil or the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island except that this one had half its face blown away by an artillery shell.

And now that image has been joined in real life by the statue of Rocky Balboa.

Yes, Sylvester Stallone’s fictional pugilist isn’t just standing over the Philadelphia Public Library but also in the farming village of Zitiste (which lies 36 miles from Belgrade) in Serbia.

Local residents either love or hate the statue of Balboa that stands in the village square. There are those who claim that the celluloid boxer is more of a universal hero than any of Serbia’s former leaders. Slobodan Milosevic, the modern-day fascist thug who perpetuated genocide on a massive scale in Kosovo, has his every likeness eradicated because of national shame. Balboa on the other hand, local artists claim, represents hope. He fought against seemingly impossible odds and won. It’s a message of hope to Serbs everywhere.

Not since perhaps the peak of Roman civilization have statues been erected en masse and like it was the latest fad. In Mostar, Bosnia, the statue of Bruce Lee inspires both fear (the Croats and Bosnians think that the legendary martial artist strikes an aggressive pose). In the village of Medja, a statue of native son Johnny Weissmuller (who was born here before his family immigrated to the United States) is ready to be put up. And in Cacak, a larger than life bust (figuratively) of starlet Samantha Fox is in the works. Turns out that the British singer’s concert in this forgotten part of the world did more than titillate Serb audiences.

Of course, not everyone is amused. Critics of the statue phenomenon (a modern day rival to the heads of Easter Island) bemoan that Stallone/Balboa, Lee, Weissmuller, and Fox have nothing to do with their country and culture.

“We should celebrate our own not some fancy foreign entertainer,” malevolently spat one former public official.

“Whom do they want,” mocked in reply the artist community that has been putting p the statues. “The communists? The military? They’ve done nothing but bring ruin to the region.”

Since the end of the various civil wars that plagued the former state of Yugoslavia after its dissolution, the various communities have been picking up the pieces of their shattered lives trying to find their place in Eastern Europe that has thrived on capitalism. In Zitiste, the war unfortunately didn’t end their troubles. The village gained the unsavory reputation as a disaster-prone area when floods and landslides repeatedly hit it. The fed up locals contemplated how to change that image and revive the village, which is one of the poorest in northern Serbia. One resident thought of the idea after watching the sixth (and final?) installment of Rocky where the retired champ is forced back into the ring one final time with the very unpopular current champion. The three-meter high stature of Stallone/Balboa statue has helped and it has brought in its share of tourists and an influx of badly needed cash for local businesses.

"For years, only negative reports on farm diseases, monstrous murders, floods and landslides, have been coming from our village," explained Zoren Babic, a local official who backed the initiative. "This is the chance to give a better, more positive image to Zitiste. And hopefully the rest of Serbia.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Game Time with the Brotherhood

The Ateneo Men's Volleyball Team

In my three years of writing for Ateneo at (maintained by my dear friends Sonia Araneta and Gia Dumo), I've only written about the Blue Eagles, the Lady Eagles, the Blue Booters, the Blue Batters, and the Blue Babble Battalion. There was the odd article on the Blue Fins and the Blue Woodpushers, but it wasn't much. The two teams I wanted to write about were the men's and women's volleyball teams.

Some people laughed and asked, "why when they keep losing and they suck?"

I guess as an Atenean, I really support all our sports teams. In high school we didn't get to watch the Blue Eaglets because we weren't allowed to leave class. Oh, we'd get to see the PAYA and PRADA teams because they played at the high school covered courts. I think my first Blue Eaglets game was the championship of 1985 at Araneta Coliseum where all the senior classes were allowed to watch. That's like 335 strong cheering and hollering. We won that year.

Even when Ateneo was losing all those years I remained a fan. In college one time, there were only five of us on hand to watch the game. There were no cheerleaders and we were playing a strong UE team. We started cheering from the bleachers. It was the place where everyone stayed then and it was all we students could afford. La Salle was playing the next game and some of their cheerleaders were on hand to watch the game. Three or four of the greenies who helped re-organize their Pep Squad were from Ateneo High and we asked them over to help cheer. It was quite a sight and I don't think it will ever happen again. Guys in green and blue cheering their lungs out during the entire game. What I will never forget too is how the UE and Ateneo teams stood up to cheer and clap for us in a true gesture of sportsmanship that I have never seen since. My fellow Guidon member and editor Joseph Nocos took a shot of that and we both remember that quite fondly.

Since my grade school days, all I had ever known was winning. All the way into college my batch won back-to-back UAAP titles, were it not for some freak off-court occurences, then we would have gotten a third straight crown.

The program has always been about basketball. I'm certainly glad the the other sports are being brought up to speed.

But the volleyball teams.

I thought that it was compelling that they'd go into every match wondering if this is where the losing streak ended. How hard is it to put on a jersey and hear the catcalls and jeers from foes who know they were beat even before the game started? How difficult is it that people watch the women's team and no one bothered to watch them save for athletics officials and the women's team?

I knew they had gotten a very good coach in Ronald Dulay and it was interesting for me to see how they came out and played.

