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 23, 2017

Covering the Premier League Asia Cup

Covering the Asia Cup
by rick olivares

I like the format of this Premier League Asia Trophy that features four squads. For one, fans can see four top football clubs compete instead of one team facing up against a national side of the home country. And second, it gives each team a little more time on ground rather than the frenetic pace of being in one country for a few days and they’re gone in a flash.

And this was a most enjoyable Asia Trophy coverage.

I can’t begin to tell you how exciting it was to be in a press conference with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. It isn’t my first though. I had that opportunity in Anfield last January 14, 2016 following a most memorable 3-3 draw with Arsenal. Joe Allen saved the day for the Reds with a late goal in stoppage time as the game was down to its last few seconds and the snow was falling all around. The dramatic finish and the weather conditions made even more surreal. That time, I was tongue tied and deferred to the British media. This time around in Hong Kong, I got to directly ask Klopp a question to which he answered most graciously.

In the pre-match pressers, there was Tony Pulis, Dutch football great Frank de Boer, Wes Morgan, Simon Mignolet, and gasp… well, even Jonny Evans.  And later on the pitch, you see players like Hal Robson-Kanu who scored one of the best goals of Euro 2016 with a Cruyff turn against three Belgian defenders for a Wales’ win. There were the Foxes who won the Premier League title two seasons ago.

I always admired Tony Pulis and how he builds small clubs who do not have the financial might of the bigger ones but they battle tooth and nail. I can imagine spending an afternoon with him talking football. I love the fact that he paid his respects to Hong Kong which holds a special place in his heart having played for Happy Valley early in his career and the money he earned there helped him get ready for his marriage.

As for the matches, the game between Leicester City and West Bromwich Albion went into a penalty shootout while Liverpool dusted off Crystal Palace, 2-nil to set up a finals with the former who they defeated 2-1 last Saturday evening. In both match days, the crowd was electric. I posted on social media that one these two nights, Hong Kong Stadium had turned into Anfield Far East.

I like the fact that Klopp told his players that the cheers and adulation they receive from the crowd and fans was because of what the former players did and how they paved the way for such a reaction. If they want to be the beneficiary of that too, then they must carve their names out on winners’ medals and trophies. That was a humbling statement.

The teams were in Hong Kong for a week and well, it made for a whole slew of activities and events. While it is always a concern for these long trips, it is a requirement for their corporate sponsors who shell out so much money to help the club with their operational expenses.

I have seen other clubs simply try to fulfill their end of the bargain and not show up. They are there physically but mentally you can see they aren’t. Years ago, a Korean crowd booed Barcelona not only for their boorish behavior but also for not sending their top players into the match when people paid a lot of money to watch. Even Leo Messi got booed. I even saw that with Liverpool a few years ago in Kuala Lumpur where they weren’t even smiling at all. I’d say that is because of the short in and out schedule of theirs.

Now this Asia tour for them, well, it was special. Unless they were faking their videos or pressers and interviews of which I think wasn’t the case. They obviously had a great time. Even in the post-Asia Trophy match game with Leicester City, Klopp bared that he flew in with not much expectations but he gushed over the support and hospitality. How many times did he say, “Thank you”?

I’ve seen Liverpool play 11 times across three continents. I came away happy to say that by sheer dumb luck, they have not lost any match where I was physically present. I am not saying I should be there for every game – unless I work for the club. It’s just a coincidence.

Said Mai Sangalang, Head of Corporate Affairs/Brand and Marketing: “Standard Chartered Bank’s sponsorship of the Liverpool FC dates back 2010 and we are pleased at how it connects with our clients and football fans around the world.  Liverpool FC is an iconic global brand with a long history and incredible following, a milestone we share with them. Standard Chartered Bank’s partnership with Liverpool FC also share the same commitment to give back to the community through our sustainability programmes and football clinics across our markets.  Through these, we get the opportunity to support communities and help children discover their abilities built on values and discipline.”

As always, I had fun. I’d really like to thank the Premier League and all the clubs; Liverpool of course; Standard Chartered with Mai Sangalang and Anne dela Torre who made this possible; and all the other regional journalists who I met and befriended along the way. Even June Mar Fajardo and Aerieal Patnongon who I got to hang out one evening in Tsim Sha Tsui (they were on a short vacation) – that was a bonus. It was a wonderful (in spite of the mostly inclement weather) five days in one of my favorite cities in the world where I got to watch my favorite football club in the world.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

June Mar Fajardo looks forward to FIBA Asia Cup campaign

June Mar Fajardo looks forward to FIBA Asia Cup campaign
by rick olivares

HONG KONG -- When Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner Chito Narvasa announced last Tuesday that PBA squads have agreed to release Gilas pool members to the national team that will compete for the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon this August, San Miguel Beermen center June Mar Fajardo, on vacation in Hong Kong with girlfriend Aerieal Patnongon felt that familiar wave of excitement.

