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, December 31, 2017

The 2017 Brewskies: Take that for data (and the refs too).

The 2017 Brewskies
by rick olivares

It’s the end of 2017 as we know it and I feel fine.

Yes, thus sang Michael Stipe and 2017 but the quote of the year – for me – is former Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale’s post-game rant following a loss to the San Antonio Spurs last April.

Fizdale, who I had to the good fortune to interview on a couple of occasions prior to his appointment over at Memphis, took shots at the disparity of the calls and free throws that ultimately led to the loss. Fizdale concluded his post-game rant by saying, “Take that for data” then banging the table with his fist.

That quote has since become the stuff of memes and even folks doing their own version of it.

Yet, Fizdale spake the truth!

And our traditional year-end awards called “the Brewskies” for dubious achievements, quotes, or results in sports will all be for data in this 2017.

To wit:

Adalaide Byrd must have watched another fight.
The boxing match between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez saw a controversial draw not because it was such but the way judge Adalaide Byrd scored the fight, 118-110, for Alvarez. One judge had it 115-113 for Golovkin while the other submitted an even 11-114 score. Mysteriously, Byrd scored five rounds for Alvarez that the other two judges gave to Golovkin. Byrd was lambasted online while boxing officials and was asked to explain her scoring. She has since stepped down from officiating major boxing matches.

It’s déjà vu all over again for Manny Pacquiao.
Manny Pacquiao lost another fight. No, I am not surprised that his record in recent years has been less than stellar. The man has been stubborn trying to defeat Father Time while trying to multi-task when he is horrible at it. But make no mistake, I do not think he lost that fight to Jeff Horn that cost him the World Boxing Organization belt.

In a fight where Pacman was expected to walk all over his Australian foe, Manny left Brisbane having been snakebit for the second time in his career (the first was against Timothy Bradley in 2012 where the Filipino lost via split decision.

Manny threw 573 punches and landed 182 (32%) while Horn only landed 92 of 625 punches thrown for 15%. While volume isn’t indicative of a win (just look at football where dominance of possession and shots at the goal doesn’t guarantee a win), most if not practically all boxing analysts saw a Pacquiao win.

But all three judges gave the fight to Horn. Some decried this as a hometown decision. Whatever it is… take that for data!

What were you watching Ovidiu Hategan?
Speaking of football… this is proof positive of bad officiating and data – in a reversal sort of way of what Fizdale was ranting about.

During the first game of a two-legged World Cup qualification match (for the 2018 World Cup) between Switzerland and Northern Ireland, the Swiss pounded Northern Ireland’s goal with 33 attempts but were unable to find the back of the net. Shockingly, the Swiss were awarded a 34th attempt when Hategan, the match official, whistled a penalty (in the 58th minute) where he adjudged Correy Evans for a handball when he turned his back to a Xherdan Shaqiri volley. It was a phantom call. No one watching the match whether live in Belfast or on television saw a penalty.

Ricardo Rodriguez slotted home the spot kick for a controversial, 1-nil win. In the next leg, both figured in a scoreless draw. Switzerland advanced while Northern Ireland went home.

Yep. Thirty-three attempts and nothing to show for until that call?

Take that for data?

Hmm. Maybe it should be for the referees.

And on that note, I will leave you with Game 3 of the recently concluded UAAP Men’s Basketball finals where the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles emerged triumphant over arch rival De La Salle.

All season long, the UAAP referees blew so many contentious calls. Yet come Game Three, it was close to being perfect (well, they were still some bad calls but generally they zebras allowed the players to play). The common view was “kaya naman pala maayos yung tawag” in reference to the officiating.


So let me end by offering this year’s truckload of Brewskies – dubious sports achievements – to data and the refs.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The BaliPure Purest Water Defenders' season in two pictures

This is easily one of the top Philippine sports stories of 2017. The BaliPure Purest Water Defenders lost its entire team who de-camped to another squad due to budget/cost concerns. The team scrambled to put together a new squad with about a week to go before the new season.

In spite of all sorts of issues, the team made it to the finals of the Reinforced Conference of the Philippine Volleyball League where they lost to Pocari Sweat.

After the Game 3 loss, middle hitter Risa Sato ran off the court where she found a corner near the team locker room to shed her tears. Team captain Grethcel Soltones followed to cheer up her teammate to no avail.

The team headed into the next conference with all sorts of questions as they were losing import Jennifer Keddy. The Purest Water Defenders started out slow but made it back to the Open Conference Finals where this time, they gained revenge on Pocari Sweat by winning their first volleyball crown in team history.

In the picture below, the victorious team gathered around game commentators Boom Gonzales and Airess Padda and showers them with confetti. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Reflecting this Holday Season with Tab Baldwin

Reflecting this Holday Season with Tab Baldwin
by rick olivares

It’s the Holiday Season and Thomas Anthony “Tab” Baldwin is savoring the good cheer, cold weather, and good vibes before 2017 is history.

