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, April 23, 2017

Welcome BaliPure Version 2.0

BaliPure Version 2.0
by rick olivares

Welcome to the BaliPure Water Defenders. Version 2.0.

Practice isn’t held at the Blue Eagle Gym. Instead it’s 15 kilometers away at the San Sebastian Gym along the University Belt in Manila.

These Water Defenders have some familiar faces. Former outside hitter Grethcel Soltones and libero Alyssa Eroa are back. Both were a part of the very first BaliPure squad after which they decamped for the Laoag Power Smashers in last year’s season-ending conference. They’re back now along with team managers Gil Cortez and Paulo Turno but that’s about it.

If you’re looking for an Ateneo connection because the old ones were dripping with it. well, there a few traces left.

Aside from the team owner, Tito Panlilio, who once played for the Blue Eagles in the NCAA, and Cortez nearly suited up for the Blue Eagles, and Turno who went to college at the Ateneo de Manila…. there’s the new head coach is the former Lady Eagles mentor, Roger Gorayeb. That’s it.

On a rainy Friday night, the new Water Defenders are engaged in drills at the San Sebastian Gym. When they practiced in Ateneo, it was under all those championship banners won by their basketball teams. While San Sebastian has its own championship pedigree in basketball with 12 NCAA seniors crowns, the ones that dominate the school’s athletic history are their men’s and women’s volleyball teams.

The other banners listing the titles won by the school’s varsity squads have been taken down for the moment. The only one up that Friday night was their women’s volleyball squad – 24 championships. But none since the 2010-11 season. They lost in the last three finals.

It’s a reminder both good and bad for BaliPure’s Gorayeb, Soltones, and Eroa who ended up on that losing side. They aren’t alone as Gorayeb’s BaliPure players from National University – Aiko Urdas, Jorelle Singh, Jasmine Nabor, and Risa Sato are still fresh from their poor UAAP outing.

“Motivation to for all of us,” succinctly put Soltones. “We all have to move on from our difficulties and lowest moments. Ganyan naman ang life, it gives you opportunities na makabawi.”

The team is nowhere a finished product. There are a couple of players from the University of Batangas trying out. They either play the open or utility position. The shoo-ins seem to have locked down those spots – Soltones, Urdas, and Singh. They have a top setter in Nabor who will forego surgery on her knee until after the conference. They have some two darn good liberos in Lizlee Ann Gata and Eroa. The middle position will find Risa Sato and Macy Mendiola but that’s it so far. And the team (as of Friday) still did not have its imports.

A planned team building session was scrapped because the team isn’t complete yet and it defeats the purpose.

“Building a team is a challenge,” said Turno while taking in the practice from a nearby desk. The assistant team manager was referring to the constant line-up changes. During the first conference, the Water Defenders’ offense was Soltones, Dzi Gervacio, and Alyssa Valdez. By the third conference, Valdez was with the Bureau of Customs squad and Soltones with Laoag. Now, Gervacio is with the Perlas Lady Spikers as is almost the entire former BaliPure roster.

“Previously, we weren’t too engaged in the formation of the team aside from sponsoring it. Without our former team, we’ve had to do everything ourselves,” clarified Turno. “Birth pains. So we build on this.”

The Water Defenders twice placed third last season.

This year, the expectations are a little different.

“Hindi naman kami all-star team like Pocari,” noted Gorayeb. “We were only organized a few weeks ago and we still do not have a complete line-up. Work in progress kami. Siyempre, lalaban kami. Ayaw naman namin magpabugbog. Pero it also depends sa imports na makukuha. Kung all-Filipino, eh, may laban. But in an import-laden tournament, mahirap unless you get the right one.”

For Soltones who won the Most Valuable Player Award for BaliPure’s maiden conference, the Open Conference, it’s an exciting challenge. “We’re like a new team with a few veteran and young players. For us to challenge, we hope that the imports we get will help out. For me though, opportunity. Am happy to be back in BaliPure and to play with other players like Jasmine Nabor who showed what she could do last year.”

For Nabor, BaliPure is her first club squad. After a disappointing end to National University’s UAAP season, she’s hoping for a good PVL tournament to erase the stigma. “Ayoko na mag-isip ng mga nangyari. Siyempre, disappointing. Pero good vibes na lang. Alam ko na hindi madali so manage expectations and work hard lang. Pero exciting.”

