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 31, 2008

Memories of 2008

* Over 46,000 visitors for Bleachers' Brew and over 214,100 page views in 2008 * Transformers * The Dark Knight * Iron Man * Life * Damian Lewis * youtube generation * Guns N' Roses finally released their new album * the Boston Celtics win their 17th title * Is James Posey the new Robert Horry? * Rashad Evans * Barack Obama * late night sound trips * Finally Spain and the Netherlands show their worth in Euro football competition * Ateneo adidas apparel * Kobe Bryant * Randy Couture is still the man * Rogue magazine * the Redeem Team * Michael Phelps * Usain Bolt * Robert Downey Jr. plays an awesome Tony Stark * Nastia Liukin * Ed Brubaker on Captain America * Sarah Shahi * rain in the summertime * Alex Ross does the Justice Society of America * Bangkok shopping * Maxim Philippines * Steve Rude's Nexus is back * Death Cab for Cutie's Narrow Stairs * Kelly Kelly * Up Dharma Down releases Bipolar * Gilbert Arenas * We want tables * Bruce Willis is back as John McClane * making the 2009 Ateneo Sports Calendar * Diego Maradona is the new coach of the Argentine National Football Team * Watching the Ateneo Blue Eagles win a fourth UAAP Men's Basketball title * Nonoy Baclao * One Big Cheer's tee shirts * 2008 Championship shirt * Tiuperman * iamnonoy * Generation Kill * Audi cars * the Super Bowl Champs New York Giants * the Ateneo Men's Football Team * Steve Jobs and all his damned Macs and iPods * Cesc Fabregas * Manny Pacquiao * the Ateneo Sports Shooters * Tiger Woods won the US Open * Jeff and Matt Hardy * Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts * Ricky Rubio sucks * Snow Patrol doing "Signal Fire" for Spider-Man 3 * Kofi Kingston * The Sarah Connor Chronicles * mi adidas * TNA Wrestling is the best * watching Versus and Plus Minus at Magnet * The Clone Wars * Bea Pascual * are those Fit 'n Right commercials for real? * Polar Bears for Obama * facebook * Fernando Torres leads Liverpool in scoring * Peter Berg is a great director * my nephew Carlo Olivares is batting clean-up for the Ateneo Baseball Team * the ending of the Iron Man and Incredible Hulk movies * doing the pre and post-game analysis for the UAAP Men's Basketball Finals * does anyone still care about those Starbucks' planners? * Goodbye the House That Ruth Built. Hello the House That George Built * U23D * Rick Reilly moves to ESPN * prices of original DVDs are down * Aishwarya Rai * long walks around the Ateneo campus late in the afternoon * Minka Kelly * David Ploufee * Oasis' new album Dig Out Your Soul * the Gallagher Brothers are back * Heath Ledger as the Joker * the Ateneo Men's & Women's Volleyball Teams * Tina Fey does a rad Sarah Palin * Rachel Getting Married * Appleseed Ex-Machina * LeBron James * Rolling Stone changes its magazine format * Dairy Queen * Shakey's V-League * Jessica Alba * Karim Benzema * Paramore * The Philippine Homeless World Cup Team * Fully Booked * Black Machismo * DC's Final Crisis * Bucky returns * Brondby FC sponsors UNICEF * Lyon FC * the Beautiful People * the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics * Summer Glau * the Kings of Leon * Kittin's Scarlet Cake * Stan Lee & Marvel Comics * Marian Rivera * Fabio Capello gives English Football a shot in the arm * Four Four Two * Maltesers * Dylan * HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!!!

My soundtrack for the year:
Destiny Calling - James
Piece of This - P.O.T.
On Your Side - Pete Yorn
Night Jeep - Juan Pablo Dream
Please Stand Up - British Sea Power
Taper Jean Girl - Kings of Leon
You've Just Got It All - Plus Minus
Jordan the Comeback - Prefab Sprout
Lowell, Ma. - Death Cab for Cutie
Go Hippie - Fountains of Wayne
Dance the Night Away - Van Halen
God On Our Side - Wire Train
Ride A Black Swan - Zwan
Supersonic - Oasis
Lebanese Blonde - Thievery Corporation
Gotta Stay High - New Radicals
Charm Attack - Leona Naess
Does he Love You? - Rilo Kiley
Good Intentions - Toad the Wet Sprocket
Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison
Chloe Dancer - Mother Love Bone
Lotta Love - Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Up At Night - Holiday Flyer
Lazy Eye - Silversun Pickups
Untitled - Interpol
Kissing the Lipless - The Shins
In the Meantime - Railway Children
My Imaginary Friend - Reel Big Fish
Gray Street - Dave Matthews Band
Signal Fire - Snow Patrol
Goodnight Song - Tears for Fears
Love Burns - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
We Laugh Indoors - Death Cab for Cutie
Take A Picture - Filter
Times of Trouble - Temple of the Dog
Time Stand Still - Rush
Enemy - Sevendust
Blue Light - Bloc Party
Like A Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan
Exodus - Bob Marley and the Wailers

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

UFC 92: A knockout PPV

I was ready to lobby Dana White to change the Ultimate Fighting Championship's name to Ultimate Brazilian Showcase. There's Anderson Silva, Minotauro Nogueira, Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort, Thiago Alves, and Ricardo Almeida to name a few who take names and whoop some serious ass. These guys are some bad dudes.

C'mon. Are you afraid of boxers? Mike Tyson in his prime was fearsome... just don't let him speak coz his whiny tone sure didn't scare the living crap out of anyone.

MMA fighters? These Brazilians? I mean what is Nogueir'as real name is is Antonio Rodrigo or Minotauro? The latter fits him well and I don't think anyone's going to make fun of him.

Yet after UFC 92, with Nogueira and Silva getting knocked out... there's a reason why this is a fast growing sport all over the world. And seeing Frenchman Cheick Kongo kick the living crap out of Englishman Mustapha Al Turk is proof that the South American country does not have a monopoly on great MMA fighters.

UFC 92 had a great fight card and if the previous one was good for fight fans, this one was an uppercut to those who said the sport had become predictable and stale. You have got to be shitting me.

Frank Mir vs. Minotauro Nogueira for the UFC Interim Heavyweight Championship
Frank Mir's fights clock in at an average of under four minutes as he knocks his foes out early or gets them to submit. And he looked to be in great shape as he made no bones about wanting to get back in the octagon with Brock Lesnar at a later date. So he sounded pretty confident but first off, there was the bad ass Nogueira.

Nogueira entered with the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" blaring in the background. and with a 31-4-1 record. But Mir was the least bit intimidated. He showed a new dimension to his game with top notch striking as he knocked down Nogueira twice in the first round. Instead of finishing Nogueira off, Mir let him get back to his feet if only to say, "you're a few seconds away from losing."

The Brazilian, who is a black belter in jiu jitsu was unable to get any solid combinations in unlike Mir who repeatedly jabbed and punctured Nogueira's defense.

Nogueira has been knocked down only five times previous to this match but he's never been finished off. Mir not only sent him to the canvass three times (including one at the buzzer ending the first round) but he landed some solid leg kicks and knees to his foe. And in the second round, Nogueira looking much like Oscar De La Hoya versus Manny Pacquiao was unable to pull the trigger against Mir.

By the second round, Mir sent two consecutive lefty haymakers that decked his foe. Mir sent nine more shots to the defending champ's head before referee Herb Dean pulled him away at the 3:08 mark.

Mir immediately made a beeline to where Brock Lesnar was sitting at ringside and issued a challenge, "You've got my belt!"

