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.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

4 sports shows to watch in this time of lockdown

4 sports shows to watch in this time of lockdown
By Rick Olivares

With Covid-19 putting sporting events around the world to stop, the action – at least online – hasn’t stopped heating up.

Here are four worthwhile and hilarious sports shows, documentaries, or even videos to watch in this time of covid-19.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup Film (YouTube)
This was previously only available on Amazon Prime, but on March 21, FIFA uploaded this onto YouTube. This 80-minute film – expertly narrated by British actor Damian Lewis – takes you back to the FIFA World Cup in Russia from two years back.

What I have loved about the FIFA World Cup films since I began watching them over a decade ago is they use footage from their own cameras and not the television cameras on hand. So what you get a more intimate, close up, and behind-the-scenes shots using high definition cameras. You miss out on the expansive shots of the goals such as France’s Benjamin Pavard’s wicked rifle of a shot that was one of the tournament’s best.  But having said that, there are other venues to watch those.

The FIFA films are minimalist in its script writing. Lewis keeps an even keep and very coolly describes the action. And for the most part, he allows the footage to say it all. The footage is a joy to watch.

Lewis, who came to international fame for his role in the HBO series Band of Brothers has been in demand for documentary narration. You might want to view his documentaries such as Hang Tough, that tells of the monument to Dick Winters, who the former portrayed in Band of Brothers, as a statue of his is unveiled in Normandy, France, and Keep On Running: 50 Years of Island Records. 

F1 Drive to Survive Season 2 (Netflix)
As a fan of Formula 1 racing, this series (including Season One) is a Godsend. It brings to life the competition as it tells all the intoxicating subplots of the various drivers, managers, and teams and their owners of an entire racing season in 10 episodes (for each season). I’ve watched F1 from the stands in Singapore and that’s from a distance. This brings you up close and you understand a lot more. 

Season 2 finds Mercedes and Ferrari finally allowing the Netflix cameras inside their headquarters, paddocks, and more (they must have seen the effect on the other teams in Season One). To finally have the world’s best driver in Lewis Hamilton and Sebastien Vettel in the spotlight is a huge treat for race fans. 

Even behind the scenes, nothing slows down in F1 Drive to Survive.

The English Game (Netflix)
This six-part series tells the story of Scottish footballer Fergus Suter who moves to England. Created by Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes, he mixes reality with plots perhaps created to push the story forward and make it more interesting. While I am not particularly crazy about these, I understand. Otherwise, it would have been a little boring because not everyone’s life is eventful. 

So take it like you did with Escape to Victory (that 1980s football film starring Sylvester Stallone, Max Von Sydow, Michael Caine, and Pele as well as professional footballers Bobby Moore, Osvaldo Ardilles, Mike Summerbee, Werner Roth, and others. It’s set in a real time, but kind of fictional.  

Icarus (Netflix)
One of the most powerful sports films ever. This film helped bring about the suspension of Russian athletes for their doping program. How Russia was able to participate in the last Olympics – short-handed though – I have no idea. It is sad to see the world’s sports authorities bow down to Russia (and they even haven’t touched China yet). 

But cyclist and filmmaker Bryan Fogel starts out what seems to be cycling’s version of Super-Size me when he becomes friends with Russian Grigory Rodchenkov who is the director of Moscow’s anti-doping center. Rodchenkov teaches him all the tricks of doping which is a surprise. But even more telling is that he goes on record to say that many Russian athletes cheat. After the World Anti-Doping Association comes out with a report on state-sponsored cheating, Rodchenkov departs for the USA where all of a sudden, his simple project with Fogel becomes a gold mine investigative reporting. 

You simply cannot make up these things. It’s riveting. 

Monday, March 9, 2020

Looking at Ateneo’s PCCL triumph over San Beda

Looking at Ateneo’s PCCL triumph over San Beda
By Rick Olivares

Tested, defended for the first 32 minutes, the Ateneo Blue Eagles stamped its class over former NCAA rival San Beda for a 57-46 win for the 2020 Philippine Collegiate Champions League at the Filoil Centre in San Juan.

