Oh, no! It’s a Boston vs. Oklahoma final?

Who would have thought. Who’d have guessed. Who’d have expected that, with all eyes focused on The Favored Two, that The Forgotten Two will meet in the NBA Finals. No, it’s not over yet. And, no, I have nothing against the Celtics and the Thunder. But, who’d have predicted such an ending?

I bet even the two Kevins are surprised. Yes, that’s Durant and Garnett—long lost Kevin brothers—who, after their teams were forgotten when they trailed 0-2, are now just 48 minutes away from meeting each other.

Kevin and Kevin. Nice starring names, no? What a true-to-life, the-ball-is-round and anything-can-happen scenario. This upset in the making has upset all kinds of predictions. But, just like our conversation 48 hours ago with Coach Yayoy Alcoseba, the home-court advantage both Boston and Oklahoma enjoy are not advantages—unless they take advantage of it today and tomorrow.

This is why the most thrilling type of entertainment is still the same. It’s these very pages that you’re reading. Sports. Anything can happen. Chris Bosh returns and loses. The San Antonio Spurs are on a 20-game winning streak and they lose three straight. Paul Pierce, relegated to a improbable one-on-one match up with LeBron James, fires a three-point shot (in LBJ’s face!) with seconds left to win Boston the Game 5.

Isn’t this entertainment—Sports—incomparable? We never know the ending. We still don’t. If the Spurs win today and the Heat scorch the Celtics tomorrow, the momentum shifts to the other side. The pendulum will swing. If. This is why the word “momentum” is so important. When you’re riding that rolling ball and it keeps on turning and gaining speed, don’t stop. Pedal faster.

My predictions? I pity LeBron. Since last year, he’s been castigated. He’s a nice fellow. He just got wrong advice last year (trumpeting his transfer from Cleveland to Miami). I hope the Heat win tomorrow and make it. I cannot imagine the pain LeBron will suffer if he loses again this 2012. OKC and SAS? I want a Game 7.

FRENCH OPEN. So far, Rafael Nadal has looked invincible. Out of the seven years that he’s played in Roland Garros, he’s won six. Three nights ago against clay-court specialist Juan Monaco, he won, 6-2, 6-0, 6-0. Nadal is tenacious and relentless. He sprints like Usain Bolt but runs for hours like a Kenyan. He’s left-handed. His topspin is heavy with lots of extra allowance over the net. If God created Michael Phelphs for the pool, He molded Nadal for the clay court.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic? The two are still alive. They’ll play in the semi-finals tomorrow. Novak escaped from four match points down against Tsonga and won. Federer was down two-sets-to-love against Del Potro and won. Roger and Novak—plus Rafa—are the best because of one reason: their mind. Sure, tennis often lasts five sets and is physically tiresome. But it’s all-mental. And, mentally, the world’s top three are strongest.

Ladies? I hope Maria wins. Because while Sharapova has won the three other Grand Slam titles (Wimbledon, the U.S. and Australian Opens), she has yet to win on the red clay of Paris. The 6-foot-2, 130-lb. Floridian will have an easy path. Serena is out. Li Na is out. So is Azarenka.

BRADLEY-MANNY. Sylvan “Jack” Jakosalem, the former City Councilor and now-CITOM chairman, is an astute boxing observer. Commenting on the fight this Sunday, he said: “I watched two full fights of Timothy Bradley (v. Casamayor and Devon Alexander) plus many highlights. He’s got excellent defense and a very strong chin, which are the major reasons why he’s undefeated. He also has power but lacks the speed. But what Pacman should watch for are his head-butts because he likes to lunge forward with his head. If Pacman can restore himself to his condition when he fought Cotto and Margarito, then it’s TKO by the 10th. But if he gets to play it too safe like in the Marquez fight, then its Unanimous Decision. But for sure it’s Pacman!”

NBA’s Final Four: Game 5 winners to advance

It’s now best-of-three. When the San Antonio Spurs clobbered the Oklahoma City Thunder, 2-0, in their first home-court games, and when the Miami Heat were too hot for the Boston Celtics and also won their two games in Florida, everybody proclaimed the same NBA Finale: Miami-San Antonio.

Oops. Not too fast. Kevin and Kevin have other plans. That’s Kevin Durant, the 6-foot-9 forward of OKC, and Kevin Garnett of Boston, who stands 6’11”. These two led their squads to winning their past two games apiece—and shifting the Final Four’s momentum.

My prediction? Simple. The winners today and tomorrow will meet in the Finals. Today, it’s SA vs OKC. Tomorrow, it’s MH vs. BC.

“The pressure is on San Antonio and Miami,” said the winningest basketball coach in all of Cebu, Raul “Yayoy” Alcoseba. “Oklahoma and Boston won the last two games, so the momentum shifts to them. On the other hand, it’s back home for the Spurs and the Heat. So this is evenly balanced.”

Yayoy’s prediction? Same. The Game 5 winners will advance. If we study the past eight playoff games, each game was won by the team at home. That’s 8-0.

While I thought that Cebu City Councilor Alcoseba will attribute a huge percentage of victories to “home-court advantage,” he said otherwise. “Sure, it’s a plus,” he said. “The crowd is loud. You’re home. You’re comfortable. But these teams have been traveling back and forth. It’s no guarantee of winning. You still have to play hard to win. I say it’s only a five percent advantage factor.”