You can be sure that the next time these guys meet, no one is going to be pulling any punches.

Grudge Match Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson
Chuck Lidell knows what it's like to be on the receiving end of Rampage Jackson's fists. And Jackson conversely knows what it's like to get his clock cleaned. After all Silva sent him out of the ring before; the second of two losses to the Brazilian. And what was embarrassing about it was that Jackson was out cold.

But the former Light Heavyweight Champion said that he is a much different fighter this time around. And he was itching for payback.

"He don't like me. I don't like him," said Silva who licked his lips like a man hungry for a hot meal. "I came here not to fight for money but for pleasure." Silva shoved Jackson during the weigh in and the man they call Rampage laughed him off.

Jackson looked and sounded like a man with a plan.

Instead of both fighters charging in and exchanging fisticuffs, they eyed each other warily as Silva borrowed Forrest Griffin's strategy of softening up Jackson with hard leg kicks. Except this time Jackson stayed away and found an opening and sent an uppercut that decked the Axe Murderer into LaLa Land even before he hit the canvas. Rampage waded in and got in a few licks but it was unnecessary as Silva was sleeping like a baby. Jackson, who trained at Wolf's Lair in England with Cheick Kongo for this fight, had his revenge. As for Lidell? Well... that's twice he's been KO'd -- by Rashad Evans and Jackson. How do you deal with that power?

Cheick Kongo versus Mustapha Al Turk
Kongo is nasty. After Al turk inadvertently kneed him in the nuts, Kongo a few minutes later returned the favor to send a message.

The Frenchman mixed in some kicks and punches to throw off Al Turk who was fighting in the UFC for the first time. With time running down in the first round, Kongo aggressively chased his opponent and unloaded hammer fists and elbows on Al Turk. In the 39th second, an elbow opened up the Englishman like a spigot and you could hear Kongo's fists splatter blood.

Steve Mazzagatti, the referee called for the bell and Kongo had his 23 victory against 4 losses and 1 draw. A message was sent to the entire heavyweight community that he is one vicious SOB.

Rashad Evans vs Forrest Griffin for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship
Two Ultimate Fighter winners (Griffin won Season One while Evans won Season Two) but only one can walk out a winner. Forrest Griffin (16-4) is a tough fighter who only gets stronger as the fight gets longer. He took Rampage Jackson's title belt after tenderizing his leg with powerful leg kicks. But he was up against Rashad Evans (17-0) who was undefeated heading into this fight.

Griffin entered to the Drop Kick Murphys. Cool melding of traditional Irish music with primal punk rock.

Evans entered to a re-worked song by 80's New Wave band Blondie.

Someone should tell Bruce Buffer to stop yelling because he doesn't sound cool at all. He reminds me of the PBA analysts who imitate NBA broadcasters by raising their voices at every "highlight" play. Geez Louise! Find your own identity!

The first two rounds was a kickboxing match that Griffin took handily with the same strat he used against Rampage. But in round three, Evans caught Griffin's kick and threw him to the canvass where the tide turned immediately. Evans began to pound Griffin with some brutal rights until Steve Mazzagatti stopped the fight.

And Rashad Evans by TKO is the new UFC Light Heavyweight Champ. Great class shown by Forrest Griffin and Rashad Evans.

The best post fight speeches:
Frank Mir, Forrest Griffin, and Rashad Evans!

Change the climate, your mindset, and your damn habits

Over one lunch with my parents and my siblings, my sister who manages a resort in Siargao said that living by the beach, you can't help but notice the effects of global warming. Unlike us who live in the city, there isn't any sense of urgency with regards to the matter.

I've been very conscious of the little things such as switching off and unplugging all unnecessary equipment, using re-usable materials, not taking any plastics, plastic eating utensils, and others in groceries and fast food joints.

Here's what president-elect Barack Obama said in an interview with Time Magazine: "And the final thing just to round out my Happy List is climate change. All the indicators are that it is happening faster than even the most pessimistic scientists were anticipating a couple of years ago."

While speaking to Leo Oracion earlier this year, he noted with alarm how the face of Everest had changed for the worse in less than a year after he scaled the summit.

I'm certainly glad in Ateneo that some units now do not use plastic containers for take-out food and in fact require students to bring their own food containers.

Hopefully this year everyone will more cognizant of what needs to be done to help arrest climate change. Make a stand for everyone's sake. It's not enough that you watch An Inconvenient Truth (the DVD and the VCD are on sale locally). Do something concrete about it.

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote: "In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Football the English & American Way

Liverpool 5 vs. Newcastle 1

Three points ahead of Chelsea in the EPL. The Reds have played 20 games and are on top with a 13 win-6 draw-1 loss slate. They've scored 35 goals (second to Chelsea's 40) and have given up 13 (again second to the Blues). Rafa Benitez' side are undefeated at home in Anfield this year and there are 18 games left to play. They need to put more distance between them and Chelsea and Manchester United. A loss here will be them on level terms at some point.

Chelsea had their chance to stay close but they only drew 2-2 with Fulham. The North London club has played so inconsistent of late that one wonders about their state of mind what with John Terry recently sent off, Didier Drogba not being the player he was two years ago, and well, what Big Phil is doing for this club.

About American Football, the Dallas Cowboys, pre-season favorites to win the Super Bowl, reached a whole new level of suckiness when they got their brains battered (although the Detroit Lions with their 0-16 record can also claim that). Yes I know it isn't over with about a quarter left to play but grandma, the score is 44-3! They gotta trot out Troy Aikman if they want to catch up because this team should be scatered to the four winds. Does anyone know if Tony Romo is still seeing Jessica Simpson?

Just play football, Tony. You're almost a turn over like Terrell Owens is.

Read Rick Reilly's latest column. It will remind you of the movie The Gridiron Gang (which is a true story too).

Bleachers' Brew #139 A Different School of Thought

In 1987, I saved up my allowance to buy a back issue of Sports Illustrated at the Rastro in Greenhills. It was their annual college basketball preview with Navy’s David Robinson on the cover (I still have the magazine). It was a refreshing read about the future San Antonio Spur who then stood 6’9” and carried a bad team. Robinson went to college primarily to get an education and to serve in the military as opposed to simply playing basketball. Incredibly, he was and still is a rarity in sports today.

What equally transfixed my reading was a feature spread on several seventh to twelfth graders in America who were touted to be the next big thing in basketball. There was Marcus Liberty, Damon Bailey, Barnabas James, Michael Irvin, Brian Crow, Alonzo Mourning, and Kenny Anderson. Of the players listed, it’s only Mourning and Anderson who went on to have stellar college careers but who also did well in the National Basketball Association. As for the others? They had to live with those weighty tags where they are considered as busts.

Liberty believed the press and praise early on and he left the University of Illinois after his junior year to play in the pros; a four-year career that ended quietly and without the fanfare that trumped him to be the best prep player out of Chicago. As he freely admits, he regrets one too many decisions among them his not getting a degree.

Sixteen years later, former SI columnist Rick Reilly also wrote of an 11-year old player who was rated by an online basketball scouting site as another “can’t miss” prospect. “Who ranks fifth graders”” angrily asked Reilly, a 10-time National Sportswriter of the Year in the United States. “If the kid pans out, is that a feather in someone’s cap? And who does it hurt? It hurts the kid who’s got all these expectations the rest of his life.”

And we’ve not been spared on the home front. Though lacking in the high stakes pro leagues of America, the Philippines’ collegiate sports scene has regressed into the worst kept secret of a sick sports scene. Time was when everyone talked about the Philippine Basketball Association’s rigodon of players. But really does anyone care now with all the Fil-Ams?

