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.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The 2017 Blue Eagle Parents Talk Part 1

The 2017 Blue Eagle Parents Talk Part 1
by rick olivares

This is the third year that we’ve done this dinner with folks of the Blue Eagles. We didn’t get a lot like last time, but we got some of the new parents this time. We left out a lot of stuff that is not the concern of others. Suffice to know that this is the gist of it.

Who’s who:
Mike and Therese Verano.
Irene Tolentino
Carol Go
Gina Mamuyac
Jun and Tessie Tio

Venue: Backyard Inn at UP Town Center

Rick: Mike, how do you keep up with Raffy’s games and life?
Mike: When I watch his games on TV, I’m up til 3:30 in the morning. (laughter from all).
When I talk to my son, I don’t try to get into the nitty gritty. I just say, “you played well.” I don’t really say, “You messed up. You didn’t play well.” I just say, “Move forward.”

Rick: Irene shared this story the other year where they’d also be up at the same time as you and once, they were screaming and hollering and the neighbors thought there was a burglar. (laughter once more from all). You ever experience that? Do you shout?

(more laughter)

Mike: No. I just bang my head on the wall. (more laughter). When Raffy was growing up, I used to get so into it that it affects me. So what I did was I bought a video camera where I record all his games. So all I am looking at is the monitor of the camera. So I don’t get into the game as much. Fast forward now, the best I can do is bang my head on the headboard when there’s a bad play or misses his rotation. I just say, “What did you do? Then I bang my head.” (laughter)

Rick: Irene, it’s Vince’s last year. Does it make it any easier to watch now that it is his last year?

Irene: It’s not easy. (laughter from all). It’s even more difficult knowing that the games are getting more and more physical. Knowing what they have accomplished and what the other teams are doing to them, it’s harder. Lately, when I watch live now, I go out of the arena. I get so scared but I am super proud as a mom.

Rick: During the last game, Vince fouled out. He was obviously very frustrated.

When he fouled twice, I was outside. When he fouled out… what can you do? It happens.

Rick: Therese, Raffy had a rough start/ 
It’s crazier. I am crazier. Not only for Raffy but all the boys. The kids become your own kids. I am still animated and it gets more intense every year. When someone gets hurt, you also want to go down and see if they are okay or even help. Us as parents when they are all done, me and the other parents pagod din. I am so aliw how focused they are. When they are on the court, it’s pure business. Sometimes, you try to get their attention but wala. They are just focused.

Rick: Carol, Isaac has played to a higher level. How do you feel that people talk about him about his improvement? And how about that last game where he missed that last shot – is he fine?

Carol: To the last question, he was crushed but he recovered pretty fast. He had the assurances of his coaches and teammates. Everyone was supporting him. He has since moved on. In fact, I am the one worried for him.


As a mother, you cannot take away that feeling, how is my son? Is he all right? Isaac just said, I am fine, mom. He has to convince me. (laughter).

Rick: I thought it was a darn good play. (everyone agreed) Isaac just missed.

Mike: He was surprised that he was wide open.

Rick: O, Gina. Gian has played well. Were you surprised that he has done well? No ill effects of being on Team B?
Gina: Hindi naman. It’s all good. It served as good preparation for him because I don’t think he was ready last year. It feels good to see him get playing time and do well.

Rick: Let’s go to the Tios. During the past summer, Tyler told me that he was hoping there would be no more obstacles and that he can play. He wasn’t sure if he could go through another year and not play. Is it a relief for all of you?

Tessie: When it was happening we were so stressed. But when we look back at it, it is good because I don’t think he was prepared for it because the UAAP is different.

Rick: During the Filoil tourneys he showed glimpses.

Tessie: Yes, but iba yung UAAP. We know it is an adjustment phase.

Jun: It is part of the learning. After that first game, grabe yung expectations so there’s pressure on him. We tell him to relax and to enjoy the moment but he wants to contribute. He gets down about his poor play but everyone naman is doing their part to encourage him. At least, he remains grounded. His feet are planted on the ground.

Irene: You’re right, grabe yung pressure.

Jun: Tyler is feeling it. So we give him his space. He plays his PlayStation. It’s a coping mechanism for him. He wants to contribute so bad.

The funny thing is, hindi siya nag-ku-kuwento.

(everyone murmurs in agreement because they all experience the same).

Isang tanong, isang sagot. Only what you ask. Nothing more. No extra kuwento. So kami naman, siyempre we want to hear more but we give him his space. Maybe at some point, he will make kuwento. Kasi we want to know rin what is on his mind.

Therese: Yeah, it’s the same for me.

Irene: Ako rin! I understand that Vince wants to focus and concentrate, but as a mom, you cannot help but be thinking of your son.

Mike: We should trust the process. Just play your game.

Irene: But they cannot avoid it kasi – they want to contribute and they see others contributing. So he wants to help.

