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, February 15, 2016

A letter to the Ateneo Blue Eaglets 2015-16

HALF-TIME inside the Ateneo dugout. Gabby Severino explains some adjustments. Jolo Mendoza (with a towel draped over him) is clutching his rosary.

Dear Ateneo Blue Eaglets,

I know my words might ring hollow in the aftermath of defeat to the De La Salle Zobel Juniors Archers in the Final Four today. After all, I’m a just that supporter from the sidelines trying to drum up some cheer and interest about our team through my writing. Cheering when we win and feeling sad when we lose. I will not begin to say that I come close to duplicating the hurt that you all feel. I won’t even begin to try.

Nevertheless, I will try my best to assuage the hurt and to put things in perspective.

It was a tough season to begin with — the graduation of key players, losing one to academics, while others fell prey to injuries. Along the way, other players also got injured and that all the more hampered our chances. If Jossier Hassan, who has been playing well of late, been in the game, who knows? These things happen and they are a part of the cycle we all have to unfortunately go through. 

Having said that, you guys made it this far. You came close to forging another another do-or-die game. Had those four free throws and that undergoal bucket scored in the last six minutes who knows? It might have a different ending. But there it is.

By no means does this define you or your team. The bulk of this squad was a part of last year’s champion team so you have something in the bag. For those who were not a part of last year’s squad, you still shouldn’t feel like losers. 

It was apparent from the start of the season that it wasn’t going to be easy. Zobel was mostly intact with a veteran crew. NU, well, those guys are always contenders and have been for the past five seasons. With that assembly line of top players, you have to go, “Whoa!" Adamson and FEU? Those guys are taller and just as good. But you dispatched five other teams to get there.

What this all means is you guys fought that One Big Fight to get there and sometimes, this is all we ever ask for. Stacked odds, injured players, poor play, spotting officiating, you defied that to make it to the second to the last round. That counts for something.

We always hear that these games we play are metaphors of life. Some of you might not see it or even understand it now but in time you will. But heed the wisdom in it. You'll be glad you did one fine day.

Now look at it this way… why do you practice every day? Why is there repetition in the drills and execution? Because you are being prepared for the grind. The grind of what is alternately a long and a short season (it depends on which tier of the standings you're at). As well as the grind of life. Even when things are tough, you have to put on your work boots and just keep at it. 

This season teaches you about sacrifice. During the summer, Al Rosales started while Jolo Mendoza was out and he did a creditable job. When Jolo came back, he returned to the bench. But the kid was always ready to play. Sure, he wishes he played more but some things are beyond our control. Giving it your best is all we ever ask. It might not be enough sometimes, but when you hang your hat and say, "Well, I tried my darn best." No one can ever fault you.

This loss also teaches you to be magnanimous. If there is anyone who should take that crown from you it has to be someone who beat you. And whether we like it or not, the two teams that beat us — or who we didn’t win against — are squaring off the finals. We should tip our collective hats and give them credit for they beat us. 

In that locker room post-match today, I was the oldest person perhaps in that room. Having said that, I saw all the coaches suit up for Ateneo. Or the Blue Eaglets in particular. 

When Coach Gabby Severino spoke about his teams not being particularly good… he speaks the truth. I saw Gabby play. I saw Joe, Yuri, Marco, play. My fondest Gabby Severino story is ironically Olsen Racela’s last game in the UAAP for Ateneo. The Blue Eagles went up against Adamson with that power trio of EJ Fiehl, Marlou Aquino, and Kenneth Duremdes. But Gabby, he drove right at the heart of that frontline. He got blocked, had a shot altered, but he kept attacking. Late in that game at the Blue Eagle Gym one weekday afternoon in 1991, the Blue Eagles had a chance. A chance to win. The season was over. But you know, just go out with a win. For Olsen. For Danny Francisco who if he had played would have been in his last UAAP year (he never got to suit up again after a heart ailment sidelined him forever in 1988). 

Now Gab? The lanky dude grabbed an offensive board and put it back over the seven-foot Fiehl. And-one. He went right at the behemoth with an emphatic “Oh!” while we in the stands jeered, “Ano height mo?” Ano height mo indeed. Adamson’s height, talent, and depth were too much that day. But along with about sixty other Ateneans in the stands that day, we applauded and we sang with our hearts on our sleeve and with tears in our eyes. 

When you look at Gab now, well, the losses didn’t define him at all. He’s become a very good coach in his own right and I have had the pleasure of watching him coach our high school and college basketball teams.

Coach Joe — he was right. The title last year? That helped relieve some of the hurt in losing in the late 1990s. But he’s all right. He just keeps on trucking. I used to wonder if he was the right man for the job. But even before the title last year, I knew already that, yes, we have a good coach with the right mind and the right heart. One who cares for his craft and loves his boys win or lose. If there is a labor of love for any Ateneo coach, it is coaching the Blue Eaglets. 

High school is where you build lifelong friendships, where you learn to take your first steps as a young man, and where you begin to imbibe all those teachings from the school we all love. That’s homegrown pride right there. Something you will take with you forever and wherever you may be 20 years, 30 years from now.

Sure it’s a tough loss. Embrace it. 

Embrace the pain, as my good friend Alex Compton told his luckless Alaska Aces following their painful Game 7 defeat in the recent PBA Philippine Cup. 

Embrace it but by no means make this define you. Use it to move forward.  Learn from it to move forward.

My take away from the game today?

Damn. When Gian Mamuyac snatched that ball and drove in, no, he jumped freaking high, and he got fouled for an and-one.

Justin Eustaquio. One of the smallest guys on the court grabbing that offense rebound and sticking that close range jumper.

When Jolo Mendoza went on a short tear to answer that mid-third period blitz of Zobel, I went, “here we go.”

Jason Credo? How about his defensive stops. Coach Aris Manalo, bulk up this dude and he’ll be kicking butt next season. This kid can shoot, drive, and play defense. Plus, he's tall! Let Wesley Gonzales show him how to weave in and out of traffic for a bucket and one. If he learns that... oh, boy!

BJ Andrade? What guts! What drop steps inside! You sure this kid isn't a center?

How about Shaun Ildefonso? Lakay's son was eating up those boards (he finished with a game high 18 rebounds). He might not have his dad's height but he sure has his heart.

And there’s Dave Ildefonso.

His dad, Danny, has been a good friend the past few years. Danny told me before the game that Dave was a fighter. 

In the sobbing and somber din of the Ateneo Blue Eaglets’ locker room after the painful Final Four loss, almost everyone was in tears. Save for two guys — Jason and Dave. Sure they were sad but they fought back the tears. After Joe Silva asked if anyone had anything else to say (before he turned over the floor to Fr. JBoy Gonzales, S.J.), Dave raised his hand.

“I have something to say,” he said.

“It hurts but me, Jason, RV (Berjay), Carlos (Gatmaytan), and SJ (Belangel), we’ll come back and win it for our seniors who are leaving us today.”

I can’t wait to see you all back in the grind.

Love you guys (and coaches)!

One Big Fight!


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