The cutthroat competitiveness that defines pro sports has invaded the purity of the college game. With reports of game fixing, point shaving, and unethical recruiting policies, it seems that what schools are teaching now is “winning isn’t everything but the only thing."

Several years ago, a high school volleyball player who played for one of the country’s traditional volleyball powers decided to matriculate in another college because he felt that “he needed to think about his future.” He was offered a scholarship by his erstwhile alma mater but he turned it down without a second thought. “I don’t think there is a huge demand for PE teachers,” he explained of his decision to take control of his life. “I knew I wasn’t going to be a volleyball player forever so I knew I had to get a good education and that meant going to another school.”

It’s amazing how we confer the burden of tradition, winning, expectations, responsibility, and glory to teens and barely twentysomethings. Have we conveniently forgotten that they are in not quite adults yet and that first and foremost, it is a school’s sole mission to educate them?

Remember when we signed up to play for the jayvee and varsity teams for the sheer fun of it? Of course we wanted to win and we gave it our all. If we lost there was always the next game or next season to try and even up matters.

Only now, who knows if we’ll be around for next season?

Several years ago, after a lackluster season where its football team didn’t win a single game, a Recto-based university sent its entire team packing. I guess a college football title was more important than making sure that these kids got an education. What education, you might ask, when they never went to class anyway?

The team was imported all the way from the province to play football and everything else be damned. Since it was the only thing they did well and they didn’t get the job done, they were replaced by another batch of footballers from another southern city. Well, since there’s no pro football league to pay you to keep playing, dog, where you going after your eligibility has dried up?

Oh, since we in the province speak better English than Tagalog, maybe we’d work in a call center.

Another university brought in a new coach with a penchant for winning championships. In doing so, he cut many of his players and served notice that the leftovers didn’t have security as well. What of the scholarships of those cut? Well, too bad for them. Thy belong only to those who are on the line up.

Now those cut are left to wonder what if they had accepted the scholarship offered by another school? Said the coach, “The team isn’t here to participate, but to compete.” It’s bad enough that they’re benched and yelled at for the slightest mistake and now they have to worry about losing their scholarship.

A Manila-based school recruited a player from the southern Philippines and he played a couple of years for the basketball team. After being deemed too small for college ball, he was cut. He is still toiling in the school’s Team B hoping for another chance but doesn’t know it yet but he’s not going to make it back to the senior varsity. Not when there are taller players up the pike.

One truism I’ve constantly advised people is that, “life sucks.” The sooner we all comprehend that then the easier it is to adapt to the unfairness of it all and make the best out of it.

College is supposed to prepare young men and women for life. And life is never easy and like work, it is a four letter word. Welcome to the real world, son. Why wait for graduation to experience it when you can get ahead of it now?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

You've been dated! A sneak peek inside in the 2009 Ateneo Sports Calendar

This represents a labor of love. And I had a great bunch of buddies to work with on this. Take a bow, team -- Migs De Leon, Aly Yap, Scott Kho, CK Chua, Hub Pacheco, Erwin Cabbab, and Den Llanos Dee.

In a totally unrelated thing, I spent the night listening to three albums by reggae band Big Mountain: Resistance, Unity, and Wake Up. Kinda weird ain't it? Then I broke out Bob Marley's Exodus and Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It In People.

Missing here are the Blue Babble Battalion, the Women's Rowing Team, and the Men's Baseball Team (we have a shot with six players). For the Women's Volleyball Team, Averil Paje was present at the first shoot but when we were asked to re-shoot, she wasn't free anymore. For Men's Football, Alvin Perez and Gino Tongson couldn't make it. Itunu Kuku was supposed to be a part of the track and field team shoot but the line-up given was for the players competing in the Asian University Games so I figured I'd use "K" for the cover instead. Chris Tiu with his busy sked was only good for the cover as well. Thanks, Chris. I still have your Tiuperman shirts by the way.

Gel Chan of the Women's Football Team asked why we were not able to include other teams and the answer is simple, we didn't have enough time.

The Story Behind the Calendar
The idea for the calendar was something I brought home with me from the US. I bought a calendar of the Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders (Aja is one of the prettiest girls you will ever see on God's green earth) and I wondered about doing something similar for Ateneo. But I already knew that under no circumstances were we to show any skin. Bwahahahaha. Damn!

I proposed it to several departments including the University Athletics Office several years ago but it fell on deaf ears. Last year, I wanted it to really happen as I wanted to get Ford Arao, Pat Ozaeta and Charo Soriano in their final year only it didn't materialize. Sorry talaga.

Fortunately this time around Ricky Palou (who is one of the easiest people to work with) and Em Fernandez gave us the green light to get the job done. Lesson here: work with people who aren't going to give you grief.

When Nono Felipe and Philip Sison asked me to join Fabilioh around September of this year, I waited until I was in before I pitched it to the team. I had several discussions about it with Philip including one in front of the Blue Eagle Gym where we talked for more than an hour and at night to boot! We knew we had a winner here.

It was after the basketball season when Scott Kho called me to get the whole thing going and we roughly had two weeks to plan and prepare for the shoots that got extended as we tried to experiment. We had many a cup of frapuccinos at Starbucks in Promenade in Greenhills and pizza at Shakey's Katipunan in doing so.

We had to delay the shoot by a couple of days just to get all the teams and athletes we wanted.

There were three layouts we shot: the game face look, the artsy shot, and the kalog shot. The first two concepts would be given their own calendars while the kalog shots were supposed to be used for promotion.

But funny how things change. As you can see, the badminton shot was inspired by the game "Rock Star." That was an improv shot by Aly Yap. In one of our meetings in Starbucks, we all fell in love with the shot and decided to use it.

Aly Yap has been a tremendous supporter and a huge help in various matters over the last two years and his enthusiasm in getting this off the ground should not be overlooked. Thanks, sobra!

With regards to the covers, I initially penciled in Chris Tiu, Kara Acevedo, Alvin Perez, Toni Rivero, Tata Garcia, Alex Tolome, Mike Mendoza, Nikki Santiago, AJ Pareja, and Raf Santiago. But scheduling problems and unavailability made it impossible to get the entire cast together. So we later mixed in different people including Itunu Kuku and Bea Pascual.

The great thing about working on this is the friendships we made with many of the teams. And they were really fun shoots. Like Mariana Lopa kept everyone in stitches. Getting a nice serious shot of the Women's Basketball Team was almost impossible! Hahahaha. So the shot you see is one of the few serious ones.

What many people don't know is that I am actually close to the volleyball, baseball, and football teams. So whether I am biased for them that is altogether another matter. Sue me.

But since the shoots, we've discussed how we can help the other squads as well. Mick Perez of the track team is particularly a strong supporter and we really look forward to doing more stuff with his teams.

There's the fencing team coached by my old classmate and former Olympian Wawit Torres. Badminton is coached by Kennie Asuncion who I worked with in the Lead Institute of Sport where I (and former Blue Eagle Franco Sevilla) did a billboard of her and the football team's Pat Ozaeta along EDSA. The swim team has been very cooperative and wait until you see the posters we've got for this team that I'm doing with photog TJ Parpan.

Well, the calendar is something we will be doing for the next four years. We begin planning after Holy Week and some of the shoots will begin as early as the first semester and the calendar will be out by late November 2009. Soon after my birthday! Hahahaha!

But we truly hope that you like the project and support it by purchasing one. I know it's kinda late but it's not only a way cool keepsake but it will go to an athletic scholarship.

Thanks and One Big Fight!

