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, April 30, 2007

The Write Stuff

As my fascination for baseball and the New York Yankees grew and intensified during my younger years, a couple of books that I sought out was the much-acclaimed Summer of ’49 and October 1964 both written by David Halberstam. The former chronicled the year when the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox were engaged in a heated pennant race highlighted by the incredible year that Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams had. There were anecdotes about Jackie Robinson, Italian immigrants who used baseball as a way to integrate themselves into mainstream America, how radio was such a big part of turning men into gods, and how television’s infancy told of a high-tech future to come. The latter was about the last hurrah of Mickey Mantle’s Yankees and an era of sustained greatness as they fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series and into the abyss of losing and mediocrity.

I knew I had a good book in my hands as I stayed riveted to my seat and paused only to eat and heed nature’s call. What also fascinated me about David Halberstam’s writing was the meticulous recreation of the bygone eras that came alive for me. It was as if I had traveled back in time and had a front row seat to all the insider action. Halberstam’s prose was a unique mix of first-rate journalism and history.

His writing whetted my appetite for history as a school subject and as choice of reading material. Just when I thought that I knew and heard of every Michael Jordan tidbit out there, Halberstam came back with the even more well-researched tour de force Playing For Keeps that tracked the parallel growth of ESPN, the spread of American pop culture, and the globalization of the game that turned His Airness into the world’s first universal superstar. A truly amazing read.

David Halberstam’s style became a huge influence on my writing and my mania for research, historical facts, and empirical proof. His death the other day in a car accident in Menlo Park, California might have merited a small column or maybe nary a blip on most local sports fans’ radar screen, but it resonates deep inside the fan in me.

Thanks for the inspiration, Mr. Halberstam. You’ll be writing the good book up there.

o O o

As I got older, those Hardy Boys mystery books (I still have the original and complete hardbound set) gave way to Sports Illustrated. I used to buy them at the Rastro in Greenhills that was just about the only store that sold them. If I missed an issue, I’d save up on my allowance and go to Dau to buy at the PX Shops.

If Sportscenter popularized the highlight, Sports Illustrated brought us the “bonus” as its late and famed editor Andre Laguerre coined the magazine’s raison d’etre. It became all about context. It meant going beyond the stats and about using sports as a metaphor for life; a prism for the rush of excitement on the playing field and the solitude between those moments of winning and losing. And that style changed sports writing forever.

Well, for the most part, it’s no longer “FEU Tamaraws gore NU Bulldogs.” It’s – “The FEU Tamaraws proved that they were far from being extinct in Season 69 of the UAAP as they reached in deep inside for that end game poise and game swagger that saw them through consecutive Finals appearances. Yadda yadda yadda.” That gore stuff is for the pedestrian.

I’ll say that David Halberstam is one of the three best baseball writers in my honest opinion; the others being Roger Kahn and Tom Verducci. Jack McCallum, Michael Lewis, and Rick Reilly are also huge influences. There were other non-sports writers I followed: Marc Spitz (the music writer not the swimmer), Nick Hornby, Cameron Crowe, Stephen Ambrose, Timothy Zahn, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and Peter David to name a few.

As for local papers, I read everybody… Joaquin Henson, Henry Liao, Al Mendoza, Recah Trinidad, Ding Marcelo, (my editor) Jun Lumibao, and Rhea Navarro to name a few. And man, I loved collecting those old Atlas Sports Weekly Magazines.

o O o

Here are some other sports books I’d like to recommend:
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
Pele by Pele
The Life of Reilly by Rick Reilly
A Season On the Brink by John Feinstein
Unfinished Business by Jack McCallum
The Jordan Rules & The Second Coming by Sam Smith
The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam


o O o

Random thoughts:
- Funny how instead of getting to the bottom of the problem, some officials are conducting a witch-hunt to determine who spilled the beans. Where there’s smoke there’s fire. I’m feeling you, PhilJax. A Ninoy Aquino gets you that the official stays put.

- It’s not quite Remember the Titans, but We Are Marshall is good.