The Red Lions held Ateneo to five points in the third period as the NCAA runners-up overhauled their own nine-point deficit at the half for a 41-39 lead going into the final canto.

Right before the seven-minute mark, the starters – Angelo Kouame, William Navarro, and SJ Belangel returned to turn the tables on the Red Lions as they launched an 18-5 finishing kick to win back-to-back PCCL titles; their fifth overall. Furthermore, Ateneo won their 11th trophy in 11 consecutive domestic tournaments they have participated in since 2017. This 2019-20 season, they are 21-0 including their 16-game sweep of UAAP Season 82.

Quipped Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin, “I hope we can go 12-12.”

What can we say about this win?

Tis might sound like a boast, but the Blue Eagles once more won it with a depleted crew.
In last year’s PCCL UAAP-NCAA Showdown, they defeated San Beda literally short-handed in three-matches. During their round robin for the second match, they only had six players. By half-time, they had eight. Ditto for Game Three. In the finals, they crushed the University of Visayas’ Green Lancers, 95-71, that was Rey Suerte’s last before transferring to the University of the East.

This year, they once more pummeled UV – in the semi-finals, 95-63, by an even bigger margin!

This year, starting forward Dwight Ramos was not available with his right arm in a sling as were Pat and Edward Maagdenberg.BJ Andrade is out with a season-ending knee injury. So, Jason Credo slipped into the starting unit. Although he didn’t score, he grabbed five rebounds, had two steals, and an assist. But perhaps more tellingly, he stopped Red Lions star swingman James Kwekuteye wo shot a miserable 1-12 from the field and finished with four points.

Troy Mallillin is about to be unleashed. His freakish athleticism and confident demeanor have seen him play a bigger role on the team. He can score, play defense, and work that basket. At one point, with a highly unconventional unit on the floor, he was the man who could score. But I like that he is willing to subvert himself to the system which is why it led to a passing error instead of taking the shot. But he knows better and he is playing better. Watch out!

Aside from Troy playing well in the crunch, others also stood up and showed their championship pedigree. 

San Beda played great defense in the third quarter as they limited Ateneo to five points. The Blue Eagles returned the favor and held the Red Lions to five points in the final quarter as SJ Belangel came alive scoring all 10 of his points including that conventional three-point play and that dagger of a triple that broke San Beda’s backs.

Some say that this is now Belangel’s team. Maybe. He will definitely hit a lot of big shots. But they have some studs who will get that ball in the crunch. Dwight Ramos is possible one. As is Kouame. And the way Mallillin is playing, he will be huge for Ateneo’s campaign come Season 83 of the UAAP.

William Navarro shut down San Beda’s PBA-ready player, Calvin Oftana and scored on a huge drive.

Angelo Kouame, hounded by a triple-team almost all game long scored huge buckets off tip ins. And at one point, even pilfered the ball from San Beda’s Prince Etrata and drove in for a dunk. Like when he did exactly the same to the University of Visayas’ court general George Cometa in the semi-finals. When you have a seven-footer taking away from a player much smaller than him then you know you are in trouble.

In the crunch, Ateneo closed down SBU’s Ralph Penuela, Oftana, Kwekutye, Peter Alfaro, and Kemark Cariño who played well in this game. 

This was a most impressive win against its fabled foe. It is Ateneo’s fifth PCCL crown, they are 11-for-11 in their last tournaments (the PCCL has a unique format with the UAAP-NCAA Showdown with the winner receiving a trophy that also advances them to the national finals where another trophy is at stake), and have a 21-match win streak dating back to this UAAP season and 24 over-all counting last year’s PCCL.  

Opinion: San Beda remains formidable

Opinion: San Beda remains formidable 
By Rick Olivares

Any talk that the San Beda Red Lions will no longer be a power in NCAA basketball are premature if not downright silly.