2009 Ateneo Sports Calendar details

We're truly sorry for the delay. Can't rush perfection. Hahahaha. We have two versions of the calendar. See we shot 18 varsity teams and obviously, they won't fit in one 14-month calendar. So we had to come up with two to make everyone happy.

The cover below was the original one but we changed it to the white version. Enjoy!

Anyways, here are the pictures for version one:
Version 1
Janaury - Men's football
February - Women's Volleyball
March - Women's football
April - Men's Volleyball
May - Women's Swimming
June - Taekwondo
July - Men's basketball
August - Women's basketball
September - Men's judo
October - Men's rowing
November - Fencing
December - track and field
January - Men's baseball
February - ARPT

Version 2 (the changes are in bold)
January - Men's football
February - Women's volleyball
March - Women's football
April - Badminton
May - Women's Swimming
June - BBB
July - Men's basketball
August - Women's basketball
September - Men's judo
October - Women's rowing
November - Fencing
December - Track and field
January - Men's baseball (team pic including all six players)
February - ARPT

We will be at the SEC Field from January 6-9 at the MEA Food Fair. The calendars will be on sale January 9. After that we will be selling in Makati, Pasig, QC, and ADMU with details to follow. Drop by the booths to meet the athletes and the Ateneo Sports Shooters.

Ateneo Men's Baseball: Fields of Play

December 27, 2008
Marikina City

The Sto. Niño Baseball Field in Marikina seems so out of place. It’s perpendicular to the Marikina Bridge and is thus by the river. There’s a huge area that’s supposed to be a parking lot but in this Christmas Season, a carnival and its theater of the absurd is the first thing you see when you enter the field. There’s Zuma, the Master of Snakes and the Hell Ride. And that's just for starters.

For the visiting Japanese high school baseball team from the Chiba Prefecture, it’s like descending into baseball hell.

The grass isn’t mowed and weeds sprout here, there, and everywhere. The dugout is enclosed by nylon mesh and in the bleachers that squats a stone’s throw away reeks of piss, beer, and a bad case of someone not being able to hold down their alcohol.

And speaking of piss when the players need to relieve themselves, there are portalets nearby that charge five to ten bucks. But you wonder if it’s a relief to enter one as it sits under a basking sun with suspect maintenance.

There’s a play-by-play announcer who uses a karaoke system to broadcast the game. It sounds ridiculous when his voice echoes with every spoken word.

The pitcher’s mound and home plate is supposed to be 60 feet except there’s no mound. It’s there but you won’t find it unless you trip over it like Ateneo rookie Matt Reyes did while tracking down a flyball to left field. Yes, it’s a mystery why there’s a mound way out there. One of the field’s caretakers says it’s no mound but one of those punsos of local folklore. Do you hear the music of the X-Files playing in the background?

With no mound the pitchers cannot stare down the batters as they are on literally level terms.

It’s the third day of the Philippine-Japan Friendship Games that features six teams and the weather is just right for a game. And the Ateneo Men’s Baseball Team are up against the guest squad.

When line-up against one each other for the traditional exchange of tokens, the Japanese even if they’re some four or five years younger are not only taller but heftier.

Supposedly they’ve got sounder fundamentals, but it’s Ateneo that strikes early with three straight hits including a double by center fielder Carlo Olivares who has been promoted from ninth in the batting order to cleanup. The 2-0 lead will be the only runs Ateneo puts on the board as they are unable to send anyone past second base from there on.

Alex Tolome who doubles at second base is pitching today on the moundless mound. He mixes his pitches with an offspeed pitch to go with his two-seamer fastball. He gives up two hits in seven innings. There are seven other players who reach first base on errors, a couple of walks, and a couple of fielder’s choices. Only three hit balls go out of the infield but none for an extra base.

The Japanese patiently work their way back as they choose to put men on base then advance them through a bunt or a sac fly. By the sixth inning, they even matters up at 2-2.

Since it’s an exhibition game, there are only seven innings and the seventh inning stretch sees no national anthem played but a guest appearance by former Marikina Mayor and current MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando who in the space of two minutes thanks everyone four times for using the field.

At the end of the five minute speech by Fernando, the play-by-play announcer says for everyone to hear that we have been privileged to hear the next president of the (banana) Republic of the Philippines speak. Quite a few Ateneans stifle their laughter.

The Ateneans have their best chance to salvage a win when catcher Reinhart Bartolome reaches second base on a sac bunt by first baseman CK Chua. But third baseman Nikko Dizer and second baseman Carlo Banzon are unable to bring him home as they pop out to the catcher.

It was a good game. One played with smarts, counter moves, and great defensive plays.

At the end of it, the two teams come together for a picture taking session and hearty handshakes.

Merry Christmas from Robbie Keane

Any talk of Robbie Keane on his way out of Anfield is premature at best. In Liverpool's last two matches, it was the Irishman who saved the day.

And he backstopped Albert Riera's goal with a pair in the second half to keep his side on top of the English Premier League at least until the end of 2008 with a 3-0 win over Bolton.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Coal for Boston and Redemption for one QB

You won't find too many Michael Jordan fans who are Kobe Bryant fans and I'm one. I bought Kobe's rookie jersey in LA and got his #24 when it first came out. I watched him play at the Staples Center and in three other states. Kobe is the Man!

The beat down of the Celtics on Christmas Night is just partial revenge for the Los Angeles Lakers' meltdown versus Boston in the last NBA Finals. It's a long road ahead, because the only way to validate the season is to hoist that Larry O'Brien trophy at the end of it.

There are two games that I was very interested to see heading into the weekend. One was the Boston vs. LA game and the other still has to be played out.

It's the Miami Dolphins going up against the New York Jets.

Think about it, after a couple of injury plagued seasons in the Meadowlands, the Jets let go of QB Chad Pennington for Brett Favre. The move worked for both teams as the Dolphins emerged from a one-win season the previous year to go 10-5 with one more match to go. Of course, Pennington has his moments in a Jets uniform and I had the opportunity to watch them play.

And it's at the Meadowlands with a chance for Miami and for New York to go to the post-season.

Now the screws have turned against Favre (although rather unfairly). One thing is for sure though... it's going to be one heck of a match.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Time was I enjoyed Christmas. Time was I was a kid. Only I'm not anymore and I wrestle with mixed emotions at supposedly the most joyous time of the year.

Today on Christmas Eve, I went with my pop to the grocery for some last minute shopping for ham and stuff. Lunch and dinner was pretty good. Feels great not to cook my own food for a change. And I can't even begin to tell you how great that was. Been living alone for so long. I fell asleep in Justify Fullmy old bed -- that old familiar friend. I opened my closet and rummaged through a lot of my things. I saw my plastic covered vinyl LPs from the US pressings of the early U2 albums, Band Aid, the Beatles, the Clash, Madness, and Bruce Springsteen among others. I pulled out my Yankees beanie (which I can be seen wearing in the picture). I also pulled out my hockey jerseys and tried them on. Man, they fit a little more since I gained freaking weight. Bwahahahaha.

We watched Band of Brothers (a couple of episodes together) and my pop borrowed my hardbound book of Stephen Ambrose's war novel. How many war movies do I rank among my favorites? There's Saving Private Ryan, Platoon, and Blackhawk Down. There are military adventure thrillers like Crimson Tide and Behind Enemy Lines among others.

I was in heaven. I can't tell you how I've missed doing old rituals.

I wrote a while back how it's funny that when you're young, you can't to get a little older and do adult things. And now, I guess that's why I hold onto my childhood's faith. It keeps me from being jaded in a complicated world.