“Actually, I think we’ve been booted from ‘basketball heaven’”, he says with a smile over coffee outside the gated La Vista subdivision where he stays while in Manila. “It’s time to look forward to the next challenge.”

The next challenges are either preparing for the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ Philippine Collegiate Champions League (the team is unsure whether to participate or not as the second semester is now for catching up on studies) and getting ready for the summer leagues. If the Blue Eagles participate in the PCCL, they will do so without three mainstays in Chibueze Ikeh, Vince Tolentino, and Kris Porter. “They’ve served their time,” chuckles Baldwin. “They’re free.”

“In all seriousness, it will be a different team now.”

There is something that Ateneo’s last two American mentors (Norman Black included) have brought to the Blue Eagles – live in the moment and forget yesterday because that is done. “I think it’s nice branding that ‘we’re defending champions’. But that was last season’s team. The new team doesn’t have the three guys who have graduated. This is going to be a different team and I want the boys to get used to that mentality. There’s always the next challenge.”

Make no mistake that Baldwin treasures the recently copped UAAP Men’s Basketball crown where they unseated the highly-fancied La Salle Green Archers. He does.

“I don’t think the level of basketball determines the magnitude of the achievement,” he reflects when asked about where this ranks amongst his accomplishments. “I won championships in New Zealand but nobody cares. You can jump up and down and say, “I’m a champion” but it depends. You can take Dirk Nowitzki winning in the German second division (with DJK Wurzburg) but it doesn’t compare to him leading the Dallas Mavericks to a NBA title. I am sure he would say the magnitude of a NBA championship is different.”

“So a UAAP championship in the landscape of Philippine basketball is high up there in any list. For our team it is a great achievement. Personally, I am past that point in my life where I rank achievements. I don’t see them as my achievement because I genuinely believe I was part of an effort of a swell bunch of guys. Only one guy can do this interview but we all share this.”

If you look at Baldwin’s view of basketball, it is about perspectives; paradigm shifts, if you will.

“With Ateneo, because I was going back to kids, I made a lot of mistakes last year,” he admits. “I tried to still be a professional coach and that was a mistake. This is the biggest correction I had to make. I had to grasp the fact that I was at an academic institution where I was here to develop young men and get them to next stage of their lives. And I owe an apology to a guy like GBoy Babilonia who I didn’t guide through that.”

“I learned a lot and I have to give all the credit to my assistant coaches for what they taught me for that first year -- how to adjust, how to adapt, and how to exist in the collegiate ranks. So when I changed my thinking that helped a lot too.”

Coming in, Baldwin broke the team down to its bare essentials and got players to look at the game differently.

For example, Ikeh was an enigma. He showed promise in his first year in the league then greatly struggled in the next. “Take for example a guy like Ikeh who we never believed we could get any offense out of much less three-point shooting,” points out the coach. “But as I observed he was always willing to work on his shot and even from three-point range. And who are we to tell the kid he cannot use that shot? It wasn’t fair to him. When we took that leash off him, we told him, ‘Ikeh, now you have to understand the game so you can make good decisions and when to take that shot.’”

While Nigerian center shot 23% from three-point range for the season, he did hit a crucial one against La Salle in the finals.  

“I would be reluctant to point to any one player who stepped up because they all did,” elaborates Baldwin. “Each one needed to be evaluated and we worked on a corresponding program. The players I would cite… when Matt Nieto came in there were all sorts of questions about his ability and his perimeter shot. We identified that and he worked under the careful instruction of our coaches to improve.” Nieto shot 43.4% from three-point range; a shade behind La Salle’s Jolo Go. But the Ateneo court general was at his lethal best in the clutch.

“Thirdy Ravena has all the physical potential but struggled with his decision-making. All of a sudden, he made a number of crucial and good decisions in key moments in end games. It is something we didn’t envisage to happen right away but he had to embrace that to improve in that aspect. And of course, there’s Isaac Go who had no confidence in his ability to perform at this level. Everybody wants to highlight the shot but what I want to highlight is he savored the opportunity to guard Ben Mbala because he learned so much about defense and to identify a player’s weakness. To utilize defensive schemes and work Ben into double teams.”

“We saw the improvement – embracing the process. This gave them the confidence to go out and make the big play – embracing the process. We are proud of the evolution of players.”

And believe it or not, for all the basketball analysts’ predictions, Baldwin and his staff never felt they “had it”.