“If we had the old team together, we can build on the pair of third place finishes. But this is an entirely different team. Building from scratch. So we take it from there,” summed up Turno.

It’s a rainy night in Manila, Friday night. But if you listen closely to the sounds emanating from the six floor, the players are hollering during practice. They’re working to get into game shape and into mental shape as some try to shed any memories of recent ill fortune.

Different but same team. Different but the same old challenges. That’s it.

Welcome the 2017 BaliPure Water Defenders. Version 2.0.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

An Easter Reflection (the Pope, sports, and the world today)

Top to bottom clockwise: The Jackie Robinson statue outside Dodger Stadium, Pope Francis, a Pakistani female footballer (from Benjamin Zand's report), and Mashal Khan who was killed by a mob.

An Easter Reflection
by rick olivares

In his Easter Sunday, April 16, message to the faithful, Pope Francis reminded all to recall “the risen Christ” and not to ignore the plight of those seeking refuge from war, hunger, poverty, and social injustice.

A timely and pressing message in this day and age. Rising above it. Boy, do I know all about that. And how.

How poignant is the day?

Coincidentally and interestingly, on the same day, in the United States -- 12-15 hours behind us in the Philippines -- it was the 20th Anniversary of the league-wide retirement of Jackie Robinson’s #42.

April 15, 1947 was the day where Robinson smashed the color barrier when he played first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers to begin a trying but ultimately remarkable 10-year career in Major League Baseball. Twenty years ago, the late Robinson’s number was retired from use from all professional baseball teams. It was a decree that was well met by both teams and their fans.

Thousands of miles away, British Broadcasting Corporation reporter Benjamin Zand’s photo and video report about Karachi, Pakistan, was posted on the broadcaster’s website. Zand met up with some forward thinking people working to remove the stain of the Taliban and violence in that country and to make Pakistan a better place.

In his report, Zand reported about the plight of female footballers who aren’t only widely accepted but have to deal with the violent backlash by the Taliban. Noted Zand, “However, those working towards reform, including members of the nation’s growing music community, feel that the reward is worth the risk.”

Imagine that? Your life is at risk for playing a game of football? All because some people would rather have you live like a stone aged hermit?

I think these two matters – an event and a report – distinctly unrelated yet are so important to the next step we the human race take especially with the world a more dangerous place today.

Especially for Pakistan that is still reeling from the death of college student Mashal Khan last Friday, April 14, at the hands of a mob that blamed him for blasphemous comments about Islam on social media. As investigations have shown, the Facebook comments that was allegedly posted by Khan, is fake. The Facebook page has since been mysteriously taken down. No doubt, the it was a deliberate attempt to blackmail him following the student’s complaints surrounding mismanagement of Abdul Wali Khan University by certain officials. And whoever put up the fake account achieved their nefarious and malicious intentions because Khan was killed at the hands of a brutal and mindless mob that never bothered to check the veracity of the reports.

The extreme times we live in are dangerous. It’s difficult to filter the demoralizing news that never seems to run out and I find myself reading with great interest a CNN International report that asks, “Can Dubai become the world’s happiest city?”

It’s odd that this city created out of a desert is bent on transforming Dubai into a smart and happy city. I, who eschew emojis as a means of showing my feelings, wonder if these digital icons can indeed bring good cheer in an otherwise insane world.

And that brings me back to Pope Francis’ message of “rising above it” and to “have hope” as personified by Jesus Christ’s resurrection. And we as individuals and as a people should “break down all the walls that keep us locked in our sterile pessimism, in our carefully constructed ivory towers that isolate us from life, in our compulsive need for security and in boundless ambition that can make us compromise the dignity of others."

The Pope also denounced the systems and bureaucracies "that strips them (people) of their rights and shatters their dreams."

And the message is crystal clear – to break down the walls just as Robinson did and to battle of systems and bureaucracies that shatter dreams like the female footballers in Karachi.

Life is tough. We make sacrifices. We break down And we do what we can.

As Zand put it congruently, the rewards are great.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Looking at Ateneo’s taking the top spot after the volleyball elims

Looking at Ateneo’s taking the top spot after the volleyball elims
by rick olivares

The Ateneo Lady Eagles sure teach a timeless lesson about patience, trust, and well, heartstrong.