- Alex Rodriguez may be off to one of the greatest individual starts in Major League Baseball history but if you ask me, whether the Yanks recover from their early season woes to win the World Series, this will be his last year in pinstripes.

- If you missed the racism in football special feature in ESPN before the start of the last World Cup, go to youtube and look up European Racism in Football. Having experienced racism first-hand, it just makes my blood boil.

Monday, April 23, 2007

16 Men Out

The Ateneo Men’s baseball team was expected to compete for the UAAP title last season and early on, they ran roughshod over the competition. But still, I wondered how long they could keep it up knowing that the team had many unresolved issues from within. And to the horror and shock of many, the Blue Batters crashed and burned in the second round. It was an inglorious end when Ateneo’s victories were overturned, their semis slot disqualified, and their star rookie Justin Zialcita declared ineligible for failure to submit the Alien Certificate of Registration in time. Although Zialcita spent a few years in the US, he’s been living here for a long time and matriculated at Southridge. Other quarters tried to twist Zialcita’s case as one of fielding an ineligible player and demanded a suspension. That wasn’t too smart of those who wanted to compare the fate of their school with my alma mater’s. Apples and oranges, folks. You can put aside your prejudices and look at the facts of the matter.

The casualty of this all wasn’t simply a lost opportunity for the title but a team in disarray. Their coach, while one of the local game’s best, lost his team’s trust because of his frequent absences during off-season training and his questionable game decisions that told heavily on their morale and confidence. In fact, during a shellacking by eventual champion UST in their second round tiff, the coach sat down in the middle of the game and turned the reins over to an assistant. With the season done, the Blue Batters expressed difficulty in still playing for the coach given all that had happened. Now the coaching position is vacant yet there is still much confusion in the program. The logical selection for the team’s new coach would be baseball great Randy Dizer who has been handling the Ateneo’s high school and elementary teams that have been winning in their age level and who has overseen the development of many of the current seniors players.

However, someone in the school’s athletic department is said to be preventing the selection of Dizer, pitting players against one another and making the team look like a bunch of spoiled malcontents. This official even asked the players what they would like to do about their program head (fermenting dissent, isn’t he?). He has met with the team members individually after which he twisted much of their thoughts and feelings. As a result, some players have expressed notions about sitting out the next campaign. “I went here to study and play baseball,” said one team veteran. “Not to be in the middle of all this politicking.”

Incidentally, it was this official’s job to put Zialcita’s papers in order. What he stands to gain from all of this escapes me.

Wait, it has just gotten uglier. This official has been meddling in the Athletic Council and other varsity teams. The latest victim of his nefarious intercessions is the swimming team’s coach who has worked wonders in turning the former underachieving team into a rising power. The men’s and women’s teams have placed admirably well in the last two seasons but after this official’s undermining the coach and his position, the program is in a state of discord.

And oh yeah, the swim coach has just tendered his irrevocable resignation.

What I don’t really get is that the school knows that some coaches or officials under perform (a bleeping understatement) but they still stick to them. Of course, it’s a collegiate league, not the pro ranks where it’s more cutthroat. But the worst thing one can do is sit on the malaise and let it spread like some disease. The funny thing is some officials privately felt that the volleyball squad needed a coaching change but didn’t do anything. They had to wait until the incumbent one left and when the team floundered this past Season 69, it was expressed that it was the residue of bad coaching and poor training over the past few years. Geez, Louise!

Now if this happened to the basketball program, that person would have been booted out post haste. Not that he could get anywhere close to that program (as well as football’s) if he wished because it’s so well guarded against outside interference.

And the baseball team’s concern is that we’re seeing a repeat of what happened to the swimming team. The school has won a couple of baseball and softball titles but for the longest time it was the UAAP’s doormat. With a solid homegrown program in place, the game has grown steadily popular in Loyola Heights. In fact, the same can be said for Ateneo’s other sports programs. Time was they’d lose many a potential recruit or even players to grades, lack of funds, and a fear of playing for a losing team. Now the school and its teams have become a desirable destination of many athletes.