Over meals we talked about home stuff and the world. About climate change, Barack Obama, gifts, relatives, the Ateneo Blue Eagles, about going home to see the relatives from my mother's side... the Tañedos, going back to the US, and watching Band of Brothers all night.

Aww, hell... enough of the sentimental stuff. I just wanted to greet everyone a MERRY CHRISTMAS.

What was playing on my iTunes on Christmas Eve:
Sugar Hiccup - Of Tongues and Thoughts
The Style Council - The Singular Adventures of the Style Council (the first CD I ever purchased!)
Tears For Fears - Everybody Loves A Happy Ending
Dream Theater - Live Scenes from New York
Oasis - What's the Story Morning Glory
Incubus - Live At Red Rocks

Those who are waiting for the 2009 Ateneo Sports Calendar, sorry for the freaking delay! It will be out first week of January. Sorry talaga but this will not happen again the next time we do this. Will advise details here right on New Year's Day.

This guy happens to be one of my favorite footballers

Didier Drogba isn't scoring goals like he once did for Chelsea. Obviously, the equation has changed for the Ivorian striker. Although I'm a Liverpool fan, I like to watch Chelsea because of Drogba and even John Terry.

Watching Drogba is like watching Thierry Henry and Ronaldinho. They're plenty creative with the ball and know how to boot that ball in.

I've always wanted to buy a Drogba kit of Ivory Coast but the only ones I can find are knock-offs.

Mom, if we stayed in the US then maybe I'd be playing for the Yankees and we'd be frigging rich!

Talk about Christmas shopping.

The New York Yankees just signed up 1B Mark Teixeira from the California Angels for $180 million! A week or so ago, they broke the bank and picked up CC Sabathia for $160 million and AJ Burnett for $85 million. And it's not yet Christmas!

As Luke Cage would exclaim, "Sweet Christmas!"

Teixiera gets a $5 million signing bonus. Hey, Mark, all I want is Playstation III. That don't cost much anyway, right? No wonder that guy is smiling!

Despite all that money, their payroll will still fall below $200 million per year now that Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Mike Mussina, and Carl Pavano are no longer wearing pinstripes.

And what does their starting line-up look like come spring? This would be the batting order:
LF Johnny Damon
SS Derek Jeter
1B Mark Teixiera
3B Alex Rodriguez
DH Hideki Matsui
RF Xavier Nady
C Jorge Posada
2B Robinson Cano
CF Melky Cabrera

Off the bench, they have utilitymen Nick Swisher and Shelley Duncan. Brian Cashman probably figured that there was no way they could pry Manny Ramirez away from the LA Dodgers so they settled for another big bat to replace Giambi's.

The starting pitching now looks like this: CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettite, Chien-Ming Wang while the bullpen will feature the ageless Mo Rivera, Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Edwar Ramirez.

Of course, spring training is still a long ways to go. So here's hoping they knock off them Red Sox.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cool Hand Newman

Paul Newman

Why is it when we're young we can't wait to grow up yet when we're older we all wish we were younger?

It isn't exactly zen but it's something everyone comes to grips with at some point in their lives.

I loved hanging out with my classmates and my friends but at the same time, I enjoyed listening to my dad and my uncles talk about who was cool for them and who wasn't. I honestly couldn't relate to most of them save for Bruce Lee, the Beatles, and Paul Newman. I was in the midst of my own rebellion as I discovered rock n' roll, barkadas, and that time-honored ritual of hanging out.

I was so young but even then when John Lennon was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman I remember feeling so profoundly affected. I even remember what I was doing at the exact time Lennon's death was announced on the radio. I was shocked because as much as I loved Paul McCartney's Wings, I hoped the Beatles would reunite and play on.

But if there was a definition of cool back then even an aging Paul Newman was definitely uber cool for someone as young as me. My dad raved about Cool Hand Luke yet it was only some two decades later that I purchased the DVD at Best Buy. The film along with another favorite of mine -- Bill Murray's Groundhog Day -- have been declared by The Library of Congress to be a culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant film. And both have a prominent place in my DVD collection.

However, you will have to credit the movie Slap Shot for indoctrinating me into the coolness of Paul Newman. Playing pro ice hockey player Reggie Dunlop of the fictional Charlestown Chiefs made me a fan of the sport even more. Maybe at some point I was like any one of the Hanson Brothers -- a hellraiser on ice skates -- but Newman with his drive for racing, penchant for charity, and propensity to play memorable anti-heroes like John Rooney in The Road To Perdition and Fast Eddie in The Color of Money, was like a celluloid god.

Newman is gone now after losing his long bout with lung cancer. But his gallery of rogueish characters live on with me today.

I cried, "Oh, No!" when Newman's Rooney betrayed Tom Hanks' Michael Sullivan in The Road to Perdition.

And that line from Cool Hand Luke, "What we've got here is a failure to communicate." will live forever. Even Guns N' Roses used it in their songs "Civil War" from Use Your Illusion II and in "Madagascar" from their new album Chinese Democracy.

If I were in the snow-blitzed eastern seaboard right now, I'd lace up those ice skates and bang that stick on the sides of the box along with everyone else.

That's for you, Paul Newman.

From Hondo to Rondo, the Celtics keep on trucking.

When Wildcard host Aaron Atayde asked me what to me has been the most surprising teams in the NBA, I said without hesitation Boston and LA.

He gave me that quizzical look but really, for two teams that played in last year's NBA Finals, they sure have come out like gangbusters -- kicking butt and taking names.

Did anyone think they'd ever be this good? Get out of here, you fooking liar.

Boston has actually been very good despite the loss of key players from last year's squad. But they'll be judged on how they finish the season.

The Big Three in the meantime is actually now the Fantastic Four. Rajon Rondo is who makes these Celtics go.

Ateneo Women's Volleyball: That Game That Suddenly Got Exciting

That Game That Suddenly Got Exciting
Ateneo vs. NU
25-11, 25-11, 24-26, 25-16
words by rick olivares
roger pic by eddie ching
admu game pics by miggy mendoza

Roger Gorayeb thought it wasn’t one bit amusing.

When his Ateneo Lady Spikers are up against the upper echelon teams, they raise the level of their game. But when facing the lower seeded teams, they seem to have this misplaced overconfidence.

He’d rather that they be business-like and show no remorse in dispatching their foes because the opposition would readily do the same to them.

Even after all the years of coaching, losing is something longtime NU Coach Johnny Candoy cannot get used to. Hampered by the lack of funds and resources, he knows his team is every bit an underdog.

With the arrival of the Sys, he is clearly excited about the possibilities. When the new NU gym arises, his team can take comfort that they will finally have their own court that they do not have to share with the basketball team. And who knows, they might be able to land some blue chip recruits of their own.

His toughest job though is keeping his girls upbeat. “Losing is painful,” he said softly.

The first two sets went by quick as the Ateneo Lady Spikers behind a rejuvenated Kara Acevedo and Averil Paje made NU pay for their sloppy defense.

Gorayeb leaned back on his seat with a look of contentment as his team took a commanding two sets to none lead via twin 25-11 drubbings.

In the third set, it seemed Ateneo would go on its second consecutive sweep as they scored the first three points. Gorayeb sat down Bea Pascual and Fille Cainglet for long stretches. Aillysse Nacachi even got in some quality time in his first appearance of the season.

Candoy sued for time and angrily told his squad to receive better so they could better put the ball in play. “One good receive meron kayong chance para maganda yung palo,” he thundered.

His team behind Mervic Mangui, Lorie Simon, and libero Jenny Reyes suddenly dug in deep and did just that as they took the fight to Ateneo.