Rick: Thirdy Ravena struggled big time in his rookie year. (everyone agrees). Even Raffy struggled.

Therese: Raffy went through it too.

Mike: He (Raffy) was overthinking things. He was trying to hard and going beyond his comfort zone. As a result, he struggled. I told him to stick to what he does well.

As an athlete, all you can do is to focus on what you can do for your team and your game. People will say things but you have to block it out. And everyone will have an opinion there is nothing you can do but play through it.

Rick: For the newcomers, do you follow your son on social media? I recall Irene saying, she was a stalker. (laughter).

Therese: We are all stalkers. (laughter).

Gina; Yes!

Jun: Tyler’s mom follows everything – Facebook account, Twitter account, Instagram account – what else?

Tessie: I even follow his fans!

Irene: Me too! (laughter all around)

Tessie: And the fans are happy when I follow them, “Yehey, Mommy Tessie is following us.”

Jun: The boys don’t really read what others say but the moms do. (laughter so raucous)

Rick: What is the funniest thing you have read/ Hurtful? Meron na ba nag-propose online?

Irene: Wala pa naman! (laughter)

Gina: When they have a good game and my son has a good game, there are a lot of comments. Kami even at work, we all look at Twitter and others. Gian says, Ma, don’t read that stuff. But kami we keep reading it. Nakakatuwa rin.

Rick: Carol, after that last game (against La Salle) did you look online?

Carol: I didn’t look but I always ask what do they say.

Mike: I don’t stalk Raffy like my wife does. (laughter) But I follow him. I am proud when people follow him and say good things about him. So far, wala naman negative things. It is also my way of following what he is doing.

Like yesterday, it was Raffy’s birthday, so a lot of people paid homage and gave encouragement. And that makes me as a father feel good. We tell our children time and again, you treat people the way you want to be treated. Luckily, we have good kids.

Gina: One time, nag-Google ako and this was the time of the Batang Gilas and Steph Curry events and of course, you feel proud.

Jun: Ako, I just share pictures and articles. But I am not much into Twitter or Instagram.

Rick: Oh, how was that loss to La Salle?

Mike: I was relieved. It would have been nice to get it but the pressure would mount. If they won, it would be a step-ladder format and it might take them some time before they get into active competition. We all saw what happened to Lyceum and well, maybe it’s for the best because now, they know what they need to adjust. What they need to fix and correct. The loss gives them time to refocus. Masakit pero okay lang.

Irene: Sayang but it is a better scenario for them. Vince felt bad but he has since recovered. The championship is more important. After they saw what happened to Lyceum, they were all saying, Ma, we’re in a better place. The championship means a lot to him because it is something he can be proud of and look back at.

Rick: Are there any superstitions among the parents?

(laughter all around)

Irene: We parents move around when things aren’t right. (laughter). We switch chairs and positions. During the UP game, I was sitting on one end and the next the other way.

Mike: My wife is so superstitious. She does something that she feels the team will do better. When she finds that position, she will not move. Kung puwede, she will be frozen in time. (laughter).

Irene: During the last game, I told my sister, diyan ka muna, dito ako.

Jun: Therese, your secret has come out. (laughter)

Tessie: This is the first time, I sat up stairs.

Gina: Puno kasi.

Tessie: Sabi namin, baka itong seat na ‘to puwede na.

Irene: During games when my song steps in, nagdadasal na ako. When he’s sitting down, I’m calm. Yeah. (laughter)

Tessie: You can enjoy the game when your son is sitting down. When he is playing, you want him to do so well for himself of course. I get nervous.

When my husband and my other son they watch, wala lang. Kami mga moms, naku…. We get worked up. (laughter).

Therese: Minsan, galit galit muna ha.

Gina: We wear the same clothes. Kung talo, that’s when we change.

Rick: So for 13 straight games same clothes suot niyo.

Tessie: Of course. But siyempre, we wash our clothes muna. Just to be clear. (laughter).

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

AL Rookie of the Year. Give Aaron Judge the MVP Award too.

Monday, November 13, 2017

UP’s Rob Ricafort and slaying his Goliaths

UP’s Rob Ricafort and slaying his Goliaths
by rick olivares

Rob Ricafort isn’t going to forget that day. It was September 23, 2017. The University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons were going to play the mighty De La Salle Green Archers in the main match of a double header at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Earlier, his lawyers were able to secure a temporary restraining order on the UAAP’s ruling that Ricafort not suit up. Because he was turning 25 during the scholastic year (but not during the men’s basketball tournament).

During UP’s customary pre-game ritual, head coach Bo Perasol assigns the prayer leader by the jersey number. Yet on that day, everyone seemed to grasp the moment. “Rob, you lead the prayer,” quite a few people enthused.