If I have written about other schools in my column or elsewhere, I am not going to stand pat when it’s my alma mater. In fact, I’ll even come down harder on Ateneo. That’s not what they taught me when I marched, got shot at, and was harassed during those dangerous years after Ninoy Aquino was assassinated. Make no mistake, I love my school and am a third generation Atenean.

Politics and intrigue is something no one can entirely eradicate. I read somewhere that it is in man’s nature to destroy one self. Nevertheless, it’s time to cut the crap and get things in order. We do not need this on our way to the Sesquicentennial.

It’s unfortunate that the 16 men of the baseball team were called out on account of a violation. Let’s make sure that the program doesn’t go down too on strikes. More so when it’s coming from a cancer from within.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Why did the chicken cross the road?

According to:

Oscar de La Hoya, boxer, president of Golden Boy Promotions
It can’t do that! We already signed a contract with the chicken. We’ll sue!

Bob Arum, boxing promoter
The chicken got the best deal in town and it will become even more famous under my watch.

Freddie Roach, boxing trainer
The chicken has been in Manny Pacquiao’s corner for his last 12 fights. So it is only logical to cross the road to be once more by Manny’s side. But the chicken had to ask permission from Oscar de la Hoya to cross the road.

Erik Morales, former World Boxing Champion
Wala siyang katulad kaya nag-cross siya ng road.

Manny Pacquiao, Filipino Global Icon
Pap pa rap pap pap.

Bong Obero, boxing promoter
The chicken crossed the road because it needed to feed its family. And the people on the other side of the road need our chickens to pad their records.

Eric Buhain, GAB chairman
We believe the chicken crossed the road without a license. We intend to ask the NBI to investigate this and we will open it up in every boxing convention that we attend.

Atty. Rudy Salud, distinguished boxing personality
All GAB should do is know how many commissions there are and know the head man of each group and work out an agreement that will put a stop to unlicensed chickens from crossing the road.

Joakim Noah, player, two-time NCAA champion Florida Gators
The chicken stands for something. It’s not all about making money. It’s about winning championships and making history.

Kevin Durant, US College Player of the Year
I think the chicken enjoyed its stay on its side of the road and now it’s ready to cross the other side to join the draft.

Greg Oden, center, Ohio State Buckeyes
The chicken is not entering the NBA. Next question please.

Barry Bonds, player, San Francisco Giants
I think you have to be proud of that chicken. It’s 42 years old and it still crossed the road to chase Hank Aaron’s record. Now don’t give that chicken an asterisk for trying.

Hank Aaron, holder of Major League Baseball’s home-run record
I don’t think I’m going to cross the road to cheer that record-hunting chicken. I’m perfectly happy where I am.

Virginia Congressman Tom Davis, chairman of baseball committee on steroids scandal
We subpoenaed the chicken on suspicion of using steroids. Hopefully, the chicken can shed light on this so we can clean up the sport of baseball.

Michael Rains, Barry Bonds’s lawyer
I think there is an effort to indict that chicken.

Phil Jackson, Los Angeles Lakers coach
I think there’s a witch hunt being conducted on that chicken.

Kobe Bryant, star player for Los Angeles Lakers
Well, they better not piss off that chicken coz it’s going to score 60 points on you.

David Beckham, former Real Madrid midfielder
The chicken has 250 million reasons why it crossed the road.

Fabio Cappelo, Real Madrid coach and manager
We wanted the chicken to stay. We had big plans for it. Since it decided to cross the road, we benched it until the end of its contract with us.

Ramon Calderon, Real Madrid president
The other side of the road isn’t as good as our side. It’s the chicken’s loss. Not ours.

Barros Schelotto, Boca Juniors player transferring to MLS Columbus Crew
The chicken needed a change of air.

Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Mexican football player who transferred from Club America to the Chicago Fire in the MLS
That chicken is one bad boy for crossing the road.