No Donald Tankoua. No Clint Doliguez. No AC Soberano. No Evan Nelle. They still crushed NCAA champions Letran (who were missing their own set of players but that isn’t the point here), 76-53 during the UAAP-NCAA Showdown. Then they took down a strong UST team with reigning UAAP Most Valuable Player Soulemane Chabi Yo, 77-68.

In the semi-finals, of the PCCL, they averted a disaster when they escaped a late University of the Philippines surge, 65-63, to enter the finals where they unfortunately, lost to Ateneo, 57-46.

Following their PCCL loss to Ateneo, the Red Lions players were so downcast. Almost as tough as when they lost to Letran in the last NCAA finals. Other teams might treat this as, “Ah, this is just the PCCL.” Not San Beda. Whether you admire that attitude or not, this will definitely serve as fuel, as motivation when the next season starts.

As it is, they will have some very good players in key positions. Calvin Oftana. For old-time Red Lions fans and followers, he plays like former star Elmer Reyes – that long rainbow of a shot, the ability to get the rim with the ball in the palm of his hands and he gently lays it in. Except, Oftana is taller, leaner, and more athletic. The man has PBA written all over him.

James Kwekuteye can play the one, two, and three spots. But he is more effective at the two. If he formed that exciting one-two punch with Nelle in the previous year, this time, it will be Oftana and himself. 

Ralph Penuela has returned after a year’s absence and the Red Lions felt his loss in last year’s campaign. He will be filling that spot vacated by Nelle. The problem is they did not anticipate Nelle bolting for La Salle. Now they have a depth problem at the one-spot where Prince Etrata is too small and at times overmatched. That doesn’t mean though that he cannot play it. He will need to improve with his speed and shooting.

Peter Alfaro is showing signs of why he was moved up from the Red Cubs’ ranks. In high school, he would spot up and shoot. Now, he is taking his game inside and is surprisingly a good rebounder.

They have JB Bahio is who underrated at the three and four and Franz Abuda who though known as a defensive stopper, can rebound, and even hit timely threes.

Kemark Cariño will play that center slot with help from Damie Cuntapay and Alex Visser.

They will have some help when Justine Sanchez, Yukien Adrada, and Rhayyan Amsali move up to the seniors ranks. 

While it isn’t as fearsome a five as San Beda has deployed for over a decade, these Red Lions will have to dig deep if they want to keep their spot as an elite team in the NCAA. They will win as a team with others playing key roles whether they fill in for a few minutes or two. They will win it by playing heads up defense.

Too often, the Red Lions do not get props for their work on the defensive end as they bristle with a lot of firepower. They are a very sound defensive team. As such, they remain the hunted. Every team will gun for them in what they think is an even playing field. Well, that remains to be seen.

But one thing they have going for them is many of their top NCAA foes have depleted line-ups – College of St. Benilde, San Sebastian, Lyceum of the Philippines, and Letran.

Furthermore, there is that championship pride. That hard-won experience of having played in countless finals gives them an edge; it might not be much, but it is an edge.

Their coaching staff knows they are in for a fight so they will need to address their line-up by the summer heading into the new NCAA season. Speaking of their coaching staff… that is a plus. The crew behind the team has been in place for a while. One might think that there is a sense of complacency. I assure you there is none. They have some top backroom people who know what they do and how to get the job done. There is nothing like knowing that a team is well-coached, well-prepared, and supported. That consistency in my book, makes for a huge advantage. 

Make no mistake though… the San Beda Red Lions… will be in the thick of the fight.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

My fave Drive to Survive Season 2 moments

My fave Drive to Survive Season 2 moments
By Rick Olivares

No sooner than Formula 1 Drive to Survive Season 2 was on Netflix, I binge watched it.

