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, February 7, 2016

Jaja and the chance of a lifetime

This appears in the Monday, February 8, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

Jaja and the chance of a lifetime
by rick olivares pic from gatorade phils

Watching Jaja Santiago rise in the air to spike the ball down Adamson’s hapless defense last Saturday, I was left exhilarated and a tad disappointed.

Let me explain. It sure is fun seeing a young woman who stands six-feet-five-inches leap to the air like a gazelle and whack a ball that could sue for physical abuse (if it could) because of the sheer power brought to bear by its walloper. And when she blocks, it’s a crushing rejection like from a crush who spurns you. Yes, she scored 20 points in the National University Lady Bulldogs’ four-set win over Adamson but somehow… I have this feeling that she could have done more. Dominate more. 

Given her height and athleticism (and potential although that is a very dangerous word), she should be scoring every single point and giving routine facials on poor defenders. She should be carting home trophies by the bushel-load and they should put up a statue in her likeness along Jhocson Street in Sampaloc (aside from her hometown of Cavite).

When there was word that there was interest or even the possibility of Santiago playing volleyball in the United States for UCLA, I thought then as now, that she should have gone. Or in the case of NU, they should have pushed to go. 

While Santiago said that family was the reason she stayed as she disliked the thought of being alone, I think that maybe NU or someone should have provided her the support to get there. Whether or not the offer to play was greeted enthusiastically by the school (because of the substantial investment made in recruiting the Santiago sisters), I have no idea. All I know is anytime you have a chance to send someone abroad especially when there is interest is you go. There are bigger things that a UAAP trophy. That is a chance to learn and get better from world class players in a world-class atmosphere. That is a chance to pave the way for world-class volleyball players. In turn, they become your ambassadors of goodwill and that should give back (just don’t ask for anything in return).

I am pleased that volleyball locally has picked up in popularity and interest yet we still have a long ways to go in terms of level of play. That was painfully reminded to us in last year’s participation during the Under-23 tournament and the Southeast Asian Games. Make no mistake. It was good we participated and it was a an even better learning experience. The more exposure the better our country will get at the sport. Of course, it just doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long process but steps do have to be taken. 

I feel the same way about Ray Parks. Coincidentally, he was tied down to NU as well. Had he gone to Georgia Tech, he would have better exposure and get more acclimated to the American game, hence, maybe a better shot at the NBA. Stats-wise, he did well, but he didn’t dominate and couldn't tow the Bulldogs to a UAAP title. He was stymied twice by Kevin Ferrer and the UST Growling Tigers. 

Now he is in the United States chasing his NBA dream. He has a chance, it is an outside chance though and yet, a chance is better than none at all. 

Going to study and play in the United States doesn’t guarantee a good NBA Draft slot but it does increase one’s chances. I have always believed that if you have a dream you put yourself on the path to that dream and not away from it. Japeth Aguilar pursued it and while he didn’t make it, at least he tried and sometimes, that is all you ever want. A chance. But boy, when he came back. He was even better than I remember him while he was playing for Ateneo.

That is why I am happy that Kobe Paras chose to go to the United States. The son of the man who made Philippine basketball history (by winning the Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year Awards in the same year) has a chance to make history for the country. 

Historically, if you look at the Filipino worker, by virtue of going abroad, it has more often than not, made their lives better, created a demand for Pinoys, and given us the exposure to succeed. It can be hypothesized to be the same for the Filipino athlete.

I’ve written about this before where the influx of Filipinos born overseas have made the local players better. In fact, in the last edition of Gilas, not many were Filipinos born overseas but locals. That is because we have levelled up to a certain degree. Notions of not having foreign players play locally is backward thinking. And yet, we celebrate our luck when Pinoys go and make it abroad.

If say for example, Santiago, Parks, and Paras all gave a good account of themselves abroad, I guarantee you that foreign schools and teams will send more scouts here to recruit homegrown players. 

Just take a look at the Dominican Republic. After Osvaldo Virgil Sr. made Major League Baseball in 1956, it opened the floodgates for his countrymen. In fact, MLB operated the Dominican Summer League where they play aspirants. Oh… and of the 856 players in MLB, 89 are from the Dominican Republic. And they are the most recent winners of the World Baseball Classic.

Jaja Santiago could still turn out to be that fire-breathing and dominant player many wish for her to be (and I certainly wish her well). She did win a MVP Award in the last conference of the Shakey’s V-League but I still can’t let go of the notion that she should have gone to UCLA; hence, the missed boat.

Oh, well. At least we still have Kobe Paras.

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