Charles Barkley, NBA all-time great & TNT basketball analyst
Did you see the chicken cross the road? Man, it was old and slow. No way should that chicken referee in the NBA in that condition. If it insists, then I challenge it to a race during the All-Star Game. I’ll bet you I won’t even work up a sweat. When it’s over, the chicken’s tombstone will read, “Keeled over racing the Chuckster.”

Dick Bavetta, NBA referee
That old chicken crossed the road for old people’s rights!

Leo Oracion, first Filipino to summit Mt. Everest
The chicken crossed because the road was there.

Chris Webber, forward, Detroit Pistons via Philadelphia
It was a no-brainer for that chicken to cross the road. It was to win a championship. It needs to win a championship.

Vince Carter, forward New Jersey Nets
I had no idea that the chicken was talking to its agent about opting out of its contract. I believe the chicken is happy on its side of the road.

Basketball Association of the Philippines
If that chicken did cross the road then we’re going to fire it.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, former BAP President
The chicken crossed to put an end to the disunity in basketball and so the Philippines could compete once more in international competitions.

Patrick Baumann, Fiba president
If that chicken doesn’t know which side of the road it should be then we will suspend it from all competitions.

Congratulations to our manok Manny Pacquiao for beating Jorge Solis. It wasn’t as exciting as the last two Pacquiao-Morales fights, but credit Solis for taking the fight to Manny.

Check out my nonsports blog at http://1125pages.blogspot.com.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Rites of Spring & Fall

Last Tuesday evening, my mobile phone rang. “Call” the phone simply read meaning it was from overseas. It was my friend Sam who incredibly was calling from Yankee Stadium for the season opener. The new baseball season was starting. “Where you at, dog? It’s opening night and it’s the last at the House That Ruth Built before it moves across the street to the House That Taxpayers Built.”

I laughed but could hardly understand him for it gets real noisy up in the stands. Sam’s funny. He defies the stereotype. He’s a Christian from Cairo, Egypt, who moved Stateside a decade ago and developed an affinity for baseball. Plus he speaks with a Brooklyn accent after hanging out with all the Italian guys in the neighborhood. And baseball is what got us talking.

Take me out to the ballgame for the annual rites of spring have begun. And baseball is back. It has brought a spring into my tired sporting soul that refuses the already maddening intake of Pacquiao stories and the dog days on a long NBA season. Thank God for the NCAA Finals (too bad Ohio State lost) and the upcoming NBA Play-offs.

Before you react and say, “Those damn Yankees!” Let me try to explain something about New York and the world famous baseball team and its effect on man.

When America emerged a superpower from World War II, New York City became by default, the center of the globe. And right in the middle of that massive cultural and socio-economic change was the grand old game… baseball. And when you talk about the sport, there’s one team that has come to define the sport and cross borders – the New York Yankees.

Since 1903, the Yankees have accounted for 26 World Series titles and 39 pennants. Other teams like the Giants, the Dodgers, and later on, the Mets have had their share of the pie as well, but this is Yankee town no matter what anyone says. More than the Knicks or even the Rangers. Why the famous interlocking “NY” can be found on blazers, caps and jackets just about anywhere in the world? Whereas if you say “Met,” you have to clarify if it’s the Metropolitan Museum or that team that plays in Shea Stadium. This is not to denigrate the Mets (after all, they did foil the Boston Red Sox’s bid in ’86), but quite simply, the Yanks have transcended cultural barriers in more ways than one more than any other team since the Chicago Bulls of the 1990’s.

While New Yorkers take the success of their teams in stride (after all, life in the Big Apple is frenetic enough as it is), it doesn’t mean that they are no less intense or fanatic. While the real theater can be found in the stages of Broadway, Radio City, 42nd Street, the Lincoln Center or Madison Square Garden (where boxing matches, basketball games, hockey games, concerts, heck, even the greatest show on earth – Barnum & Bailey’s Circus -- play all year round), news and gossip about the team in pinstripes are in daily chatter fare. You see, while other teams are just happy to finish .500 or even make the play-offs, in New York, the Yanks not having won a World Series since 2000 despite making it to the play-offs every year since, is construed as a disaster. So it is never casual or faddish to root for the Bronx Bombers. If for some, it’s “we’ll just get them next year;” in New York, it ain’t necessarily so. It takes an entirely different mindset to always be the best and uphold a standard of excellence. There is nothing wrong with wanting to compete or to win (I’m sure that teams wish they had George Steinbrenner’s money). After all, if one is just angling to hover around .500 then they’re doing everyone a disservice.