“I don’t recall us as a coaching staff and saying, that was the tipping point,” he reveals. “All of a sudden, there was a sense of other teams figuring us out. But we were having strong fourth quarters. We began to feel an increased challenge from the league. When it became playoff time and FEU beats us, for the first time all season long, our backs were against the wall. But we survived FEU. Winning Game One against La Salle, we felt good. But we lost Game Two, and once more, our backs were against the wall. So I never felt that we had it; that this championship was ours. Everything was the next play, the next game, the next practice. It was staying in the moment which is hard for everybody. We emphasized it a lot. It helps us to avoid where are – is this ours. No, it was just the next play, the next practice, the next game.”

Nevertheless, the end result was Ateneo’s ninth UAAP men’s title and 23rd overall if you include the 14 won in the NCAA.

Even as Ateneo celebrated, Baldwin thought of his older brother Terry who he described as his best friend. “Growing up, it was Terry who fended off my older brothers when they’d pick on me. It was he who was always willing to listen and to pick me up. He told me that when we fall, we should learn the lessons from it so when we get right back up, we will succeed. He followed my career and missed out on this one. But I felt he was with me all the way. So I also dedicate this championship to him.”

Perspectives. Paradigm shifts.

At this time of the year in a country where endless merry-making is the order of the season, Thomas Anthony “Tab” Baldwin has taken time to reflect on a good year. And now he can smile.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Good luck, Ben!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Season for Change: On the PBA and POC

A Season for Change: On the PBA and POC
by rick olivares

At 3:15 on Wednesday, December 20, I, like many other media colleagues, received a message: “FYI, the decision on the election case POC [Philippine OIympic Committee] vs Vargas and Tolentino has been issued today by the Pasig Court stating 1) elections of POC Nov 25 2016 for Chairman and President is null and void. 2) New election to be held Feb 23 2018 for the positions of President and Chairman 3) and to include as candidate Tolentino and Vargas. Finally we have obtained justice. Thank you all.”

The parties concerned are the Philippine Olympic Committee, headed by the incumbent Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr. and Ricky Vargas, who heads the Association of Boxing Alliances of the Philippines (Abap); and Abraham Tolentino, Philcycling president, who were disqualified during the 2016 POC elections.

These last few days of December, we’ve experienced a cold front that adds to the holiday season atmosphere, but this bit of news sends a cold, cold chill down the spins of the embattled POC while warming the hearts of those who have clamored for the removal of Cojuangco and his confederates.

I spoke with two different people who are involved in national sports and both said that we shouldn’t be worried about intervention from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) because this isn’t government intervention but judicial. There is a difference. According to one person knowledgeable of the events, Mr. Peping Cojuangco can try to secure a temporary restraining order or seek help elsewhere, but he figures this will not go to an election as he will step down and seek outside settlement. The other source believes the POC president will battle it out during the elections. He might have the numbers, he opined.

Now this comes on the heels of Chito Narvasa finally stepping down as commissioner of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) after all the brickbats hurled his way post-PBA draft. My thoughts about that? Whoever will replace Mr. Narvasa will encounter the same problems because you have two big blocs in the league.

Prior to the arrival of these power blocs, each team had one vote. With these blocs now having a number of votes, they can control the way things go. In my opinion, they should return to the one owner, one vote rule. But will they? If they want change, then how do you effect that?

It isn’t a question of leadership but the system. Which is flawed. You fix the system and you have fewer opportunities for one-sided trades, decisions and what not. Otherwise, the commissioner will always be at the mercy of teams whose agenda is to win. Nothing wrong with that now, but the system? You bet there is something wrong. The question now is—who will blink in trying to fix this system if that is what they want?

The system in which our national sports federations are run are deeply flawed. The malaise that has also affected government agencies has found its way into the sports agencies. It is a microcosm of our problems.

Quite frankly, it is sickening. Take a gander at how after every major sporting event, we underachieve and we hear all sorts of horror stories about the lack of funding, corruption, favoritism and feuds. Marathon runner Mary Joy Tabal is one such example of an athlete finding success despite being at odds with her federation. And I assure you there are more. Since his appointment to the Philippine Sports Commission, PBA all-time great Ramon Fernandez has made it a part of his mission to fight the ills of Philippine sports everywhere. He hasn’t shied away from pointing out what is wrong, calling a spade a spade. It is refreshing to see someone take on the system and not be afraid.

Now both parties, the POC and the PBA, have been embroiled in one controversy after another; one scandal after another. I wondered at how the men in charge could stand all these actuations left and right. This is so typical of Filipino leaders who cling on to power. Think of your families and your names, sirs. If I were in your place, I cannot allow my name to be dragged in the mud and on social media like that. And with one scandal or controversy unearthed after the other, I’d think of my children, my name and the legacy I want to leave behind.

I think it is no coincidence that these two events have come at the year’s end. I eagerly wait for the resolutions. And I hate that saying about New Year’s resolutions being broken.

Make it work. Make it happen, gentlemen.

This is your legacy.