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, March 15, 2016

The Alaska Aces' Tony Dela Cruz’ shocking revelation

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Tony Dela Cruz’ shocking revelation
by rick olivares 
pic from the alaska aces' website

You think that Alaska Aces team captain Tony Dela Cruz has got it all — PBA titles here and there, the respect of his peers for his gentlemanly approach to the game, a fat player’s contract, a loving and doting family…

During a talk at the Game, Set and Match Sports Marketing Forum at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business in Rockwell, Makati City last Monday night (where he was one of six speakers who spoke about a variety of subjects), Tony bared his soul. 

Dela Cruz said that as a 16-year veteran who is in the twilight of his years, he’s had to repeatedly battle stress and depression, a painful separation from his wife, and two moments where he thought about taking his own life.

It was a stunning revelation that added a poignant touch to seminar that drew some several hundred students and guests. Apparently, Dela Cruz’ trials are all too real and there are many pro athletes who go through similar circumstances.

“It’s easy to dismiss these feelings of pain and hurt,” said Tony of the normal response people express when hearing of a pro athlete’s problems. “‘You’re supposed to be strong’ or ‘I can’t believe that you are going through this’ are the common responses. It is like we’re supposed to be Marvel superheroes who are impervious to harm.”

“I assure you,” paused Dela Cruz for effect. “That is the farthest from the truth. The problems are all too real.”

Dela Cruz, outlined some of the problems of the pro basketball player. “What many players do not understand is that they only have a short shelf life. Not everyone gets to plays long years in the PBA. For most, it’s just a few years. And there are other matters. There’s the stress of winning a championship, the lack of and decreasing playing time, not getting the contract that you think you deserve, that there’s always someone out there ready to take your job. When you encounter these problems, people say, ‘have a drink.’ You take one, two, six, ten, maybe more. What if all those drink still don’t fix you? Players then turn to other things they never used before — alcohol, drugs, gambling, womanizing, spousal abuse, and other vices. Before you know it, you’re a different person. And when you take a look at the mirror, you don’t like yourself. That’s when you know you’ve hit rock bottom and all sorts of crazy ideas, sometimes suicidal, come to mind. But when you have a clearer head, you realize that it isn’t the solution and that there are challenges you have to hurdle."

“When people are on their last legs in the pros, some realize that they not everyone can get a job in the outside world in sports because there aren’t many good paying jobs available. Suddenly, they realize they do not have the skills to get a real job because either they didn’t really go to class in college or they never took things seriously because they thought they’d play forever. But if they haven’t heard it -- because this is old news — you cannot play forever. Maybe Asi Taulava can play on until he’s 50 but that’s Asi.”

Some of the pro basketball players in attendance included Barangay Ginebra’s Joe DeVance; Mike Cortez of BlackWater Elite, Rain or Shine’s Beau Belga, Jeff Chan, and Paul Lee; Eman Monfort of Phoenix Fuel Masters, and Chris Sumalinog of Talk ’N Text. However, only Cortez was left in attendance when Dela Cruz took the podium for his talk.

Tony is managing his own demons today but he knows that life’s challenges from raising and providing for his kids, will never end.

In the last few years, Tony has been a frequent guest at the Ateneo Graduate School giving motivational talks and lectures about basketball and leadership (although his topic was a deviation from the normal). Motivational speaking is something that he plans on doing more in the future. But one of those plans, providing a forum for players to deal with their own problems, is on his plate. The Alaska Aces’ long-time team captain is in talks with company owner Wilfred Uytengsu and representative to the board Dickie Bachmann about getting this player-help structure off the ground.

“For so long, the game has been good to me. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but it has been good. I thought about coaching but the problem is, I don’t have the patience for some of the aspects of the job. I see my coaches and I think I can do some but not all of it. I have so much greater respect for what they do now. Some you don’t realize until you’re older and it bonks you on the head. But you learn and move on. Forming this player/help thing is my way of giving back.”

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