I have been a fan of Formula 1 racing sine I was a kid. It started out when my father took me to this car event in Makati back in the 1970s. A large stretch of Ayala Avenue was closed down for this car show/race and stunts (I cannot remember the name of the event for the life of me, but I do remember being transfixed by this yellow car that its rear raised and was doing stunts. 

I’ve been to a couple of F1 events and that’s in nearby Singapore (am thinking of going to the inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix in Hanoi this April but the Corona virus has me thinking several times over). I have followed the careers of Michael Schumacher, Mario Andretti, and Sebastian Vettel, and several years ago became a fan of Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo. 

Standing next to Ricciardo’s Formula 1 car on display prior during a European tour is such a fond memory. I saw both Vettel and Ricciardo race in that car!

As much as a fan I am, only twice in my life have I bought an F1 magazine. Seeing Drive to Survive on Netflix last year and the new Season 2 this year (detailing the 2019 season) has been a huge treat for F1 fans. Now, you get an insider’s look at what goes on behind each team and I have to admit that it’s even more riveting.

What I liked about Formula 1 Drive to Survive Season 2:

1.    Finally, Mercedes and Ferrari gave us an insider’s look. After not participating in Season 1, the top two constructors of the last several seasons have seen how this can really be a boon for their teams so they finally opened their paddocks, headquarters, and even homes up to Netflix.

Seriously. How can you not feature the best F1 driver of recent years and perhaps of all time in Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel?

It was nice to see what F1 great Niki Lauda meant to Mercedes, its principal owner Toto Wolff and Hamilton himself. 

2.    Redemption for Pierre Gasly. The Frenchman started out as the second driver for Red Bull Racing behind Max Verstappen who became the lead driver when Ricciardo bolted for Renault. Gasly was unable to perform and he was released in favor of young Thai-Briton, Alex Albon, who gave a very good account of himself. All this while losing his best friend, Frenchman Anthoine Hubert who was killed during a car crash during F2 racing at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Gasly returned to his former team, Toro Rosso, where he finished ninth in the driver’s rankings and second in the Brazilian Grand Prix.  

3.    More Guenther Steiner. The Italian motorsport engineer and manager for Hass racing was the unlikely star of Season 1 for his quick and acerbic wit and screen presence. And once more, underperforming driver Romain Grosjean is the target of his barbs; funny and all.
Best line? “We’re (Renault) not bankrupt. Well, not yet. It depends on how many cars you destroy this year.”

5.    Alex Albon’s call up. The man is so humble and likeable. Here’s a rising star who still lives with his mom and siblings.  

6.    Nico Hulkenberg’s trials. The driver with the longest tenure in F1 without a podium finish misses his one last chance for glory and is subsequently dropped for Esteban Ocon. Nico knows his shortcomings and handles it well in spite of being grilled by American kids prior to the American Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. By season’s end, he poses one last time with his Renault team that brings out Hulkenberg wigs for the photo op. It’s a nice touch. But bittersweet for the German.

7.    The podium celebration of Carlos Sainz. Gasly wasn’t the only one to get a podium finish in the final race of the year. Spaniard Sainz had a very good season and had several fourth place finishes. 

In Brazil, he finished fourth but was advanced to third when Lewis Hamilton was penalized for clumsily taking out Albon’s car. 

What makes this special was how the Netflix team captured Sainz’s nervousness waiting for the decision, the discussion of his manager with McLaren personnel about going to the podium that the latter deemed an act of desperation and celebrating with the whole team when the announcement was made that he is declared the third place finisher.

8.    Williams Racing at a crossroads. They were once on top of the F1 world, but have really but hard times. They have been terrible delivering substandard cars in spite of having good drivers. It was painful to see this team struggle as they missed two days of testing at Barcelona. And during the season, the car kept giving up on its drivers, the rising British driver George Russell and veteran Robert Kubica. This 2020 season is surely intriguing.

I’d say that this Netflix series is one of the best. Am looking forward to Season 3.