Yayoy’s team-to-win surprised me. Because while all point to a San Antonio-Miami ending, he chooses Oklahoma. “I’m rooting for these guys because they’re young. I like the trio of Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Look what happened in the last game. Westbrook made only seven points but he made all the difference. He didn’t force his shots. He was able to pass to his teammates who, in turn, scored,” he said.

“The Spurs have to win today. If they lose, Oklahoma will finish it in Game 6. Same with Miami tomorrow. The pressure is intense.”

Alex Rañola speaks on Badminton

I got a response yesterday from Alex Rañola, a good friend and one of Cebu’s pioneers (and best players) in badminton. Here’s Alex:

“The direction now of the Philippine Badminton Association, headed by no less than Vice President Jojimar Binay and MVP, Manny V. Pangilinan, with Sec. Gen., Rep. Alby Benitez, is to produce world-class badminton athletes for the London Olympics (which we did not qualify yet) and other future international tournaments.

“PBA also hired former Olympic Gold Medalist (men’s doubles) Rexy Menaiky of Indonesia to train our national athletes. He was tasked to go around the country to scout for young potentials to be trained in Manila together with the National Players. So, parents, watch out for the dates when Rexy will visit your province!

“They launched the PBARS Tournament nationwide since the last 2 years to scout for local champions to be rated with points and assigned a permanent PBARS  number for the ranking. Whoever lands in the top 3 will be trained and will represent the Philippines for all international tournaments.

“As an update of the latest National PBARS tournament, the undefeated Tony Gadi still holds the record for the Men’s Singles in the Cebu Leg which was held at Metrosports last May 24. If anyone wishes to get updates on the rankings for all levels, please visit my office for a free Phil. Badminton Magazine. We are on the 20th issue this month! Grab one today.

“In Cebu, we have Ed Hayco who heads the CCSC. It’s function is to scout for local talents in all major sports. The local venue is at the old San Nicolas Gymnasium which is located in Pasil, San Nicolas for those who are interested to be trained for free. I am not sure though if Ed got a new recruit/volunteer trainer for Badminton after our last conversation last year.

“Finally, for everybody: You do not play Badminton to be fit. You have to be fit to play Badminton!”

Chester’s bold analysis: Spurs will cool the Heat

Few people love basketball as much as Chester Cokaliong. The CEO of Cokaliong Shipping owns a full-court at the uppermost floor of his Reclamation Area building. He’s Cebu’s undisputed 3-point king. Trophies? He has more hardware than Shewak’s.

“The NBA Championship is being played right now,” said Chester. “Whoever wins the Western Conference Finals between the Spurs and the Thunder will win the title.”

That’s fearless. That’s bold. Miami Heat? LeBron, Dwayne and, when he’s back, the third member of the Avengers… Bosh? Aren’t they the favorites? Since last season? And more so, this 2012? Not with Chester, who monitors the games nightly from his home via the NBA Premium HD channel on SkyCable.

“Without Chris Bosh of Miami, the Spurs will prevail. There’s no center. And even if Bosh is back, he won’t be in tiptop condition. He’ll have a hard time with Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter.”

Chester predicts that, granted that both San Antonio and Miami meet in the Finals, it will be a 4-2 score for the Spurs without Bosh; with him, it will go to Game 7 with the win for SA.

“The Spurs have home-court advantage,” he said. “That’s a big factor.” Another reason why Chester is confident: “Miami doesn’t have a deep bench. They even narrowly escaped Indiana.”

With the 36-year-old Duncan, Chester is all praises for NBA’s Coach of the Year, Gregg Popovich. “He rests Duncan so he can play in the last six minutes. He doesn’t overtire him. He doesn’t want him injured.”

LAKERS. Last February 20 was a special day for Chester. It was his birthday. It was also his Silver Wedding Anniversary with his wife, Anna Lynne. How did they celebrate this twin milestone?

“We went to watch the L.A. Lakers versus Portland Trail Blazers at the Staples Center. Before that, we spent several nights on a Bahamas Cruise and arrived in Miami. Then, Feb. 20, we flew to Los Angeles and watched the game. Lakers went on to win it after an excellent first quarter. The next day, we flew back to Cebu.”

It wasn’t Chester’s first-ever time to watch the NBA. Years back, he saw the Lakers play the Phoenix Suns. But that was at the old Forum stadium. Now, he’s all-praises for the new arena.

“Grabe ka gwapo ang Staples Center,” he said.

You mean it can compare to our Cebu Coliseum? I joked.

“Ma-uwaw ta (We’d be embarrassed). No comparison.”

In Chester’s visit to the Staples Center, he noticed that most of the spectators were non-L.A. residents. “The jerseys ran out. We wanted to buy. Kobe. Griffin. They all ran out. They have this huge sports center inside the Staples Center selling Lakers and Clippers apparel. They have smaller stalls exclusive per team. You can even get made-to-order jerseys and pick them up the in the next game. But they were all sold out.”

CEBU ARENA. Chester mentioned the need for Cebu to have a new stadium. “We need an arena. It doesn’t have to be like the Staples Center. But we need a new one.”

Combining his basketball passion and his business acumen, maybe Chester can spearhead the building of this new Megadome? “I spent time computing the cost and there’s no way you can recover the investment. You cannot even pay the bank. So that’s the big problem,” he said.

We talked about the recently-opened Mall of Asia Arena, owned by SM. Maybe that will rise at the SRP when our own MOA rises.

