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, July 28, 2019

Learning from Spanish Football

Learning from Spanish Football
by rick olivares

Spain extended their Under-19 reign in the UEFA Championships defeating Portugal, 2-nil last Saturday, July 27, with Fernan Torres (who plays for Valencia) scoring a brace.

La Roja have now won their eighth title in that age bracket. Now this team, led by Abel Ruiz, lifted the U-17 trophy two years ago. So this batch of footballers will be taking over from Spain’s Golden Generation that led them to glory in the previous years.

Said head coach Santi Denia: "It's not just today – this group have been a family, there's been a continuity with our work in the federation and this is the product of so much hard work, so many journeys, and some bad times but today it was their time to produce the performance they had to give in order to become champions of Europe."

Europe? They might not stop there. They could very well lead Spain to another World Cup triumph.

They key word mentioned by Denia is this – continuity. While their grassroots program is well-known including their tiki-taka style of play that is cascaded all the way down to the lowest and youngest levels of football, here is one other fact. 

There are 473 pitches registered with the Royal Spanish Football Federation. Four hundred seventy-three. That excludes the impromptu fields and unregistered ones where people play. Now of that 473 pitches, less than 60 are considered dirt fields. 

Yes, fields with no grass. Your typical earth variety. But even that number is shrinking because of an edict to convert them into artificial turf. 

Imagine that. In the near future, all those fields will be covered with turf.

That will surely fast-track development more so now they are working on a women’s league.

In recent years, their “fidelity strategy” has seen 77% of all Spanish players playing in La Liga becoming eligible to suit up for La Roja. That is an incredible number. They can find other players to suit up if one isn’t available.

Furthermore, the fidelity strategy provides coaching and the opportunity to play for clubs. And it isn’t all football. There are specific teachers to guide the players into a life after football. This is seen as a welcome development especially by the parents of the kids who enter the program.

And one of the goals is to see more homegrown players suit up for the clubs. They federation is clearly bent on giving the Spanish player all the chances to succeed.

I believe this is something that the Philippine Football Federation should emulate. While of course, basketball is the top sport in the country and volleyball, second, the program that Spain runs can be emulated in some way. 

By next year, it will be the 10thanniversary of the Miracle of Hanoi where the Philippine Men’s National Football Team and local football took off. The level of play has certainly improved across the board. I’m just wondering if there is a coherent plan. Nothing wrong with looking Westward to Spain. We might not have the support it has but at this point, it is all about mindset and attitude. 

I say, it is certainly possible. It is time to make serious inroads in local football. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

CSB Blazers are 3-0 but can still do better

CSB Blazers are 3-0 but can still do better
by rick olivares

In our preview for the College of St. Benilde Blazers, we wrote: “This year, although there was excitement, they glided in under the radar what with the injuries to Haruna and Leutcheu. Justin Gutang was chill as was Dixon. There are still expectations. And in spite of that, it is entirely possible they will do better.”

We postulated that they didn’t do too well when there were expectations last season. This season, after struggling in the preseason, they didn’t rate too highly. However, the low profile approach could work as they are under the radar.

True enough, the Blazers are at 3-0; one of two undefeated teams in NCAA Season 95 thus far (the other being -- no surprise here – San Beda which sports the same record as CSB).

CSB defeated Emilio Aguinaldo College, 69-66, Perpetual Help, 75-63, and Mapua, 71-67. Granted the three teams are at the bottom half of the standings, this still is good because you still have to beat them no matter how close the match is. The wins and closing them out in the clutch will give the Blazers the confidence as they next face the top tier squads.

The Blazers are currently seventh on offense while ranked second on defense. 

Why is CSB struggling offensively? That is because they are missing Yanqui Haruna who hasn’t played yet as he missed the last few months due to an injury. According to CSB head coach, Haruna is listed as day-to-day.

Dixon hasn’t performed to the level he has. In his final season, Dixon is averaging a disappointing 6.7 points per game.

The only players averaging in double digits are Justin Gutang (12.7) and James Pasturan (11.7). 

If the Blazers want to defeat the top tier teams and compete for a Final Four slot, they will need Clement Leutcheu (8.5 points and 6.0 rebounds), Unique Naboa (5.7 points and 2.0 assists), and Dixon to step up.

Dixon is crucial because of his skill set. He can shoot, drive, rebound, and pass that ball. He needs to really gain that confidence that he showed during the preseason.

Ladis Lepalam is a rookie so we can cut him slack. But the veterans on this team have to step up. It is the last season for Leutcheu, Haruna, Domingo, and Dixon. If they don’t go far they’ll be in rebuilding mode again for next season. 

At 3-0, they need to continue to climb up that ladder.

Definitely the defections of Paolo Javillonar and Jay Pangalangan hurt. For sure they were blind-sided, but they cannot make excuses for that now. This is time for everyone to step up.