Ricafort obliged but in his mind wondered what to say. Here’s a 24-year old kid who bounced around, made some bad decisions in his young life, and found a lifeline at State U. When the UAAP Eligibility Board initially denied his slot on the team, Ricafort found himself depressed beyond belief. “Just when I started to straighten out my life, basketball which is like a lifeline for me, was being taken away,” Rob recalled himself thinking.

During his prayer, Ricafort likened UP’s match against the defending champions like David against Goliath. It was like that for himself too. Battling a drug addiction (he has long since been rehabilitated) and all sorts of problems a young man shouldn’t have to go through in the best of their growing up years, Ricafort had found himself bouncing back. “I had a bunch of Goliaths for problems,” he said. “But we can be Davids too.”

The Fighting Maroons, if you want to use a biblical analogy, slew the Goliath, a 98-87 triumph, that was the highlight of the season for UP. And when Ricafort was called by Perasol to enter the game at the 7:54 mark of the second period – yes, Rob knows what time it was so well – he told himself: “Don’t look at the crowd. Control your emotions.”

Rob couldn’t believe he was checking into the game. He had long wished to play ball as he was a teammate of Kiefer Ravena in Ateneo. He didn’t make it and he moved to San Beda, La Salle, to the US, and even suited up for two months for NU in a non-UAAP league before finding a home in UP.

“The first time I got the ball (off a feed by Paul Desiderio), I saw Ben Mbala come up to meet me and I just threw up the ball and missed,” recalled Ricafort. “The second time, Paul once more found me and this time it was Andrei Caracut chasing me and he slipped. I laid the ball in and tried to act as if nothing had really happened. But my heart was swelling. My mind was racing and my heart was pounding.”

Ricafort scored only two points and issued one assist in 10 minutes of play. “It was a good 10 minutes that I will never forget,” he thought back.

One month and 18 days later, on November 11 to be exact. The Fighting Maroons took down National University, 106-81, to give themselves a sliver of hope of forging a playoff for the fourth and last Final Four seat. As fate for have it, the FEU Tamaraws defeated a hobbled Adamson squad squelching UP’s dreams.

At the time of the Adamson-FEU match, the UP team had dinner at the nearby North Park restaurant monitoring the game. Everyone was rooting for Adamson to win. By midway through the fourth and final quarter, it was evident that FEU wasn’t going to fade. With two minutes to go and more and more likely a Tamaraw victory, the Fighting Maroons got up and gave one another hugs and back slaps. Some pictures were taken and words of encouragement passed around.

“It didn’t sink it yet that our season was over,” thought Rob. “We were still dealing with the high of winning against NU. But it was our last.”

Just as he did in his UAAP debut, Ricafort finished with two points – in a win. He only suited up for eight matches with an average of four minutes of action averaging 0.5 points and 0.9 rebounds. Hardly any stats to set the world on fire. However, you have to consider the roller coaster ride of emotions that eroded his confidence. After the 20-day TRO had elapsed, Ricafort and his UP lawyers as well as the league underwent a marathon session to finalize the decision on whether to allow Ricafort to play. The judge of course, made a decision in Ricafort’s favor.

“At first, people would tell me everything would be all right, but I had to worry about UP forfeiting its wins where I played. And of course, there was my mindset and confidence that really took a toll on me. It was very difficult.”

The kid who had played so well before that he even got some notices from US schools (when he moved to America) was a shell of his former self. “Coach Bo (and my teammates as well as UP management) really stuck to me and gave me all the encouragement I needed. But it’s hard when you do not know if you’ll ever play again.”

However, more than basketball, Ricafort has his life back. The demons that haunted him during his younger days are now at bay. He’s graduating in a couple of years and has most recently applied for the D-League Draft. “I didn’t get to show what I could really do, but I am grateful for the chance. How many people get to play for UP and in the UAAP? Plus, I like to think that I was a part of something good; a team that gave UP students and alumni something to cheer for. And well, I’ll finish my schooling and work on getting better to try for the PBA. Everything that has happened – including the bad – I would not trade it for anything else. Because I learned from it. It was hard and maybe even a bit later than I hoped. But what is important I have hope and I have put my life back on track.”

And now, he’s got another Goliath (fighting for a D-League slot and finding a team) to slay.

“’Game on’, is all I can say,” Rob Ricafort says.

Looking at Ateneo’s loss to La Salle

Looking at Ateneo’s loss to La Salle
by rick olivares

The De La Salle Green Archers defeated the Ateneo Blue Eagles, 79-76 by blanking the latter in the last 2:25 to ensure a Final Four instead of Ateneo going straight to the Finals.

For La Salle, it shows Ateneo that they aren’t as invincible as they think. Two, it re-affirms their belief that they are still the top dogs in the league until taken down. It helps give Kib Montalbo much needed confidence – as if he needed it – heading into the UAAP’s second season. It also does the same for Abu Tratter who for the most part this season was the forgotten man with Leonard Santillan taking over his starting slot with aplomb.