On short vacation before San Miguel kicks off its Governors’ Cup campaign, the veteran national player bared his thoughts while going for early evening coffee with us at Ocean Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui.

“Oo masaya ako na kasama ako sa Gilas,” he said between sips of his coffee. “Hindi lahat nakakasama rito and sino ba may ayaw nasa ganitong sitwasyon? Iba yung pakiramdam. Siyempre kaibigan mo na mga nandito at ang hirap minsan pag-kalaban mo sila sa PBA. Dito sa national team magkakampi na kami. At iba yung challenges.”

Fajardo paused. Even with the limelight on him greater than ever, he expressed that he isn’t really comfortable speaking. “Pasensya na, hindi ako masalita. More sa laro. Sa San Miguel sila Alex (Cabagnot) at Arwind (Santos) yung mga nagsasalita. Sa Gilas, nandun naman sila Jayson (Castro) at Japeth (Aguilar). At dati, si Jimmy (Alapag). Si Jayson naman ang captain ball ng Gilas at alam niya na mga dapat sabihin. Pero suporta ako sa ano ang dapat namin gawin.”

Aside from representing the country in international competition – and fighting for slots to the FIBA World Cup and the Olympics – Fajardo looks back very fondly for it was in the 2013 FIBA Asia where he showed his potential. “Yung mga training namin sa ibang bansa at nakalaban namin mga malalaki – yun ang nakatulong sa akin,” he recalled. “Kung hindi ako lalaban; kung hindi ko gagawin ang trabaho ko ay walang mangyayari sa amin. So nabigyan ako ng pagkakataon at kumpiyansa ng mga coach. Medyo nasanay at nahasa at nadala ko sa PBA.”

Speaking of the goals of making it back to the FIBA World Cup and a long overdue return to the Olympics which is like a Holy Grail for Philippine basketball, falling short is motivation for the slotman. “Siyempre, motivation din sa amin at sa akin personally na makaabot sa Olympics at World Cup. Hindi madali. Sana, next time makuha namin. So good news yung galing kay Commissioner Narvasa.”

While Fajardo is dominant in the PBA, when it comes to international basketball, he is working on his perimeter shooting and agility to cope with the power and faster game.

“Malaking bagay yung perimeter shooting,” he pointed out by way of summation. “Lalo na malalaki yung kalaban na meron mga tira sa labas at experienced pa. Hindi naman lagi makaka-poste. Kailangan din meron tira sa labas. Kaya effective si Ranidel (De Ocampo). Alam na namin kung ano yung dapat i-work on namin practice sa court. Ikaw na mag-add ng kailangan kung mag-swimming, mag-gym para improve yung fitness and conditioning mo. Malaking tulong yan sa bayan.”

At our hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui

Early evening coffee at Ocean Centre

Thursday, July 13, 2017

All rise!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Mike Myers: From club to country

Mike Myers: From club to country
by rick olivares

Mike Myers flew into Manila as a possible replacement for injured Talk ‘N Text import Joshua King. Instead of leading the club to a PBA conference championship, he’s into something bigger than what he expected. The 6’8” Myers is now leading the Philippines in its gold medal bid in the upcoming 2017 William Jones Cup.

“I think helping the Philippine national team it’s a good opportunity,” said the Camden, New Jersey native. “In my life, you take all the opportunities that come your way. It’s simple – you do well and hope for even bigger ones.”

Myers went to college at Maryland Eastern Shore where he took up sociology. “Studying away from home prepares you for a life of a professional basketball player,” shared the man who says he is inspired by Kobe Bryant. “After he ended his college career in 2015, Myers played in Italy before hooking up with Talk ‘N Text and now the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas which recruited him to play for the nationals.

“It’s good and talented bunch,” said Myers of his teammates. “We’re just excited for this. It’s a new experience for me as well. I hope I can help.”

“When you’re young, you think of playing for the US national team. Now that’s not easy. Little did I know I’d be playing for another national team that is thousands of miles away. I just hope I can help.”