3-POINTERS. Chester is known as the best 3-point shooter of our island. His idol: Larry Bird. “Nobody today can compare to Bird. Remember him winning those three-point contests wearing an NBA jacket? The present crop is not very good. They’ll also pale in comparison even to Reggie Miller. Look at Ray Allen. He’s playing very bad. He’s not even hitting his free throws. In the regular season, he shot 92 percent. Now, in the playoffs, it’s down to 65 percent. Free throws!”

As to his favorite players, Chester cites Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker of the Spurs. But his all-time favorite—like everybody else’s—is Michael Jordan.

Manny’s 3 Ps: “Pahaway, Practice, Pangadji”

Wakee Salud took my phone call yesterday. Like we do in almost every Manny Pacquiao fight, I call him two weeks prior to fight night.

Wakee is Manny’s closest buddy. Their friendship began in 2005 after Manny’s loss to Erik Morales. Then, Wakee invited him to Lapu-Lapu City for a promotion. When Manny trained in Cebu for Marco Antonio Barrera back in 2007, where was his second home? The Rex “Wakee” Salud Gym in Labangon.

Since 2005, Wakee has been Manny’s good luck charm, with a 15-fight winning streak. “Every fight since we became close, I’ve watched in person,” he said.

“I’m leaving for Las Vegas on June 6,” said Wakee.

Anybody else from Cebu who’s going? I asked. “Tommy, Margot and, I think, Del Mar,” he said.

I queried Wakee about Timothy Ray Bradley, Jr. The 28-year-old Californian is undefeated in 28 fights. The “Desert Storm,” as he’s nicknamed, stands 5-foot-6 and is the current WBO Light Welterweight champ.

“No chance for Bradley,” he said. “Easy fight for Manny.”

Prediction? “Knockout gyud!” he added. Not that Bradley is a patsy. It’s just that, according to Wakee, his best friend is at a completely different level today.

“Si Manny, wala na gyud mag….. kuwan-kuwan,” said Wakee, stressing on the last word whose meaning is loaded with sinister connotations. Translated in English: He’s no longer fooling around. He’s all boxing business.

Wakee considers this 2012 as Manny’s best training ever. But, I asked, doesn’t he and MP’s team always say the same thing? Doesn’t Freddie Roach always brag—to mentally scare the enemy—that Manny’s condition is the best he’s ever seen? Doesn’t this happen every pre-fight?

No, says Wakee.     This time, it’s real. He saw Manny in Baguio a few weeks ago like he’s seen him in the “City of Pines” in every previous training session. Now, it’s different.

In Manny’s last two fights, Wakee admits that MP was unimpressive. Though he handily defeated Shane Mosley, the verdict on his showing was poor. Unlike the Manny of old who would destroy and annihilate, he was hesitant and unsure. He had cramps. The same with their Trilogy versus Juan Manuel Marquez. We thought Manny lost. Lahi gyud ang karaan na Manny, we all agreed.

“I watched Manny train in Baguio in those two previous fights and kibawo na ko daan (I already knew),” said Wakee. “Manny wasn’t at his best. He’d stay up very late at night. He’d skip his runs and footwork exercises. He kept on going back to Manila. That’s why I wasn’t surprised with Manny’s subpar performance in those last two fights.”

Now? “The best gyud karon ang condition ni Manny,” he said.

Wakee enumerated three reasons. The 3 P’s I call them: Pahaway. Practice. Pangadji.

Rest. Relentless Training. Prayer.

“Manny is very well rested in his training now,” said Wakee, who last saw MP at the Manila airport prior to his departure for the Wild Card Gym. “Unlike before when he’d stay up late and had too many distractions. Also, sakto gyud sa practice and training.”

Finally, the last and most essential P: prayer. “Dako gyud na usab kay (There are a lot of changes with) Manny. He keeps on reading the Bible. Everyday, he would have Bible studies. He would not be comfortable if a day passes that he doesn’t read the Bible.”

When I asked Wakee if his buddy invited him to join their Bible-reading sessions, he let out a long and hearty laugh. “Manny keeps on convincing me,” said Wakee. “Jinkee even sent me a Bible. And even Jinkee’s sisters have all become regular Bible readers.”

I told Wakee that I believe this will be Manny’s last fight. “No, no. Dili pa (not yet),” he said. “If he won’t fight Mayweather next, then I think Manny will have three more fights.”

Floyd? “Dayon gyud na (It will push through). Manny has already agreed to all his demands. Drug testing. And many others. The only problem is the money, the sharing. For me, the best solution is 40-40. They’re guaranteed 40 percent each with the winner receiving the balance. Winner gets 60 percent; loser, 40 percent. Fair, di ba?”

I agree. But first… next Sunday.

64 days to go before the London Olympics

Back in July of 2005, I was fortunate to have been in Singapore when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) convened in the Lion City to decide on the host for the 2012 Olympic Games. As we now know, Moscow, Paris, Madrid and New York lost to one city who’ll host the Games from July 27 to August 12.

London. Yes. Is there a place more cosmopolitan, diverse and sports-crazy? Exactly 64 days from today, London will become the only city in history to host the Olympics thrice (they also did in 1908 and 1948).

Wanting to get a first-hand look at the Olympics, I asked a long-time resident for his thoughts…

Jack Biantan was SunStar Cebu’s former Sports Editor. A giant both in size and in his love for sports, Jack has resided in London for 11 years now.

“Everyone here is excited,” said Jack, in our e-mail exchange last week. “But not the entire London has benefitted from this Olympics. Only the West part of London where the Olympic Village and the infrastructures are.