When NU scored on a kill to go up at 18-17, Gorayeb who was sitting at the edge of his seat, had seen enough and dispatched Pascual, Cainglet, and Angeline Gervacio back in the game. But it was too late. The Lady Bulldogs were in the fight.

Acevedo scored on a spike to tie the game at 24-all, but a Cainglet side out gave NU the set 26-24 and sent the game into an unlikely fourth set.

Ateneo immediately retook control of the fourth set but it wasn’t easy as NU fought and rallied every step of the way. This time, Ateneo, with their game faces back on, put away their pesky foes as Pascual ended the match 25-16 with her eighth point on a spike that Jenny Reyes was unable to dig.

Candoy had a smile on his face after the match. His team wasn’t expected to pick up a set from Ateneo but they did. And they created some anxious moments back there. They might have lost 3-1, but they have nothing to be ashamed of, he encouraged his squad.

Gorayeb exhaled as Pascual’s smash found an empty space of hardcourt. His team was now at 3-2 and the win was a nice way to end 2008 (the games are to resume come January 2009).

“Medyo naging exciting,” the coach sheepishly admitted as he scratched the back of his head. “Pero kita mo naman kapag gusto nila tapusin kaya nila.’

He took a moment to commend his players before he made his way back to the dugout (the team was leaving for Batangas that night for their Christmas Party and team building).

He wore a huge grin on his face.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ateneo Men's Volleyball: Match 5 Tiger Trap

Tiger Trap
Ateneo vs. UST
13-25, 27-29, 15-25
by rick olivares

For sure, playing the UST Men’s Volleyball Team was an acid test for the Ateneo. The team from España, the defending UAAP champions, is said to be taller, faster, stronger, and more experienced. And if the ball were a living thing, it would sue UST for battery, assault, and maybe attempted homicide after the way the Tigers would spike the ball.

Such is their overwhelming superiority that some game observers decreed the game to UST even before game day.

If that is so, the game was sure to test Ateneo’s resolve in the face of such odds.

And after the first set, it seemed that the self-styled experts were right as the Tigers raced to a 7-1 lead highlighted by a back-to-back blocks by Remy Balse and JP Torres on Timmy Sto. Tomas.

In a game that was eerily similar to the match versus La Salle, the Blue Spikers seemed more intent on stopping UST than following their game plan. “Medyo tentative yung mga bata,” noted Oliver Almadro, the Ateneo Coach.

JR Intal, the team’s surprise package this year also found his shots smothered by UST’s defense on the net. Even AJ Pareja’s smashes were successfully defended by the digging of the backline. Said UST Coach Emil Lontoc after the game, “If you play Ateneo with single coverage sa net, they will score. Kaya ginawa namin is to make sure na lagging nakapayong yung mga pumupuntos sa kanila.

The first set ended with a 25-13 thumping.

“Kailangan maging aggressive tayo,” urged Almadro.

With Duane Teves checked perfectly well by UST’s defense, it was up to the veterans Sto. Tomas, Pareja, and Ed Ortega to show the defending champs that they were no pushovers.

And much like the game versus La Salle, Ateneo came back strong in the second set as the Blue Spikers overcame an early deficit to lead to 15-14 after Sto. Tomas sent the ball towards Henry James Pecaña for a check out.

At this point, Ortega, the team’s starting setter scored on a pair of consecutive tips and a block and gave the team more confidence.

With Teves and Intal finding their scoring touch, Ateneo found itself on the cusp of evening up the match at a set a piece 24-21.

Only they never got the set point as Teves misplaced a hit and Xavier Señoren got blocked as UST tied it at 24. A race to a two point cushion ensued.

After it seemed that Ateneo scored a crucial point that would given them a 28-27 lead, the table officials momentarily stopped the match. It seemed that UST had committed a violation in the order of their servers. Almadro and Ateneo UAO Director Ricky Palou angrily debated the point that Ateneo should not be penalized by having the point taken away since the error was noticed after the Blue Spikers had scored.

However the table officials upheld their position and a repeat of the play was announced.

UST made good on their second chance as they held on for a pulsating 29-27 second set win.

The controversial call changed the complexion of the match as Ateneo lost steam in the third set as they fell 25-15.

“I’m not saying we could have won,” cried out an angry Almadro after the game. “But it did prove that we could win a set from them (UST). It could have even gone on to a fifth set. Who knows? Sayang.”

But the first-year Ateneo mentor also noted that the team failed to capitalize on their three-point lead in the second set that could have avoided the complications of a controversial call.

“Yeah, I feel bad about that,” said Pareja. “We worked so hard to fight back. But at least we’re in second place and that’s not so bad. We’ll just learn from this and come back better when the tournament continues next year.”

I'm a Scouser but I like the Gunners too!

Liverpool drew once more with Arsenal at Emirates 1-1. It was nice to see Robbie Keane score the equalizer for Liverpool after Rob Van Persie put the home side on top.

So that you know, Keane once played for Tottenham which is Arsenal's true rival. So after a poor first season with the Anfield club, he was roundly serenaded with boos at the Emirates.

At the risk of sounding like a heretic, outside of Liverpool, the one other English club that I like is Arsenal. That's partly because they featured a number of players for the French Football National Team. But in 2003-04, they were simply fun to watch. Has there been any football club that has played entertaining football since?

Maybe last year's Arsenal team when they played great in stretches until Cesc Fabregas and Eduardo went down.

I kinda like their kits too... the one with the Dreamcast, O2, and Emirates looks real cool. Jeez. Now the LFC fans will burn me at the stake.

But that 2003-04 team with Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, Freddie Ljungberg, Patrick Viera, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Jose Antonio Reyes, Kolo Toure, Jens Lehmann, Gael Clichy, Nwanku Kanu, and Gilberto was real special.

There were a lot of great goals that year but there are three I will remember:
Well, this one's a supposed goal but was called off by the referee. It was in Ewood Park against the Blackburn Rovers (March 13, 2004) and the home team's American keeper Brad Friedel inexplicably tried to boot the long ball with Henry lurking real close. As Friedel let go of the ball for a kick, Henry tapped it away and a few paces away, slotted in the goal. It should be a legal play since the keeper let go of the ball already.

In a similar situation towards the end of the season, Jose Antonio Reyes (who a lot of people know in the Luis Aragones incident where he making racial slurs against Henry and in his super sub role for Real Madrid two years ago when they reclaimed the La Liga from Barcelona.) stole the ball from Fulham keeper Edwin Van Der Sar who tried to dribble the ball but had his pocket picked for an embarrassing easy goal.

And there was the back heel goal by Henry against Middlesbrough for a 4-1 win. I'm not sure if this is on youtube, but try looking for it. Amazing amazing goal.

Now, Liverpool. It's time to make that move on the Premiership.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bleachers' Brew #138 The Season to be Jolly

This can be found in the Monday December 22 2008 edition of Business Mirror.
The Season to Be Jolly

by rick olivares

In spite of the global recession, some people aren’t singing the blues but carols of good tidings and of comfort and joy. Maybe I should join them because I could surely use the extra bucks for some late Christmas shopping, eh?

Joy to the world, LeBron is come!
Let the NBA receive her King;
Let every New Yorker prepare Him room,
And Walsh and D’Antoni sing,
And Walsh and D’Antoni sing,
And Knicks fans, Spike Lee, and Jay-Z sing.
-- sung by New York Knicks fans

Deck the halls with boughs of money,
One sixty million, la la la la.
Tis the season to be jolly,
A New York Yankee, la la la la.