CSB can play so much better. They just have to want it.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Mariano Rivera: Enter the HOF, Sandman.

Enter the HOF, Sandman.
by rick olivares

New York Yankees pitched Mariano Rivera was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame; a unanimous selection, last Sunday, July 21, 2019.

The Panamanian pitcher truly deserves it. He notched 652 saves; 51 more than second placer Trevor Hoffman. It was in the post-season where he was the most valuable. In his 18 years pitching for the Yankees, he finished with an 8-1 record with a 0.70 earned run average and 42 saves in 96 appearances. He helped New York win five Major League Baseball World Series titles.

As a lifelong Yankees fan, it feels good that one of my favorite players is going to the Hall of Fame (along with Mike Mussina in this class of inductees). The other inductees included Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Harold Baines, and Lee Smith. I got to see all the other players – against the Yankees – and all at the old Yankee Stadium.

I only have four Yankees jerseys with names on them – Paul O’Neill, Derek Jeter, Aaron Judge, and Rivera. Mariano is the only pitcher in that lot. 

I must have watched about a hundred live games of the Yankees and I still have every ticket that I purchased to Yankee Stadium. I consider myself lucky that I got to see all my favorites – O’Neill, Bernie Williams, DJ, A-Rod, Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi, and Mo. 

Watching him pitch in really tense situations, displaying that unnatural calm, and his expression hardly betraying any emotion is incredible. Win or lose, he was a stoic on that mound. The one time I saw him show any emotion was when he was “taken out” of the game by his teammates Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte in his final game. That was emotional and Mo cried on Pettitte’s shoulders. Hell, I am a grown man and I cried too.

For many Yankees fan, watching him trot out of the Bullpen to Metallica’s classic song, “Enter Sandman,” is one of the game’s best sights.

Once, I got to shake Mo’s hand near the player’s entrance. I waited by that entrance quite a few times and there was no guarantee any player would come over to shake your hand. Mo did that one time and he didn’t just shake my hand, he even chatted for about a minute. I was in shock and really didn’t know what to say. I was so stunned that I forgot to even ask for a picture or autograph! What a dunce!

Him spending close to a minute is an awful long time. Other fans immediately came over. While Mo gave them time, he didn’t just move on and forget me. He made sure to politely say that he was going to say hi to the others as well. I have not met another sportsman/celebrity who has done or said anything within that zip code. That definitely left a good impression on me.

I guess, it was the way that team of Yankees under Joe Torre carried themselves that left a good impression on many. While all the players were fiercely competitive, they all conducted themselves in a professional manner.

One time, while working at Burger Heaven on East 96thand Lexington, I got to see lunch for Jason Giambi and then pitcher Tanyon Sturtze. There was a no autograph policy at the restaurant, but the two graciously signed autographs for me and another waiter from Bangladesh named Imon, who was a die-hard Yankees fan. 

There’s a risk they can be testy as they are on an off-day. I myself witness a famous actor blow off a young fan who asked for his autograph while he was eating. I was nervous that should Giambi and Sturtze be upset, Imon and I could get fired. But no. They were cool and they even chatted for a few seconds.

Sitting up in the upper tier boxes of Yankees Stadium, it is so easy to get caught up in all the emotions of a baseball game. The fans are vociferous in their support or loud in their opinions. Watching Mo, I kept to myself. In fact, I still remain calm ever during games today no matter how intense.

One time during the Philippines-Korea match of the 2013 Fiba Asia Championships, as the crowd at the MOA Arena was going wild, a colleague of mine asked me how on Earth could I remain so calm, not cheering, and well, looking very much composed.

I said, one, were journalists. We have to stay neutral. And then I said, “because of Mariano Rivera.” 

My colleague got it. He might be a massive basketball fan who doesn’t really watch baseball. But even he knew who Mariano Rivera was and what he stood for.

Congratulations on entering baseball’s Hall of Fame, Mariano. You deserve it.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Who Dares Wins: The Petro Gazz Angels

Who Dares Wins: The Petro Gazz Angels
by rick olivares

The British Special Air Service, that elite commando team tasked with taking on tough and impossible military missions, has a creed… “Who dares wins.”

The same can be applied and appropriated by the newly-crowned Premier Volleyball League Reinforced Conference champions, Petro Gazz Angels.

A few days before the start of the season, team management looked at the sked and the Angels were tasked to take on another team in the season opener. They asked, “Can we instead play the Creamline Coolsmashers?’

If the team was to contend, they wanted to immediately test themselves against the best… the Coolsmashers who were the defending champions.

Petro Gazz knew they handed landed two gems of imports in Cuban national teamer, Wilma Salas, and the high-leaping and scoring Janisa Johnson who local fans first saw with the BaliPure Water Defenders from the previous season.