If you figure that New Yorkers are arrogant because of this, they would surely digress. New Yorkers do not think their city is the most important one; they take for granted that it is. Things outside New York not that important? Maybe it doesn’t matter given all that happens to the city on a daily basis. And if New Yorkers don’t compare themselves to anyone or anything else, it’s because they don’t think there is anything else comparable.

Such is the New York attitude. Maybe that’s why Osama Bin Laden thought to make the city more than any other, save perhaps the nation’s capital, the object of his wrath.

New Yorkers demand excellence. Nothing more, nothing less. And the Yankees doing well is simply business as usual. There is pressure in playing in New York, not just in pinstripes – from the scrutiny of management to the judgment of media and fans; it’s like living in a giant fishbowl under the spotlight. Like the song says, if you can make there, you can make it anywhere. In his autobiography, Me and My Dad, former Yankee outfielder Paul O’Neill wrote of his trade from his hometown Reds to the Yankees: For the ultimate optimist, my announcement that I was no longer a Cincinnati Red but was being traded to the New York Yankees was regarded as one big party. The rest of us were all in tears, and my father was celebrating. “Paul,” he exclaimed, “this is going to be the best thing that ever happened to you.” He added that while Riverfront Stadium was wonderful; the House That Ruth Built was rocking every single night. And this was way before the Joe Torre era began.

Such is playing in New York if not the Yankees. Even the great Michael Jordan did muse to himself: “Although it would have been hard to play for another coach, I always wondered how it would have been to play in New York. I would have seriously considered playing for the Knicks during the 1998-99 season if I were single. New York fans appreciate good players and I always enjoyed playing in Madison Square Garden."

New York is home to two pro basketball teams, the Knicks and the Nets. There are two pro football teams in the Giants and the Jets. The Rangers, the Islanders and the Devils are the pro hockey teams while the Yanks and the Mets round out the reps for the fourth of the major sports leagues. And we haven’t even talked about the Brooklyn Cyclones or even the Staten Island Yankees. Or even the Red Storm.

Ironically, in a city of 12 million, there is room enough for everyone. When the Yankees were bushwhacked by their cross-town rivals the Mets to clinch the season series in 2004, I never heard the end of this from my friends and co-workers on 86th and Lex (and this is in the Upper East, a twenty-minute 4 train ride away to the Bronx) who were all Mets fans. In Elmhurst, Queens, home to a predominantly Indian, Korean, Hispanic and Filipino community, you’d think that you were in the Bronx the way pinstripes litter the neighborhood.

When the Yankees lost to the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS, it was painful and humiliating. But like New Yorkers after 9-11, the Yankees will surely arise from the ashes. After all, it’s a New York state of mind. And Sam, you old dog, I’ll be seeing you soon.

Check out my non-sports blog at http://1125pages.blogspot.com/. First one’s about my trip to Corregidor.

Monday, April 2, 2007

The Legend of Billy Ray Bates

In two weeks’ time, several Korean coaches will be coming over to the Philippines to personally scout the imports plying their wares in the ongoing Fiesta Conference Cup. The Korean Basketball League (KBL) will soon be returning to action.

Obviously we’ve come a long way that our neighbors know there’s quality hoops being played in this corner of Southeast Asia.

While we have some pretty good imports playing right now, gone are the days when these roundball mercs were larger than life figures whose prodigious presence and scoring feats could alter a team’s fortunes.

The world has caught up to the Americans in basketball and has knocked them down a peg or two. Even without our current predilection for Fil-foreigners, the quality of the Philippine game has gone up. All of a sudden we have locals who can match-up quite well with imports.