Don we now pinstriped apparel,
Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
Troll the brand new Yankee Stadium,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
-- sung by CC Sabathia

Hark the new Three Lions sing
"Glory to the newborn team!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
Becks and Capello reconciled"
Joyful, are ye nations now?
Of the triumph of the skies
With the English host proclaim:
"Football was born in England"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the return of the King!"
-- sung by English football fans

I saw Lakers and Celts come marching in
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
I saw the Big Three come running in
On Christmas Day in the morning.

And what was in those ships all three,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day?
Ye Ratings on National TV,
On Christmas Day in the evening.
-- sung by NBA Commissioner David Stern
to the chagrin of Los Angeles Coach Phil Jackson

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Golden Boy
Who mourns in lonely East LA
Until Bob Arum’s news appears
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Ricky Hatton shall come to thee.
-- sung by Manny Pacquiao’s handlers

The first pick, Rain or Shine did say
Was to nab George Mason’s Gabe Norwood as to play
In the pro league where they played like sheep
Now on a team that is suddenly deep.
Gabe, Gabe, Gabe, Gabe
Born is the King of the PBA!
-- sung by Rain or Shine Coach Caloy Garcia

O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to modern Beijing.
Come and behold Yao Ming,
Our Bird’s Nest, Lin Dan, He Chong, and Cheng Fei;
O come, let us adore them,
O come, let us adore them,
O come, let us adore them,
As they all won Gold.
-- sung by Hu Jintao, President of China

Merry Christmas to all the Bleachers Creatures!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Stand and be counted

41 points and 13 assists in a thumping of the Dallas Mavericks.

I agree with the New Jersey Nets fans who serenaded the Texas team's owner with chants of "Thank you, Cuban. Thank you, Cuban." for trading Devin Harris eastward. And Harris has been spectacular this year.

Of course the rich guy had his shot, "I think the goal of everybody in New Jersey is to be a General Manager."


John Cena, baby! Cool tee. Now how do I get this damn thing?

You know you're a fan when you're still there and your team sucks

The die-hard Ateneo Blue Eagle fans can appreciate this -- watching a bad team during terrible seasons and believing that the bad days will soon be behind them.

I was in grade school when the New York Islanders won their first Stanley Cup. My classmates thought it was odd that I loved ice hockey when football was king and we all dreamed of flying through the air like Dr. J.

Even when in New York later on, people would give me that questioning look when they saw me wear an Islanders beanie. Why not the Rangers, ya know? The Isles are losing and they haven't won since Ronald Reagan was US President. When I hear that question, the one thing that pops in my mind is The Eagles hit song from their album The Long Run. It's that only hit song of their sung by bassist Timothy B. Schmidt... "I Can't Tell You Why" which I still love to this day and features that sentimental guitar solo that would make Eric "Slowhand" Clapton proud. Yes, I really can't tell you why I'm an Islanders fan.

I would normally take the trip from via the LIRR at Penn Station to Long Island on the Hempstead Turnpike then transfer buses (N70 or N71 bus at a terminal a block away). It's not exactly a long ways but it does give me time to think.

I'd oft go alone to watch at Nassau because it was no fun bringing my friends along (who were all Rangers fans or didn't like hockey). And the venue, well, is like watching at Rizal Memorial Coliseum only Veterans Memorial is bigger. But it has that dusky look and feel. There are bad seats and it smells like a wino alley. I was never around for their glory days but they sell a DVD of it and milk the veterans on those teams for all they've got.

I loved the ambiance and could only imagine if the Cobo Hall and Joe Louis Arena were like these too. It had that feel of watching a technicolor film that really dates the place. I'd look up at the championship banners and retired numbers of the players who won them and for a brief time made New York a two-team hockey town.

It was tough watching the Isles because they would often lose and it made the trip back to Manhattan even longer and difficult. When I get off at Penn Station, the ticket guy would always look at my pouting face and say, "Hey, kid. It's never too late to be a Rangers fan."

You see I wore an Isles jersey that was big for my frame to the games and I wore as proudly as I did with my Yankee pinstripes or Ateneo blues. I'd ignore him but there were times I wanted to flip him the bird. But generally, I manage to smile and when I'd get home, I plop onto the couch and watch sportscenter or put in that DVD of the Isles winning four straight Stanley Cups.

The Islanders are second to the last in their division. Wracked by injuries, they're in the midst of a seven-game losing streak and if this continues, they can kiss their play-off hopes goodbye. The only thing they can celebrate is honoring their Mandarin Chinese broadcaster Alex Peng for his long service to the team! And that's the highlight this year. Things kinda went sour when Rick Di Pietro went down. Now it seems that everybody has been injured at one point or another.

Kinda tough again to swallow. But I'd like to paraphrase Charles Barkley when I say that I hope the light at the end of the tunnel isn't the LIRR heading towards you.

Boy, that would suck.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Must See

My friend Martin David told me about the two-hour HBO Special Pacquiao-De La Hoya 24/7 pre-fight documentary and it's only today that I watched the DVD of it. Filmed in HD, it's a fascinating documentary of the two fighters. The narration by Liev Schreiber is excellent as he keeps it even-keeled; a perfect and unobtrusive observer to both parties as they prepared for the fight of their career. The writing (Aaron Cohen take a bow), cinematography, editing, pacing, and the music is a great piece of work.

I'm left wishing and dreaming of doing something similar. A couple of years ago, I wrote, co-produced, and co-directed a boxing special for Solar Sports titled Glory Road. I enjoyed doing that but that is light years away from the HBO production.

Manny Pacquiao wearing a Celtics shirt. Mark Walhberg and Mickey Rourke as huge Pacquiao fans! Holey Moley, Bubba! De La Hoya training assistant Joe Chavez drinking Heineken! Bernard Hopkins in the house.

You should all watch it.

The other great documentary I've seen this year was the Redeem Team's journey to Beijing. That was something altogether different. Man, I live for this kinda stuff.

Ateneo Blue Eagles: The Climb Back to the Top

The Climb Back to the Top
The 2008 UAAP Champions Ateneo Blue Eagles
(adapted from the forthcoming book, The 18th Banner; this also appears in the recent Ateneo publication On Campus)
by rick olivares

The Green Archers had bragging rights for exactly 279 days. That’s 279 days the Blue Eagles had to stew things as they prepared themselves for the mother of all redemptions.

Amongst the Ateneo Blue Eagles and team officials, they liked their chances heading into Season 71. Only there were a lot of ifs.

They needed another double-digit scorer to replace the 14.2 points they lost when Ford Arao graduated. Skipper Chris Tiu was actually the only other player to hit more than 10 points in a match with 12.4. Over the last few years, Tiu has proved to be not only a steady point-maker but also a clutch player. Opposing defenses would no doubt be geared to stopping Ateneo’s main man.

The coaching staff looked to Jai Reyes, Kirk Long, Eric Salamat, and even rookie Ryan Buenafe to provide some offense, but the one person they were hoping to pick up the slack was Rabeh Al-Hussaini.

The team is meticulously composed. Players aren’t recruited simply because they are highly-touted. The team looks for intelligent yet talented players who will fit Black’s system of fastbreaking offense yet are tenacious on defense.

Al-Hussaini was to play caddy to Japeth Aguilar who started at center when Paolo Bugia graduated. But a confluence of events led to the former Mapua Red Robin moving to the United States to play for the US Division I school Western Kentucky after his sophomore season. And Al-Hussaini found himself the default man in the middle for Ateneo.

“People don’t understand,” recalled Coach Black. “We lost Japeth Aguilar not just for that season, but for the next few years.” It set back our plans of bringing up players through the system. The upside though is it forced others to pick up the slack.”

