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.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

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

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