“Our only concern in North London specially we Tottenham Hotspurs fans is the Olympic stadium. Shall we get the stadium after the Olympics or shall we remain in the congested White Heart Lane stadium.

“As you can see John, West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspurs are contesting in courts right now on who will be right full tenants in the Olympic stadium. The London Olympics organising committee has given the rights to West Ham because of the Hammers proposal to keep the track oval after the games.

“Tottenham however want to get rid of the oval and convert the entire stadium into a football specific stadium just like what Manchester City FC did to the Manchester stadium after the Commonwealth games fews years back. The Hammers have all the advantage also because West Ham is based only very near to the stadium while the Spurs are based some kilometres away.

“But in my opinion the Spurs are just using the Olympic stadium as leverage to their negotiations with the Haringey council (Tottenham is located in the Haringey borough) for the extension of the White Heart Lane stadium. The Spurs management has brought all the properties around their stadium and are waiting for their permit to construct to be approved. The Spurs stadium has only 36,000 capacity and I have been waiting for the past 11 years to get a season ticket. They are planning to extend the stadium to 60,000 once the council approves the permit.

“The London Olympic committee is also facing another problem in court as Leyton Orient FC the club nearest to the Olympic stadium has also sued and claimed their own right to the tenancy to the stadium. The games have not even started yet but the battle in courts have already been busy.”

Jack planned to watch the games in person but was appalled by the exorbitant ticket prices. “The tickets are astronomical for ordinary salaried people like us OFWs from the Philippines,” said Jack. “I have a daughter in college in Cebu and a six-year-old son who is in an Opus Dei School in CDO. I also have to pay high rental to the flat I rent here.”

Based on my internet research, a ticket to, say, an Olympic basketball game can cost anywhere from 40 Pounds (about P2,700) to, in the Final game, a whopping 425 Pounds (P29,000). Tennis in Wimbledon? The final can be as expensive as 225 pounds (P15,000).

Worse, the tickets are not only expensive—they’re also nearly impossible to get. “Most are sold out and been snatched by the black market peddlers,” said Jack, driving the prices further upwards.

“I planned to buy tickets for boxing where there is only one Filipino athlete competing. But since he is alone, and the odds for him to win a medal is very slim, I might as well stay at home and watch TV,” said Jack.

Joking, he adds: “Unless we are lucky to win the ticket lottery the Olympic committee has organised, then we would be more excited.”

This has not stopped Jack, though, from visiting a few sites. He’s toured the outside area of the Olympic Stadium and has explored the Westfield Mall in Stratford City.

The London Games will be the 30th Olympics. And since Roman Numerals are often used, you know what these games will be? The triple-X Games. Or the Games of the XXX Olympiad.

When the battle starts on July 27, an estimated 10,000-plus athletes representing 204 countries will compete. There are only 26 sports but a total of 302 events.

Like us here in Cebu, Mr. Biantan will be watching the flat screen.

“BBC is covering the games for free so we would just contend ourselves in watching the games on TV,” he said. “Our only problem is that the BBC coverage will be concentrated only to British athletes. But the Filipino community is excited to watch Olympic basketball games live this time because there is a British team competing in it. Unlike the previous games where only the finals were aired.”

I asked Jack, who’s resided in the United Kingdom capital since 2001, if he plans to reside there for good and he says no.

“Once our mortgage in CDO is finished in five years time and my daughter finishes her college education I will be back in the Philippines to take care of my young son. That, if I stay healthy during those times. I am getting old now John and I want to enjoy my life a little bit before I go to another world. Life here is hard and there is too much stress. I had a great time in Cebu when I was there. I lost my hair and gotten sick of diabetes in 11 years of stay here.”

Finally, I asked the football aficionado if he meets with other Cebuanos. His reply: All the time! “Most of my colleagues in the hospital where I work are Filipinos, so I still have not perfected my British accent because we often speak Ilonggo, Cebuano or Tagalog.”

Good to hear that London Jack is still Bisaya.

Gandionco for golf, Gullas for tennis

Dwayne Wade and LeBron James combined for 70 points yesterday. After Miami Heat lost their last two games against the Indiana Pacers, it was time to panic. Had they lost Game 4, they’d be down 1-3—an embarrassment and scary scenario for the NBA’s “Avengers.”

But LeBron didn’t panic. He pulled down 18 rebounds, dished-out 9 assists and scored 40. Dwayne? He had 9 rebounds, 6 assists and 30 points. Now, the series is tied two games apiece and it’s a two-out-of-three contest. It’s back to home-court advantage for Miami. If they win Game 5—which we expect them to—they’ll go on to win the series and, in my analysis, win the entire NBA championship.

Game 4 was the most crucial game this year for Miami.  LeBron and Wade, minus Chris Bosh, prevailed.

In the other Eastern side, expect Boston to prevail and meet Miami. The West? San Antonio has humiliated the LA Clippers, 4-0. They’ll rest and await… the Oklahoma City Thunder. Again, that Game 4 was most crucial for the LA Lakers and Oklahoma. Had Kobe escaped to tie it for 2-all, it would be a toss-up. Now, the Lakers are down 1-3. They’ll be out soon.

GIO. He hails from Cebu and he’s the best junior golfer in the country today.

