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.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Bleachers' Brew #306 The aria of Daniel Gonzales

This appears in the Monday, April 16, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.

The aria of Daniel Gonzales
by rick olivares

There’s that moment that is to seize and shine. When all that waiting, that frustration, the doubts and hardships pay off. When one says, “I’m doing the right thing.”

It was a well placed cross off a free kick. The ball arced down towards a gaggle of Navy and Pasargad players. Daniel Anthony Gonzales had just entered the match as a substitute striker for a beleaguered Navy team that was attempting to steal a win with the match tied at one goal apiece and the game close to full time. And the ball seemed to drop in slow motion with Gonzales the target.

All those long years of practice were going to crystallize into one moment. Gonzales attempted to trap the ball but to his horror, the ball slipped past him. No!

But his teammate, Alfie Caminos, was right there. Caminos booted the ball past a stunned Pasargad keeper Abdollah Golkhah. And in the 86th minute, just like that, it was 2-1, Navy. And the proud sailors whose team had been taking it on the chin, no, from bow to stern, with a barrage of cruise missiles, exploded in rapturous celebration for they were close to their crucial first win in nine matches.

In the aftermath of the goal and the win, Gonzales celebrated rather boisterously. And the game statisticians credited the goal to him.

Friends back in the United States and newly made ones here in the Philippines congratulated him on every social media there is. “I wish I could say that the goal is mine. But no!” he cried out. “It’s not.”

However, Gonzales is just grateful. Grateful that he got on the pitch before he called time on his Philippine adventure.

After all what’s an opera-trained engineering graduate from Virginia Tech playing football for free in the Philippines?

“I was in my cubicle back in Virginia when I went to Google ‘Philippine football,’” he recalled. “The first thing I saw was ‘Bleachers’ Brew’ and that was my introduction to the football revolution going on in the Philippines.”

It was wild. It was crazy. During the winter break of an internship, with a little money in his pocket, Gonzales went to the country of his grandfather’s birth, the Philippines, in search of a football dream.

“Up to that point, my life was class in the morning, music practice in the afternoon, sports or working out in the afternoon, then opening the apartment I shared with my girlfriend to whoever among our friends from the Wood family who wanted to hang out,” said Gonzales. “This was a chance to break out from that routine.”

This was around December of 2010 and the Philippines was in the midst of a historic run in the Suzuki Cup that forever changed the landscape for Philippine football. As Gonzales inquired about playing football in the Philippines, I discouraged him from doing so. The local football scene received a massive jolt of publicity but club football wasn’t something where one could make an honest living.

However, Gonzales remained steadfast in his dream. “I have to say that I tried,” he promised himself before finally making the plunge exactly one year later. His best friend, Jim Smith, was murdered during a burglary at his home and Virginia and the loss had a profound effect on Gonzales.

“Jim once said – in spite of being 19 years old – that he felt he had done what he wanted in his young life and if he were to die young he’d be all right with it,” recounted Gonzales of that moment that he thought was odd. “When Jim died, I thought of what he said and I told myself that life was too short and I have to make the most of it.”

He got in touch with another fellow Virginia native in Nate Burkey who invited him to try out for Kaya. But an out of shape Gonzales moved from one tryout to another. “That was my fault,” he said. “I guess I didn’t impress anyone.” While working himself back into game shape, he gave himself until March for one last chance to latch on to a club. If he was unable to do, he’d go back to the United States and resume his life. In the meantime, he did a few odd jobs to earn some extra money. On other days, he auditioned for some stage plays because of his classical music and opera background. “I know it sounds odd – opera and football don’t seem to go together but that’s me,” he sheepishly admitted.

With the March transfer window for the 2012 season of the United Football League rapidly closing, he sought out Navy coach Marlon Maro at La Salle Greenhills. Gonzales made his pitch. He was willing to play for free. All he asked was to be given a chance to join a club and play. Maro, who recently retired from the Philippine Navy and only returned in the last UFL Cup because his former club was floundering, quietly sized him up for a few minutes before he simply pronounced, “Okay.”

Gonzales showed up for Navy’s next practice and the assistant coaches merely asked for two-by-two identification pictures to process his paperwork with the UFL. “I was surprised but that was all? Hell, I didn’t care. I was just happy to be a part of a team,” exclaimed the overjoyed football aspirant. “I just want to play football.”

In the aftermath of the “near first goal,” Gonzales remains optimistic. “I think I am close – this close to making the most out of my dreams,” he said while using his pointer and thumb to illustrate his statement.

The finale has yet to be sung.

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