Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mike Baldos' One Big Fight

Mike Baldos’ One Big Fight
by rick olivares

Michael Vincent Baldos is no stranger to disappointment.

In his third year in high school at San Beda, his Red Cubs team lost in the finals to Letran 82-80 when JC Intal scored on a lay-up off the window from a bullet-like drop pass from Chuck Ronquillo (who came from the Ateneo Grade School) as time expired.

Two years later, when Mike and his teammates transferred to Ateneo for college, he found himself on Team B where he toiled for four years.

During his third year playing for the aspirants team, he had all but given up on cracking the UAAP roster. He had come tantalizingly close, as he played on the Champions League team during Larry Fonacier’s final game in blue and on other occasions but the waiting game was something he was failing miserably at.

Baldos outlined two goals for himself when he went to Ateneo de Manila for college. The first was to graduate and get a diploma while the second was to play for the Blue Eagles and help them win a championship.

In his fourth year in high school, Mike and his teammates were talking about where to go for college and save for Jayvee Casio (who wanted to go to La Salle), the rest – Baldos, Ford Arao, Arvin Braganza, Jay Agbayani, Yuri Escueta -- went to Ateneo to see if they could matriculate there.

The Blue Eagles were deep then as they still had two-time UAAP MVP Rich Alvarez, Wesley Gonzales, Paolo Bugia, LA Tenorio, and Fonacier. With Agbayani off to UP Diliman, Baldos wavered for a moment as there was an opportunity to play right away for the Maroons. But he stayed.

It was a decision he would not regret but it was every bit trying.

I was in my third year in Ateneo and I didn’t want to play anymore,” he admitted of those days when it didn’t seem he’d make the UAAP team. “I just wanted to graduate and get my diploma.”

His Team B teammates Zion Laterre and Eman Nazareno moved up and Baldos was happy for them. Maybe there was still a chance, he told himself, so he kept plugging in. “At least napansin din ang Team B. They worked hard to get their slots so I was happy for them.”

Sometimes, good things come to those who wait. And think positive.

Martin Quimson left the team to concentrate on his graduation and begin working opening up a slot. Mike made the cut but it came at the expense of a good friend and high school teammate, Jeff De Guzman, who was also on Team B and had been playing well that year. “I felt bad because I thought that Jeff was more deserving. Pero excited talaga ako. I was close to realizing yung dalawang goals ko when I entered Ateneo. At sobrang sarap at enjoy playing with Ford and Yuri again.”

While in high school and on Team B, Baldos was a good scorer down the blocks, but making Team A was altogether something different. “The hardest adjustment I had to make was playing defense,” he laughed. “Alam ko sabi nila na wala raw akong depensa. In order for you to stay on the court and to play for Norman Black, you have to play defense so nagpalit ako ng mindset ko.”

But again, Baldos was in for disappointment as the Blue Eagles lost to La Salle in the Final Four of Season 70. “It was painful – yung talo na yun. Especially seeing our senior players na si Ford and Zion not winning it in their final year. I thought we’d go all the way that year. Lumaban yung team kaya lang we fell short. It was hard to accept at first.”

There’s a sports adage that before one learns to win he must lose and learn from it.

During Baldos’ senior year in high school, the Red Cubs returned to the Finals where they faced the defending champions Letran Squires now with PJ Walsham in tow. And this time, his team won.

After the pain of the Final Four loss in Season 70, the Blue Eagles returned the favor on their rivals to crush them in the Finals of Season 71 completing the two goals he penciled in for himself when he went to Loyola Heights.

However, there was one more matter to take care of.

Immediately after the buzzer sounded to end Game Two and crown the Blue Eagles champions of the UAAP for a fourth time, Baldos and Escueta quickly located for Arao who was in the Patron Section behind the La Salle basket.

“We told him that we won this for him,” reassured Baldos who met up with their former teammate at halfcourt during the post-game celebrations.

In a scene reminiscent of the wild and adoring celebrations that followed the 2002 title run, the Blue Eagles became media celebrities as they appeared on television aside from being the subject of many a magazine cover. He laughs at the notoriety although his parents are immensely proud. “Bonus ‘yan,” he downplayed of the jubilation.

As the Blue Eagles prepared for the defense of their crown, they were dealt a stunning blow weeks before the start of Season 72. Baldos, while taking up a master’s course, was ruled ineligible. He was in Cebu with the team at the time he found out.

Somehow he feels that it will all work out just fine for Ateneo. He got in when a teammate suddenly left prior to the start of the season. Then as in now, it opened the door for another to come in and contribute – this time Baldos’ replacement being Emman Monfort who previously suited up for two years.

“Bad trip ako sobra,” he recounted. “Pero at least now I have options thanks to my Ateneo education. Time na rin siguro to move on to my next goals – maybe playing in the Philippine Basketball League then getting a job. A real job. Hahaha.”

No time to worry. After all, he’s learned to cope, deal, and hurdle disappointment.

Mike Baldos played on the Ateneo Team B that I helped manage. The team then had Zion Laterre (Australia), Eman Nazareno (AHS), Mark Intal (AHS), Jeff De Guzman (SBC), Chester Chavez (Ateneo de Davao), Miggy Solitaria (Ateneo de Davao), Harry Hipolito (Ateneo de Davao), Gio Pasion (AHS), Jay Gonzales (AHS), Jurgen Estanislao (AHS), Gino Villame (LSGH), Zach Estoesta (USC), Mark Badua (Lourdes), Leon Hizon (LSGH), Arvi Malixi (LSGH), and Nico Frez (AHS). A year later, Yuri Escueta and Jobe Nkemakolam were a part of the team. Team B used to be coached by Gabby Severino. That was a great great season. A fabulous experience I will always treasure. I formed good friendships with many of the players here.

Previously, Team B was nothing more than a place where Team A players were getting some seasoning.

This team was different. With Nazareno and Badua as captains, they played total team ball. It was during this time that Team B became a popular team to watch by Ateneo fans.

There were several players who we thought could make the jump to Team A. Zion was the most likely. What game you saw during his stint with Team A is far different on Team B where he was a bigtime scorer. Mike Baldos, Nazareno, De Guzman, and Villame were the other players we worked hard with. Trying to get them to hone their skills. It was at this point that Raul Banzon also helped us with our endeavors.

Obviously, it was a success as three of them moved up. Then the following year, Jobe and Yuri went back up.

Man, those were fun days. Of trying to keep up these boys' spirits, going with them to training, driving them around making sure they went to extra training at Sportskamp then to classes even to parties once in a while (yup, like dads we were). Mike... well, those days paid off, brother.

He will not get to say goodbye at the Church of the Gesu. When we talked last night, this is his venue for that.

OBF, Mike. OBF!

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