Angelo Jose “Gio” Gandionco, only 16, has been a perennial winner the past month. His recent accomplishments: Montecillo Junior Golf Championship, finished first; Junior World Qualifying, finished first; Philippine Amateur, semifinalist; Frankie Miñoza Tournament in Del Monte, finished first; Frankie Miñoza, Alta Vista, finished first; Philippine Junior Open, finished first.

Gio started golf at the age of four. His dad, Opep, who leads Julie’s Bakeshop as the CEO, used Little Tikes plastic golf clubs for Gio. By the age of seven, he joined tournaments. At first, Gio mixed football and golf as Springdale’s striker. But, by age 11, he focused on the game of his favorite player, Rory McIlroy.

“The past few weeks have been the best,” said Gio, in an e-mail last Sunday night. “I have playing tournament after tournament, week after week.” Week after week, win after win…

“Golf is extreme hard work,” said Gio. “It takes time and hours to fix your golf swing and it takes years to master and gain experience. Of course, golf is fun for me, playing tournament golf and just playing around with friends makes me love the game so much.”

What made him sweep all these giant events this summer? His decision to skip joining tournaments last November and December so he can focus fixing his swing.

As to the added pressure of winning, Gio shrugs that off. “Every victory made me more confident. It made me realize my potential. It does add a little extra pressure to maintain my winning streak but if I just focus on my game, it won’t bother me.”

Gio will leave for the U.S. on June 14 to join several prestigious junior golf events, among them the 95th Western Junior Golf Championship in Florida and the Callaway Junior World Championship in Torey Pines, San Diego. Then, he’s back here by mid-July and will represent the country in one of Asia’s biggest events: the Lion Cuty Cup. Then, by September, he returns to America for his much-awaited college scholarship in Santa Clara University.

GULLAS CUP. One of the most anticipated of tennis tournaments started yesterday at the Cebu International Tennis Centre, Inc. (CITCI) in Consolacion.

Mayor Teresa Alegado graced the opening. A total of 196 entries, many players coming from areas not in Cebu, are joining this five-day-long event which offers 9 age-group categories (from 10-and-under to 18-and-under).

Thanks to the Gullas brothers, Dodong and Eddie, both tennis players, this event has thrived and continued after 17 years.

Insights from Davao City

Jana, our daughter, emerged as Girls 14 champion of the Milo Junior Tennis Cup – Mindanao leg. She played four opponents at the Ecoland Tennis Courts. The first two were easy wins but the last two were hard-fought. In the semis, she played 5-foot-6 Cotabato City-based Ivana Caballero. Score: 6-3, 6-2. In the finals, she beat Palaro medalist and one of Mindanao’s best, Sharyl de los Santos, from Gen. Santos City, 6-2, 6-2. She’ll go on to the Milo National Finals in November.

PEOPLE’S PARK. We stayed at the Royal Mandaya Hotel in downtown Davao. Apart from the central location, what I liked best was being meters away from an exercise haven: People’s Park. It’s an open-to-the-public-for-free venue where aerobics and Zumba classes are conducted and where Davaoeños converge to sweat. They have a 400-meter oval where hundreds run. The bad part? The surface is not rubberized, asphalt or anapog—but rectangular-shaped cement bricks. Sure, the bricks look good in red and gray but the uneven surface is scary. Still, what an ideal site for exercisers. Though much smaller, it reminds me of Victoria Park in Hong Kong. Our very own Plaza Independencia would be a fitting comparison.

DOME. The largest venue for indoor sports here is Almendras Gym. How “large?” Unfortunately, it seats 3,000. That’s small. While riding a taxicab, the driver mentioned that over a decade ago, Davao City built a P300 million, 15,000-seater Artica Dome—only for the nearly-finished project to be mothballed because of politics. Sayang. It reminds me of our own Megadome. Had that project (of then Gov. Pabling Garcia) materialized, imagine the positive impact for sports? All these contrast with the brand-new Mall of Asia Arena in Manila. That’s a gym that will rival NBA stadiums. For Cebu, our only bet is for SM to build the same complex at the SRP.

TAXI. In our few days stay in Davao, you know what we applaud the most? The taxi drivers. We rode about a dozen times and, each time with no miss, the drivers were courteous, helpful and knowledgeable. They were impromptu tourist guides. They gave suggestions on where to go (sightseeing? durian? restaurants?) and, best of all, they were honest. Compared to Manila’s taxi drivers who’d often say, “Bago palang ako dito, saan tayo da-daan?” (I’m new here, where do we pass?)—where they’d circle and pass the farthest routes to extract the most pesos—in Davao, the drivers are honest. We found out that, each year, they have a rigid seminar that includes instructions on being good Davao “tourist guides.” They’re good. Well done.

EDEN AND EAGLE. We made sure to include quick visits to Eden Nature Park and the Phil. Eagle Park—both must-see places. Beautiful. I wish Cebu had a similar Eden: 80 hectares filled with 100,000 pine trees, birds, organic fruits, the zip line and obstacle course. It’s a camping ground located 3,000 feet above sea level. The Eagle Park? Wow. The world’s second largest eagles, Davao hosts these endangered species at a lush, giant trees-laden spot up in the hills.

Funny analysis: the Philippine eagles are monogamous animals (they only mate with one other pair). A little farther from where all the eagles were located was a spot with monkeys. One “King Monkey,” they called him, had all the girl-monkeys. They’d approach him and mate with him. We commented: This represents Manny Pacquiao. Before, he was a king monkey; now, this Bible-loving man is a Philippine eagle.