The angels threw down the gauntlet and they ambushed the Coolsmashers with a three-set win (25-22, 26-24, 25-22) behind Salas’ 20 points and Johnson’s 16. Also playing stellar roles in that opening day win were Jeanette Panaga (nine points) and Cherry Nunag (eight points).

When the Angels closed out the finals series a month and 20 days after that scintillating opening day win, all four Angels including newly activated super sub Jonah Sabete masterfully finished off Creamline in a four-set thriller (25-15, 30-28, 25-23, 25-019).

Five days earlier, things looked a bit bleak as Creamline took Game One when they not only ratcheted up the intensity but they held Salas in check. 

The day after that loss, team management sat down with Petro Gazz head coach Arnolfd Laniog to see how they could turn the series around. They talked about raising the level of intensity to not only match Creamline but to even surpass. Said Laniog, “We will just make a few adjustments because I think we are all right.”

And he wasn’t grasping for straws.

They didn’t play so bad in Game One despite the result. Outside their Big Three of Salas-Johnson-Panaga, the locals outscored their Coolsmashers counterparts, 16-13. More of the locals were getting into the act; something they worked on following the second round loss to Creamline. They were aggressive in Game One, it was just that they committed a whopping 31 errors to Creamline’s 16.

In Game 2, Petro Gazz reversed the tide by blanking Creamline’s imports Kuttika Kaewpin and Aleoscar Blanco leaving only Alyssa Valdez to do the heavy lifting on both offense and defense.

With less than 24 hours after the series-turning Game Two, the momentum rode with Petro Gazz while Creamline had less than 24 hours to shake off the debilitating effects of Game Two.

The Angles continued to roll in set one of game three and only lost set two by two points. They put Creamline on the defensive with their booming serves and tough net and floor defense as led by libero Cienne Cruz. With Kaewpin’s points scattered and Blanco a non-factor, Valdez was left to carry the load. Against a team on fire, flush with confidence and smelling blood, even the Phenom’s prowess wasn’t enough to deny Petro Gazz.

And for championship point, a little misdirection by Laniog forced Creamline to watch Salas but it was Johnson who finished them off. 

In only the second year of the Angles, they have bagged themselves a trophy and con be considered as a top team now. And they do not look to rest there as they are constantly looking for ways to shore up their team. True to their form, they are staying aggressive.

After all, they dared to win.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Giving Philippine Volleyball A Boost

Giving Volleyball A Boost
by rick olivares

By the time this column is out, the matter of the Premier Volleyball League Reinforced Conference Finals between the Creamline Coolsmashers and the Petro Gazz Angels would have been settled.

Petro Gazz equalized with a four-set win last Saturday, July 13 to send the series to a winner-take-all Sunday Game 3. 

I like the fact the Petro Gazz has taken leaps and bounds to contend for the title. Obviously, Petro Gazz has designs on being the top team in the PVL and that is good. It is good that the Coolsmashers have competition if not a rival.

The last rivalry the PVL had was between BaliPure and Pocari Sweat. The Lady Warriors were looking at a rivalry with Creamline then but the latter club was getting its feet wet in the PVL. They had to wait until they added setter Jia Morado, libero Mel Gohing, and Michelle Gumabao before they won.

The Lady Warriors are now scattered across the league with teams like Motolite, Creamline, Petro Gazz, and BaliPure.

I thought when they “merged” with Philippine Air Force, the signs said they were on their way out. That team was not only winning, but they were also glamorous, and headline-makers.

Well, the finals of this conference will make headlines.

The Angles on the other hand, have accelerated their title ambitions. They not only limited Creamline’s imports in Kuttika Kaewpin and Aleoscar Blanco, but the Angels’ local stepped up too to ensure the win and series extension.

While the competition is good between the two sides, we’d like to see not only more parity but also a steadiness to the PVL roster of teams.

Banko Perlas is the only other tenured team. Pacific Town Army has been in and out. It is ironic considering that not only was Army and the other Armed Forces teams regulars but they carried the torch for volleyball for the longest time. With the popularity of volleyball and the rise of club volleyball and the pro-leagues leagues, the Armed Forces teams have been on the retreat.

They no longer have the best talent.

I think that the PVL should find ways to make their tournaments more economically viable for the clubs’ participation. That there are six teams bears testament to the need not only for parity but also being worth it for the teams.

It is nice to have BaliPure but you’ll never know how long they can continue. This is the fourth iteration of their squad showing a startling lack of continuity unlike Bank Perlas, Creamline, and Petro Gazz.

I love what the PVL is doing and they have done the sport well since the old Shakey’s V-League days. But times have changed and they too must adapt. I am happy that in my brief tenure with them, I managed to suggest and bring back the All-Star Game. There needs to be continuity.

I do hope that this hotly-contested final between Creamline and Petro Gazz brings is not only more fans but also interest and support for the game and the league. What helps them also helps local volleyball (along with what the PSL is doing).

At the end of the day, it is a good time to be a sports and volleyball fan.