The more I watched, the more I became a fan of theirs. I'm not sure how the season will end for all, but what I can say is that these guys are winners in my book as they play with all that pressure and the odds stacked against them.

I nearly lost everything that I own the other day in a fire that gutted the neighborhood. I haven't gotten back to normal as the migraine headaches have persisted. I have not written about their past two games, but I most certainly will today despite my apartment being topsy turvy. I was late to the game but made sure to bring them sports drinks for the second straight game. I'm not the most moneyed person right now what with what's going on, but I still went yesterday and showed the team support. And guess what, they won! And in fact, that should have been their third this season.

AJ, Timmy, Pao, Mike, Mark, Macky, JR, Julborg, Ed... and the others keep on fighting. Kaya niyo yan. As we like to say in our school, Believe.

I didn't come to watch and get a story. I came to watch because I knew we were going to win.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Talking About A Revolution

The Nakhon Ratchasima games are now over. The Philippines finished at a dismal sixth place and the customary finger-pointing is escalating. Truthfully, I don’t care anymore. It has been long since I cared. Even in the middle of the competition there have been whispers among the Southeast Asians that our medal harvest when we hosted the games two years ago could have been a result of the homecourt advantage or even cheating.

Of course we could say the same thing now versus the Thais. In fact, even before the games began, there were already reports of sudden changes of schedule, snafus in administration and others to unhinge the Philippines’ campaign.

Like England when it comes to Europe, we are outsiders to the Indo-china region. Most of our neighbors are side by side in geography aside from having similar religions, languages, and ethnic origins. They’d rather look out for each other than give us a fair shake.

We were a power in Asia even before they learned many of these games we play. But decades of erosion due to government corruption (including the sport associations), negligence, the lack of organization, and the emphasis on basketball has greatly set back Philippine sports. Some have called for the concentration on the sports where we are traditionally strong like basketball, billiards, and boxing. The “B-sports” as we call it. Even so, in the last Olympics, our boxers had to share trunks during competitions. So what kind of support is that? And for that matter should we stop sending teams from other sports? Oh, right. We didn’t have a men’s football team this time around. Well that’s nothing you don’t know already, right?

So here’s what maybe we can do.

1) Replace all our sports leaders from all agencies. Every last one of them. It’s time for a blood transfusion. The longer these people become entrenched in the sport, it becomes their personal fiefdom. Get younger people to run things with a mandate for real change in three or four years with the barometer being the immediate SEA Games and other competitions. Their tenure will be scrutinized by a review panel based on merit and output. Not the number of allies they have in the regional associations.

2)Get major corporations to sponsor certain teams or sports (with certain checks and balances). Give them tax cuts in return. After all, those taxes are not spent wisely anyway and end up in some jackass’ pockets. No politicos please. They use the sport for photo ops when they know nothing anyway. After all they should concentrate or implementing laws and effecting positive change, not going to Las Vegas when our boxers have a fight. Use Trillanes’ pork barrel to sponsor these teams. He doesn’t need it anyway.

3)Rather than send some of our athletes for training abroad for a few weeks (believe me it helps but when they get back here, our facilities are so bad, the routine light miles away that they lapse back into old habits), bring over foreign coaches/consultants say – a Brazilian for football, a Chinese national for gymnastics or swimming, and the Japanese for baseball. And get others who are true world champions of their sports. They will immediately be able to identify what’s wrong with our technique and what needs to be done. And their recommendations should be given immediate support (of course with proper review). Look our local coaches had their chances too right? If we can send our nurses, doctors, and engineers abroad to steal their jobs they can do the same too. Screw those rights about pure Filipinos in these professions. We ask for independence from the United States but everyone scampers to get a visa and a green card if possible.

4)Get that homegrown program in place (tap the schools as centers of excellence) and limit the inclusion of the Fil-foreigners in our competitions. If they show up only for the games then how do we know about their readiness and if they truly play for flag and country? If they are serious about that then they should stay here and train with everyone else.

5)If our best athletes do not compete in the games (I know our billiards players save themselves for the pro competitions where there is serious money to be made), do not invite them at all for national team duty. Not even a one-time experience.

6)The only professional league we have is basketball. Time to have one in football and volleyball folks. If it becomes a reality then you will see the young train hard to become the best they can be because they have something they can graduate to after their education.

7)Oh, yes. An education. We should look after them because once their past their prime, what’s next? Another poor and impoverished athlete living in squalor bitter against the world.

8)Get a national sports center somewheres. All the offices will be located there so any information can be accessed immediately. Time for those old arenas like the Rizal Memorial Coliseum to be demolished with new and modern structures put in place. It’s a landmark, you old timers say? Look if they can take away the Christmas palabas at the old COD in Cubao and do away with the Fiesta Carnival then anything is possible.

9)And lastly, get better television coverage for the international sports events. Enough of the crappy NBN-4. And no channel 2. The last thing we need is showbiz in sports with Dyan Castillejo telling us what this athlete had for breakfast. Please.

Guess what? I still do care.