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.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Alaska Aces' Eric Menk: Staying in the game

This appears on the PBA's website

Eric Menk: Staying in the game
by rick olivares pic by nuki sabio

Last Thursday, practice for the Alaska Aces ended about 1:45pm. Thirty minutes later, there were four Aces still inside the game doing extra work – point guard JVee Casio, new acquisition Nonoy Baclao, and veterans Dondon Hontiveros and Eric Menk.

Hontiveros was shooting from the three-point line. He drilled in 11 consecutive from the left side, missed two. Shifted to the top of the arc where he hit another 10 straight. Missed three. Shimmied to the right where he dropped six straight.

“Getting tired,” the Cebuano marksman said to no one in particular.

Menk on the other hand, dribbled a ball with each hand across the court, between the legs and backwards. He did it several times stopped to rest then repeated the routine. After several reps, he ran some laps at breakneck speed.

“Sometimes,” remarked head coach Alex Compton, “you have to reign in Eric. He’s got a great work ethic but you don’t want him to injure himself.”

Menk takes a few jumpers – he hits a four of eight -- then plops down on the bench. Practice… 45 minutes after it officially ended… is now over for Menk.

“That’s where you see how you can best contribute to the game,” said the six-foot-six 15-year PBA veteran.

Of the 22 players drafted in 1999 as well as the 12 direct hires, only four of them are left in the PBA – NLEX’s Asi Taulava, Talk ‘N Text’s Danny Seigle, and current teammate Tony dela Cruz. Hontiveros joined the league the following season.

Dela Cruz is 36 years old. Seigle, 38. Taulava is 42.

“I think we have a senior citizens’ (in terms of athlete’s ages) wing here in Alaska,” joked Menk.

After a few impact-less years with Ginebra and disappointing stints with San Miguel and GlobalPort, Menk looks to have found a final home with Alaska. He was a huge contributor to the Aces in the last Philippine Cup where they fell short to SMB. “Am older and hopefully, wiser,” he mused. “But losses, you take them in stride, but they are still difficult to swallow. It isn’t all the time you make it back to the finals much less win it all.”

“Am happy just to be able to extend my career. I used to be so outspoken and I may have said quite a few things I shouldn’t have but now – older and wiser, you know – you kinda think more now.”

“There’s more information now on dieting, working out, and taking care of one’s body than there was more than 10 years ago,” he added. “I wish this was available then because I would have done some things differently. But you can only live forward.”

Menk admits that there are quite a few adjustments that he has to make mentally. “One of the hardest is going from being a starter to a role player,” he admitted. “You’re sitting on the bench and you’re thinking, ‘I wish I could get in the game and help.’ Of course, that doesn’t happen too often nowadays. You have good days and bad days. It’s also mental now. More mental the aspect of staying in the game but if you work hard and be a positive influence then that helps in getting minutes.”

He made a name for himself for his tremendous hustle, inside strength and indomitable will inside the shaded lane. Yet when he looks at today’s bigger, stronger, taller, and faster athletes… “Man, you see the pounding I take from these young bucks on a nightly basis? What are they feeding these kids?”

The Michigan-born Menk knows that he is in the twilight of his career. He’s carted home a truckload of awards and a few championships. But he’d love for nothing more than to win one. “It just gets harder and harder to win those things.”

“I’d love to stay in the game not as a coach because I am not an Xs and Os type of guy,” he cleared up. “I’d love to work in player development. Help them learn the game and achieve their potential. Teach them some of the tricks of the trade that will allow them to stay in the game.”

Long enough like you, Eric.

Menk laughed then beamed. The sweat still pouring copiously from his brow. “There’s been lots of ups and lots of downs but yeah, it’s been good. Real good.”

Menk stood up. Dribbled the ball a bit then tossed it into the rack.

Tomorrow’s another day.

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