CROCODILE PARK. Yesterday, thanks to Jasmin’s cousin, Peter Junsay, and his daughter Audrie, we spent an hour gazing at some of the largest reptiles on earth. Jana and I even held by hand a three-foot-long crocodile!

SM AND ABREEZA. The 1st Davao Sports Expo was found at the brand-new Annex of SM City. Booths were filled with various exhibits: martial arts, trekking, football… plus a mountain-biking event that’s scheduled today. Finally, Ayala’s mall called Abreeza is a beauty. Just opened 12 months ago, it has plenty of shops (Gap, Italliani’s, Tretorn, Ellesse) not found in Cebu.

Marko and Jovi on CCC’s Club Championships

Moments after the winning putt, Eric Deen is congratulated by Montito Garcia

Whenever I need help with golf, I turn to two friends who are not only Class-A golfers but also skillful writers: Marko Sarmiento and Atty. Jovi Neri.

Last Saturday, I missed watching Eric Deen sink that birdie putt on the 37th hole to win the Club Championships of the Cebu Country Club. Thanks to Marko and Jovi, here’s an excellent report of last week…

“To no surprise, the top seeds after qualifying were LJ Go and Gio Gandionco, respectively,” wrote Marko. “They both shot a 2 day aggregate score of 2 under par (140). No one was surprised since the two have been playing well all year. They were our heroes of the PAL Interclub in Feb.”

Jovi concurred: “Lj and Gio are not just among the country’s top juniors but among the top five Filipino amateur golfers today.” But, guess what? For the first time, the top two seeds lost.

“Ever since CCC expanded the qualifying to be 16 players 11 years ago,” said Jovi, “this was the first time ever that a #1 seed lost to #16. I was also fortunate to beat the #2 seed Gio even though I was #15. In match play anything can happen, and it isn’t always the better man that wins, but the one having the better game.”

Marko Sarmiento, the 16th seed, upset LJ Go, 3 and 1, while Jovi beat Gio, 3 and 2. Said Marko: “It was my most satisfying win since beating Gene Aznar to reach the finals back in 2001. Lj didn’t play his best but still put up a tough match as I played near perfect golf. Jovi and I both struggled in qualifying, but the beauty of match play is anything can happen.”

Jovi credits the depth of talent in his club where, on any sunny day, anyone can beat anyone. He added that while the “young ones” were the stars in CCC’s PAL Interclub win, it was the “once young” who emerged winners last week.

In the quarterfinals, Jovi and Marko lost. “The high was short-lived,” said Marko. “I lost to Kiyofumi Takahashi 1 down and Jovi lost to Gen Nagai 2 down. Kiyo then lost to Eric in the semifinals and Gen lost to Mon.”

The finals? Last Saturday between eight-time winner Montito Garcia (1991 to 1995, 2003, 2007 and 2009) versus five-time champ Eric Deen (1997 to ’99, 2004 and last year).

Here’s Marko’s summary: “When you reach the final, it’s more a battle of attrition than anything. It’s a 36-hole match with no golf carts allowed. Leading to the finals you play 5 out 7 days. Under the summer heat, it gets exhausting. The level of play goes down because of fatigue and in match play you match up directly against your opponent. If your opponent double bogeys, all you have to do is bogey.

“Mon told me that he was around 2 or 3 over after the first 18 holes which left him 3 up. Eric got off to a shaky first 9 but didn’t leave himself too far back. On the 2nd 18, fatigue was getting the better of them. Pars and bogeys were winning holes. Eric cut Mon’s lead to 1 after 27 holes.

“In the back 9, Eric seemed rejuvenated while Mon started to fade. Mon relied on his hot putting all week but couldn’t get one to drop in the final 9 holes. Eric built a 2 up lead with 2 holes to go.

“Closing a match is always the hardest part of match play, similar to holding on to your serve to win a match in tennis. Eric bogeyed the last 2 holes vs Mon’s pars to send the match to sudden death.

“After 8 hours of golf, they were back to even and headed for the 1st hole. Both hit perfect drives and good second shots. Mon left himself a 12-footer for birdie while Eric had a 7-footer. Mon putted first and barely missed but Eric made no mistake and birdied to win!

“The first birdie between either of them from the last 18 holes of play. Pretty amazing considering the number of birdies that were made leading up to the final.”

Footnote from Atty. Neri: “The teenager who reached the furthest was 15-year Gen Nagai, who made the semis but lost to Montito. The next day, he joined Casino Español’s Copa De Golf and shot a personal best 7-under par 65 with 8 birdies against 1 bogey! His gross score was good enough to beat the net scores of everyone!”

Harry watches Game 4, Clippers-Grizzlies

Cebu’s reigning SAC-SMB Sportsman of the Year awardee is also one of the pillars behind the Hoops Dome in Mactan. Two days ago, he was inside another dome.

Councilor Harry Don Radaza of Lapu-Lapu City is in the U.S. with his wife Mayann and son Zach. They watched the L.A. Clippers battle the Memphis Grizzlies.

“Game 4 was one of the best games I’ve seen live,” said Harry. “Chris Paul and Blake Griffin combined for 57 points. Even before getting to Staples Center, just looking for a parking spot, you feel the craziness in the streets. Everything within half a kilometer of Staples Center was decorated with Red and White, the Clippers’ colors. They also gave everyone free red Clippers shirts.”

Harry is not an NBA neophyte. While residing in America prior to Mactan, he watched plenty.