For Ateneo, there is much to learn.

There are a couple of ways you can look at the loss – one, it does keep you active with no particular extended rest that could result in rust. Two, the streak ended and the pressure of keeping it going has been lifted. Three, you adjust from this loss.

You have to give the Green Archers credit for their defensive stops in the final 2:25 as Ateneo suddenly became uncharacteristically shaky in the crunch time. They also shot themselves in the foot with shocking turnovers.

Let’s hold that thought so we can go back at the start.

Both teams threw double teams at certain players.

Ateneo threw a double team at Ben Mbala while La Salle had two players on Matt Nieto to give up the ball.

Both strategies worked up to certain points but Mbala ultimately came out on to as he got the job done on both ends of the court and in the crunch. What a stat line – 28 points, 19 rebounds, 6 steals and 6 blocks (versus 5 turnovers).

La Salle’s press mostly did not work. What worked for them was the unconventional lineup that worked in the second period for a stretch. At one point, La Salle had Ben Mbala, Abu Tratter, and Justine Baltazar on the floor. It worked for a bit as Thirdy Ravena was rather careless in bringing up the ball. Imagine that. He got picked off twice by Mbala. Come on.

I am rather surprised they didn’t expect this. La Salle used that strategy against UP and UE in this second round.

Ateneo adjusted come the third period killing that tall line-up with Mbala going out for the aggressive show. Isaac Go and a few others scored inside giving La Salle fits. What they did later on was put Tratter out and hope that his athleticism and wingspan could trouble Ateneo’s shooters while Mbala stayed inside the lane.

In the first period, Santillan led the hit parade after which he turned it over to Mbala for the second period scoring. Ricci Rivero was shut down in the meantime.

Ateneo got its points from Matt Nieto and Isaac Go but Thirdy, Aaron Black, Anton Asisitio (who hasn’t played well in a while now), and Mike Nieto looked out of focus. Ravena got going in the second half but Mike Nieto never got going. Furthermore, Chibueze Ikeh and Vince Tolentino were in foul trouble.

To be honest, I am kind of surprised that Tyler Tio has not seen one second of action in both Ateneo-La Salle matches. I am not convinced of Jolo Mendoza or Gian Mamuyac’s ball handling skills (they struggle when bringing it up all the way from the backcourt). Just my thought but Ateneo could use Tyler come the next few games. He just needs to dribble less and make quicker decisions. I understand it is all part of the learning curve this being his first season.

I am sure though there is a reason why he is being held back. Trust the Ateneo coaching staff after all, they’ve done a great job these past two campaigns.

Now there was a stretch where Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin went with Gian Mamuyac, Kris Porter, and Jolo Mendoza in the fourth period and they hiked the lead to 66-54. Under withering assault from the defending champs, Ateneo still held firm, although the lead was sliced to six, 71-65, with 5:29 to play.

With 2:25, Ateneo led, 76-69, then Thirdy committed an offensive foul, Matt Nieto’s lazy pass was picked off by Rivero. And Go was whistled for traveling.

Was the final play good? Sure, it was. Isaac just missed. If he made it, Baldwin would once more be hailed as a genius (as if he isn't).

What La Salle got right was they shackled Matt Nieto in the fourth period where he has burned opponents. Matt had one attempt (he missed) and one rebound. That’s it. Not counting the costly turnover. By game’s end, La Salle scored six turnover points in the fourth period to Ateneo’s two. That was the difference right there.

In contrast, La Salle’s top two players in crunch time got going – Ricci Rivero had 12 points in the fourth while Mbala added 7.

I have always postulated --- even going back to last season – if Ateneo wants to take the title, Ikeh needs to play well. The Big Fella has been all right this season. His finest since his rookie year of Season 77. But he was in foul trouble during the game.

One can make the case for the officiating but both sides saw bum calls. And in spite of that, Ateneo still had a chance to win but they botched it.

Having said all of that, you have to like how Raffy Verano, giving up some height, gamely battled on. Ditto with Vince Tolentino in limited minutes. Even Kris Porter, usually overmatched, gave an okay account of himself.

What do the Blue Eagles need to do? They need to get Asistio untracked. They need Mike Nieto chipping in quality minutes. And Ravena needs recognize that La Salle knows what he is going to do when he spins in that lane (actually last year pa nila alam) and when he needs to pick up the pace.

It’s a tough loss but the team should take comfort that sweeps are never Ateneo’s best suit in the UAAP. Ateneo ended La Salle’s dreams of an undefeated season last year by shocking them in the second round. The Green Archers paid the favor. Now the onus is on the Blue Eagles to adjust and see off FEU, first.

As for La Salle, they are in familiar territory in the Final Four. The question is… how much has Adamson grown in the last year? Can they bring it against La Salle?