The four-set win over La Salle to close out the elimination round and seize the top seed heading into the final four is one such reminder.

Mastery is important because it gives you a mental edge that is crucial especially against a superb rival. The two elimination round wins over La Salle were crafted in similar fashion. The first round saw Ateneo come back from five and four points down with the Lady Archers a point or two away from closing out the first two sets. The just-concluded second round battle (12-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-19) saw the Lady Eagles start agonizingly slow and seemingly disjointed then pick it up. By the fourth set, they were rolling.

When next they play La Salle, they’ll have their foes thinking all the time that the Lady Eagles can and have come back so many times. Resiliency is perhaps Ateneo’s biggest trait these past four years.

With both teams already in the Final Four and having secured the twice-to-beat advantage over the third and fourth seeds, this was nothing more than a battle for pride. Sure it is. It always is. But you definitely want to go into the next round with a win. A feel good win if nothing more.

The Lady Eagles gave cause to doubt after the Lady Archers rolled all over them in the first set. There were reception problems and even more mystifying attacking concerns. Unlike in the first round where La Salle danced, celebrated exuberantly, and stared daggers from across the net, this time, they were a little more subdued in their celebration. After they fell in the second and third set, the smiles were pretty much gone.

The match won on pure grit. One point at a time, with increasingly better defense and then with the whole team, save for the injured Jhoana Maraguinot, contributing. Bea De Leon was a sparkplug with her huge points and display of emotion. Katrina Tolentino struggled all match long but she still factored in. Mich Morente once more scored in double figures in points, digging, and receiving – underscoring her all-around game.

That head coach Anusorn Bundit was willing to insert Ponggay Gaston in the starting six (and she chipped in a point) then later put in Deanna Wong, Jules Samonte, and Jamie Lavitoria at crucial junctures underscored the trust between coaching staff and the players, as well as the depth of the squad.

It was especially gratifying for Lavitoria, who had rocky season 78, entered with two points to win a set and she served admirably well.

Samonte played long minutes and had her best match of the season. In many ways, I am reminded of Bea De Leon’s rookie season where she gave a good account of herself during the previous V-League Collegiate Conference then parlayed it into a strong first UAAP campaign.

This is perhaps the best Ateneo has had in the middle position that was long their weakness. Think of the core that Bundit rotates there – De Leon, Maddie Madayag, Ana Gopico, and Samonte – and see what a luxury he has right there.

Bundit himself deserves plaudits for the strategy of slowly bringing in Gopico into competitive play. Gopico last played three years ago, had a good V-League season, then has come on strong this second round. Madayag also came in and delivered some hits and big time serves. Bundit has brought into play this Final Four a fully confident bunch.

The fourth year tactician stuck to a short rotation in the first round before slowly rotating in the bench. Furthermore, I sure appreciate his gesture towards his La Salle opposite Ramil De Jesus when he apologized for a bad call that went Ateneo’s way.

Can the defending champions beat Ateneo?

Of course. They have a very good team with four players who are arguably the best in their positions starting with Kim Fajardo and Dawn Macandili along with Mary Joy Baron and Kim Dy. They have capable players in Desiree Cheng, Tin Tiamzon, Aduke Ogunsanya, May Luna, and Michelle Cobb.

They have a top notch coach in De Jesus and a fantastic program and support system. They were points away from taking certain sets that could have swayed the match in an altogether different direction. Except it didn’t.

The reason why I think they’ve struggled is they have crucial pieces who are still lacking in big game experience – Tiamzon, Ogunsanya, and well, Cobb for obvious reasons.

Ateneo in the meantime has a huge core that has big game experience – Jia Morado, De Leon, Madayag, Morente, Gizelle Tan, Jhoana Maraguinot, Kim Gequillana, Ana Gopico, and Jamie Lavitoria. That’s an awful lot. Nine players.

While both Far Eastern University and the University of Santo Tomas are no pushovers for Ateneo and La Salle respectively, if form and relative strength play true to its trend, Ateneo and La Salle should meet for the sixth consecutive time in the UAAP Women’s Volleyball Finals. But that’s a game or two away.

In the meantime, that last Ateneo-La Salle match gives everyone, both teams and their different Final Four protagonists a lot to think about. There will be winners and well, losers, but the ultimate winner is the sport and their fans.