“Back when I was living in Sacramento (1990-1992) I watched a lot of Sacramento Kings (during the time of Mitch Ritchmond). And when I was studying in Saint Mary’s College in the Bay Area I saw Golden State Warriors games (during the time of Latrell Sprewell, Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullen). I remember watching several with Chris Aldeguer.”

Blake Griffin amazed Harry the most. “He had several monster dunks. It seems EVERY time Blake gets the ball on the run, the crowd is on its feet gasping for that big dunk which never fails to energize the whole stadium. His pure vertical leaps get the crowd going. Although for him to have a good career, he needs to develop more post-up moves and a consistent mid-range jumper. Right now, he’s just relying on his hops. It’s smart not to be one-dimensional and predictable.”

On Chris Paul, Harry sat applauding at how well he distributed the ball and “took over in OT when Blake fouled out. Now that’s a point guard!”

Playoff tickets are difficult to secure. Harry bought theirs from eBay (paying $190 for a $150 ticket); sitting 25 rows from the court—excellent seats for the price. As they sat down, Harry laughed, saying: “My 7-yr-old son Zach commented that he likes the Hoops Dome better because he gets to sit in the middle courtside seats! LOL!”

What surprised Harry the most was how the Clippers fans hate the Lakers fans, and vice versa. “Any sign of the yellow Lakers at the Clippers game and you would get verbally abused by the fans!” he said.

Harry has seen Michael Jordan play. One future legend that he wants to watch this month: Kobe. “After OKC made it and the Lakers up, I’m trying to rearrange my itinerary to catch at least one game of Lakers/OKC.  Kevin Durant looks like the prototype for the future of NBA players: tall, mobile, shoots the ball and drives to the hoop.”

Between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Lakers, Radaza expects the former to win. His Finals prediction? “Miami vs. OKC! Two explosive teams hungry for the championship. Although Miami might have the edge in defense.”

When I queried him for his top NBA picks, he rattled off three superstars.

First, Ricky Rubio. Of the Minnesota Timberwolves point guard, Harry said… “amazing pin point passes. He makes everyone around him better. Probably the closest to Pete Maravich.”

No. 2 on his list is Derrick Rose (“amazing work ethic and very quiet and humble. He just shows up to simply play.”)

Finally, of course, everybody’s hero: Jeremy Lin. “He is your typical underdog personified. He toiled so hard at the end of the bench hopping from one team to another just waiting for that one chance. Reminds me of my favorite quote, ‘It is better to be prepared and NOT have the opportunity than to have the opportunity and NOT be prepared.’ He proved that anything is possible.”

Rubio, Rose, Lin. The weird thing about them? Said Harry: “They all went down with knee injuries!”

Back to Cebu, the councilor added: “I went there as a fan, but I couldn’t help seeing several things which we might be able to bring back to Lapu Lapu City in terms of how organized they were, the safety and security, the atmosphere, etc.”

Next up? “After the Lakers/OKC series will be Pacquiao/Bradley in Vegas!”

Swimming with the Gentle Giants

BUTANDING. Like the thousands of you who’ve done an expedition to Oslob to dance with the whale sharks, we did the same last Monday. What a super experience!

Our group of 25 arrived in Brgy. Tan-awan, Oslob past 6 A.M. We each paid P500 and listened to a short briefing. After awaiting our turn, we boarded three bancas that transported us about 150 meters from the shoreline.

With our masks, snorkels and life-vests on, we jumped. The water was 30 to 40 feet deep. Within a few minutes, we sighted a giant creature gliding. It coasted like a Boeing 747. Unbelievable sight! I’ve never seen such a huge living thing (the whale shark is the largest fish species in the world).

Then, it disappeared. For nearly 10 minutes, with the current strong, we waited. No giant. Oh no, we thought. Maybe that was it.

But then, Jourdan Polotan shouted. Shark attack! It floated and slithered. Over 20 feet long with gray/blue colors and white spots scattered around its humongous frame, the butanding drifted. Its heavy body swayed. All our scary eyes sat frozen and transfixed.

It stood up! Yes, another shark, over 25 feet long, stood vertical with its tail nearly touching the bottom floor and its mouth open to devour the baby shrimps (“uyap”).

In our 30 minutes on water, we saw three or four whale sharks. Once, I was so near touching one (maybe two meters away) until a boatman called for me to stay farther. At another time, my mom Allen was aboard the small banca when another whale shark emerged. I shouted for her dive and look. Instead, it was the large fish who lurked near, as if to say, “Hi there, Tita Allen!”

In all—like all who’ve swam in Oslob—it’s a memory to treasure for life. I’ve had a chance to visit aquariums from San Diego to Singapore—but never to swim with these jumbo fishes.

TIPS. For those planning to visit for the first time, here are some suggestions:

Go now! This is No. 1. Why? We can’t control these giants. What if, next month, they decide to have a Board of Sharks Meeting and say, “Let’s transfer to Leyte or Camiguin.” Go now. And be there early: 5:30 A.M.

Visit on a weekday. We camped in Bojloon on Sunday and, early Monday, we traversed to Oslob. Sure, hundreds of people still lined up… but not thousands. Mondays to Thursdays are best.

Go with friends and family. Our group from the BCBP included: Jourdan and Jingle Polotan; Benjie, Connie, Bea and Bienco Cimafranca; Albert, Lynn Rose, Krisha and Chleo Nuñez; Docks, Reshel, Patricia and Krista Rodriguez; Francis, Michelle, Micco and Micaela Palmares; Jack and Malu Mendez; my wife Jasmin, daughter Jana and mom Allen Z.