But his time had come. In the 2007 CCL Championship against the UV Green Lancers, Al-Hussaini repeatedly took it to the Cebuanos’ big men and outscored their entire starting frontline (including the 6’11” Gregory Slaughter, Rino Berame, Ariel Mepaña, and Sylvester Tangcongco). And for his efforts, he made the mythical selection. In the title-clinching match against UE in the Nike Summer League, Al-Hussaini led all scorers with 18 points.

Now against the rest of the league, Rabeh was the number one scoring option inside. And against La Salle in both squads’ first match of the UAAP season, Rabeh would get to prove it.

Even when La Salle raced to a luxurious six-point lead at 67-61 early in the fourth in both squad’s first game of the year, the Ateneans had this quiet confidence that they had one more run left in them.

As the green gallery revved up their “Animo La Salle" cheers, Eric Salamat thought to himself, “I’ve had enough of this.” With Jobe Nkemakolam reminding the Green Archers that he’s an inside force to contend with and Al-Hussaini standing toe-to-toe with La Salle’s frontline, Salamat’s drive gave the lead to Ateneo for good 69-67. As he backpedaled on defense, Salamat tapped his chest. “All heart, baby,” he cried. “All heart.”

In the gut check time of the last two minutes, the Blue Eagles made 8-11 free throws to ice their first victory of Season 71 at 79-73.

Whereas in the past two seasons, the team would win games by the skin of their teeth, in Season 71, the Blue Eagles would pound foes into submission as the juggernaut got going.

The one exception was that heart-stopping second round win that had all the ingredients of that patented Ateneo comeback.

Since 2006, Ateneo has been involved in 15 matches that was decided by three points or less and in the final seconds of play. The final score was a result of either a game-winning shot or a game-winning stop.

The Blue Eagles won 11 of them with Chris Tiu accounting for five (JC Intal had three of the wins while Doug Kramer two and Kirk Long one).

Tiu was involved in every one of those wins. It is a testament to his ability to stay in the game and for his end game heroics.

In the game’s final minutes, UE’s high-leaping forward-center Elmer Espiritu called for the ball and an isolation against Nonoy Baclao. It might have been a foolhardy act considering he was going up against the most intimidating defender in the league. But for jumping jacks like Espiritu, they live for the challenge and the opportunity to posterize a fearsome defender. In fact, a few months earlier, UE’s #9 scored a facial on Sam Ekwe in PBL action.

With 4:09 left in the fourth, Espiritu ditched Baclao with a nifty up-and-under move for a 48-41 UE lead.

On Ateneo’s trip to their court, Ryan Buenafe replied with a huge trey 48-44 still UE.

It was at that point that Espiritu waved off his teammates to take on Baclao one-on-one. This time, Ateneo’s Mr. Extra Possession for his ability to grab offensive rebounds stopped the Red Warrior.

As the Blue Eagles raced down, UE’s former Rookie of the Year and starting point guard Marcy Arellano momentarily forgot Chris Tiu’s whereabouts. Rabeh Al-Hussaini found him wide open from the right side of the arc for another three and the lead was down to one 48-47. 2:59 left in the game.

And after Hans Thiele banked in a 20-footer that restored a three-point lead for UE, Ateneo called a timeout.

With 35.4 seconds left, there was time for a quick two points and a defensive stand, but a tightly-guarded Chris Tiu bobbled the ball and he was forced to pass it to Al-Hussaini with the shot clock perilously winding down.

The Blue Eagle Captain, who during practice liked to engage his teammates in a game of horse and trick shots, got the ball back then dribbled towards the right side of the rainbow arc. After Tiu ditched Marcy Arellano with a pump fake, he then took a three with James Martinez lunging towards him.

The ball found he bottom of the net for a 50-all tie with 13.6 left in the match.

UE fumbled its throw-in in their next possession thanks to some great man-to-man defense by Kirk Long and Yuri Escueta. And although Ateneo missed a shot as they recovered the ball with 1.5 seconds left in regulation, it was clear that the tide had turned.

There was still some Black magic in the air.

In Ateneo’s first overtime game of the season, they once more came back from the grave when UE led 57-54 after Espiritu put back an Arellano miss.

Buenafe added a free throw while Al-Hussaini drained two of his own that tied the match at 57-all.

Poor execution off a pick and roll play by Arellano and Espiritu resulted in a fumble that Al-Hussaini recovered.

With 24 seconds left, Buenafe showed utmost moxie for a rookie as he beat former high school teammate Paul Lee with his deceptive first step then laid up the ball with an up-and-under move of his own over Thiele and Espiritu for a 59-57 lead that they would not surrender.

The 61-57 win spurred the team to sweep the second round and by the time they faced UE in the Final Four, Ateneo found itself with two opportunities to prove itself before it became UAAP champions for a fourth time.

UE and DLSU run very similar systems as they are both coached by the Pumaren brothers Dindo and Franz.

The Red Warriors were no match for the Blue Eagles as they ran their foes off the Araneta Coliseum floor with a 70-50 victory that was settled around halftime.

And for the second time in the Norman Black-era in Loyola Heights, Ateneo was in the UAAP Finals and against its most bitter rival, the De La Salle Green Archers.

Said Tiu, “I’m glad that we’re playing them (DLSU). It gives us more motivation.”

While Ateneo went into the Finals arguably huge favorites to annex their 18th title overall, the series was not without its drama and memorable moments.

In Game One, Ateneo had 14 turnovers in the first quarter alone. But what was even more telling was that the Green Archers never led at all. As bad as Ateneo was playing on the offensive end, their defense – their hallmark all year long – held up and DLSU was shooting blanks.

With the team stymied, it was up to Al-Hussaini to carry Ateneo on his broad shoulders in a game for the ages.

After a severe ankle injury the Friday before Game One, the 6’6” center who was a strong MVP candidate, showed up on the maple floor of the Araneta much to the dismay of the La Salle crowd. Al-Hussaini single-handedly carried Ateneo to victory on the strength of his 31 points and 9 rebounds.

By the time Nonoy Baclao erased Rico Maierhofer with a block that recalled a past totem when Larry Fonacier emphatically rejected archer Mark Cardona in 2002, it was to serve notice that the door was shut on their title retention aspirations.

And once more it was Ateneo’s time.

Having swept the season-ending awards, all that was left was to finish the job on the court before the highly-anticipated bonfire in Loyola.

There was some concern that the team might come out flat after the awards ceremony given the enormity of the situation. The Green Archers were obviously going to be all fired up.

“Don’t worry,” promised Baclao. “Focused kami.”

“Hindi na namin papatagalin pa,” added Al-Hussaini.

In Game Two, after two quick fouls were called on Al-Hussaini, the slotman told Tiu before he went to the bench, “It’s your turn.”

And for the graduating super-senior who took months to ponder on his return came through in the clutch as he’s always done in his great college career.

Tiu finished in double digits but as the Blue Eagles have done all season long – save in Game One – the finished the job as a team. All 10 Blue Eagles who checked into the match scored. When the inevitable La Salle run came in the third quarter, Ateneo held fast as it turned to its league-leading defense to stifle the Archers.

In the fourth finals match up between the two teams in the UAAP, the Ateneo Blue Eagles repaid one final debt after years of heartbreak when they beat the De La Salle Green Archers 62-51 for their fourth UAAP title and 18th overall (including the 14 in the NCAA).

It was Ateneo’s fourth championship victory in six meetings with La Salle as well.

The Blue Eagles showed everyone that they too can come back.

And the victory too isn’t just for the next 200-plus days but forever.