For their winning record and contributions, Norman Black, Bobby Parks, and Sean Chambers will arguably go down as the best three ever. But in terms of fewer conferences played, I’d give the nod to Billy Ray Bates. He played in four conferences and won three titles in his first three – the first two with Crispa and the last with Ginebra.

In his final conference, he teamed up with Kevin Gamble for four games before they were replaced (by Jumpin’ Joe War and Tommy Davis) as the crowd favorites tumbled to a mediocre record. Gamble’s being cut served him well for he soon worked himself to better basketball shape as he found himself playing for the Boston Celtics on a team that had their Big Three of LarryKevinRobert and eventually starting.

As for Bates, he soon wandered from Switzerland to Mexico and to the now-defunct World Basketball League. The man known as “Dunk” who thrilled Portland Trailblazer fans in the early 1980’s with his manic scoring sprees and aerial exploits slid into the depths of drugs and alcoholism.

When Portland made former Blazer Jerome Kersey its Director for Player Programs in 2005, a position designed to help rookies assimilate themselves into the NBA spotlight where fame and fortune have their pitfalls, Billy Ray Bates was used as a prime example of people who were totally unprepared for NBA life. For a man who should have served notice that dreams can come true when he made the regular line-up after being signed to a 10-day contract in 1980, his name, when mentioned is followed by a shake of the head and the words, “what a waste.”

In two memorable play-off seasons, Bates strapped to his back a Blazers team reeling from the loss of Bill Walton to various foot injuries to pace a team that still had Tom Owens, Ron Brewer, Maurice Lucas, Kermit Washington, and Jim Paxson. During the 1980 Western Conference first round battle with Seattle, Bates averaged 25 points per game against the Supersonics of the late Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma, Gus Williams, Paul Silas, and Vinnie Johnson in his pre-Microwave days.

In first round action once more in 1981 against Kansas City, Dunk scored 28.3 in three outings against the Kings that had the high-scoring Otis Birdsong (who was here recently during the Bad Boy Tour), Scott Wedman (who parlayed his scoring days into a Boston Celtics contract years later), an aging UNC Tar Heel great Phil Ford, and later New York Knicks' GM Ernie Grunfeld.

Bates would play one more year in Portland before he was released for substance abuse. He would latch on to a pair of 10-day contracts in the 1982-83 season with the Washington Bullets and the Los Angeles Lakers before he would be out of the League permanently.

He would resurrect his career here in the Philippines with the famed Crispa Redmanizers and come back a couple of years later to team up with the high-scoring Michael Hackett to give Sonny Jaworski his first title as player-coach in the 1986 Open Conference.

Ginebra paced the league in that conference but found a tough foe in the Manila Beer squad that had Yoyoy Villamin, Abet Guidaben, and Atoy Co and imports Harold Keeling and former University of Houston Cougar and Phi Slamma Jamma alum Michael Young.

I remember during game one of the title series, all seemed lost for Ginebra as it seemed that Manila Beer had their number. But in the final minutes, a spirited rally by Ginebra saw them with a chance to pull out a win. And in the game’s final play, Billy Ray Bates hauled down Michael Young’s missed shot and went coast-to-coast with only Abet Guidaben standing in his path and an improbable victory. Bates, elevated and in his own words, “went for the moon to dunk over Guidaben” for a game-winning slam.

Ginebra would go on to win that series in five games and Bates proclaimed, “If you want to win a championship, who are you gonna call? Superman.”

But as ever, the kid from a poor farming community in Mississippi couldn’t handle the rewards of his tremendous basketball skills. He was plagued by demons in bottles and cocaine pipes. Bates would hit rock bottom when he robbed a Texaco gas station in Camden, New Jersey in 1998 and slashed the station attendant’s ear with a knife. He was caught by responding police not far from the incident and would be incarcerated in a New Jersey jail for seven years for stealing the princely sum of five dollars.

Bates was released last year and is said to now work as a janitor somewhere in the East Coast where he -- although now clean and sober -- still harbors dreams of rescuing his beloved Portland Trailblazers.

He went for the moon and came down with shattered dreams.

Thanks for the memories Billy Ray.