Stay at Granda Resort. Yes, this is an endorsement: the exclusive resort in Boljoon is only 25 minutes from the site. The breathtaking property sits at the corner of a cove and the famous Baluarte (tower) resides within their property. And, guess what: it’s owned by Stu and Anne Gould, the parents of Chad Gould, the member of the PHL Azkals. Said Mrs. Gould: “Chad, Phil and James (Younghusband) would come here twice a year!”

Wear a rash guard. My only complaint (not anyone’s fault) was the sporadic jellyfish stings that now scatter around my body. Apart from shorts and the life vest, my bare skin was exposed to the tiny jellyfish. No, they’re not visible and plenty—but they’ll sting. Cover your body. (On the lifevest: if you can bring your own, better; the ones we borrowed were not snug-fit and would float up to our necks.)

Bring your own mask and snorkel. Or borrow from a friend and sterilize. It’s more hygienic. Also, bring an underwater camera. If not, they have one for rent at P500.

Eat a little before heading for the water. This will give you enough energy to visit another must-see site after: Oslob Waterfalls.

Finally, to the Oslob officials and the DOT: you have the country’s best tourist attraction! Continue the orderly system; impose further strict measures. Invest the millions you’ll generate back to improvements. Maybe have a glass-bottom boat?

Q & A with Jesse Bernad

Jesse with Ken Griffey, Jr.

Last Feb. 28 to March 12, the sportsman whose name is synonymous to Cebu baseball/softball left for America on a dream-come-true visit. He was one of a dozen Filipinos who flew to Scottsdale, Arizona for a U.S. State Department-sponsored sojourn. Here are Jesse’s own words …

1.    When did you leave/arrive? The Philippine Baseball and Softball Coaches delegation left for Scottsdale Arizona on Feb 28 and came back Mar 12, 2012.

2.    How many were you from the Phils? 12 of you and you were the only one from Cebu?   There were 12 coaches that were chosen among dozens of applicants coming from all over the Philippines. 6 men and 6 ladies. 3 from Mindanao(Davao, Cotabato, Zambo Norte), 3 from Visayas (Cebu, Bacolod, Talisay NegOcc) and 6 from Luzon (Ilocos, Bulacan, Smokey Mountain, Las Pinas, Valenzuela and Batangas). Yes, i was the only 1 from Cebu.

3.    What was the objective of your trip? The US Embassy saw the potential of the sport of Baseball and Softball in the Philippines. Hence, they wanted Coaches with existing programs to be appropriately trained in the US to improve the quality of their players.

4.    Was this the first time the US government did this?  Yes, this was the first time of its kind. The US state department has a program called Sports United and they invite Sports Ambassadors to visit the US and experience/observe how they run the different sports programs. Our group had been the 16th group. There were other groups from other countries before us who represented other sports like basketball, tennis, golf, etc.

5.    Details of the trip… Our host gave us a full schedule wherein we were able to observe firsthand how Americans ran their baseball program at different levels of play starting from Little League, High School, College and the Pros. Initially, we were sent to a baseball bootcamp where former Major League Players turned coaches Ken Huckaby and Clay Bellinger thought us the basics of coaching. We then got to visit a couple of Little League Programs one of which was Chandler and worked with their kids applying what we learned in the bootcamp. We also visited some High School programs like Dessert Vista and interacted with their coaches and players and discussed their program and how it works. University of Arizona was the only college program we saw but it was the best – what an amazing sports program and facility they have. State of the art gym, locker rooms, equipment room and fields. Lastly, we got to visit 3 Major League Spring Training facilities – San Diego Padres, Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants. They toured us around their facilities and saw firsthand their practice sessions. We got to meet and interact with some MLB coaches and players.

6.    Where did you stay? Who did you meet? we stayed at the Radisson Fort Mcdowell Resort in Scottsdale which is just a few miles away from most baseball Spring Training facilities in the Pheonix area. Coach Ken Huckaby and Clay Bellinger were excellent coaches with lots of Major League experience. Unfortunately, former MLB player Ken Griffey, Sr. – the father of MLB superstar Ken Griffey Jr (who visited Cebu last year) couldnt make it to our clinic due to his busy schedule. We had a very intimate meeting with the Legendary Softball Coach Mike Candrea of University of Arizona and Team USA, who brought 8 NCAA championships to UA and 2 Olympic Gold Medals for Team USA. He gave us a 30-minute inspirational talk – which is very rare for a guy of his stature – and another 30 minutes of Q&A. We got to meet 3-time All-American softball player Alicia Hollowell as she toured us around UA Softball field and practice area. Coach Dave Lopez of UA Baseball team was also very open in sharing his knowledge of the game. During our MLB visits, we met most of the players and talked to some most notably Fil-American San Diego starting shortstop Jason Bartlett and outfielder Carlos Quention, San Francisco Giants Batting Coach Bam-bam Muelens, etc.

7.    What were the most significant moments? The most significant moment was being at the field at the SF Giants Spring Training Stadium while the players were having batting and fielding practices and getting to see all the players and superstars. We then got to see them play against the Colorado Rockies and we were 2 rows behind their dugout. So we were very close to all the players and even heard them talk. Another Fil-American Tim Lincecum was the starting pitcher for the Giants. As a baseball fan getting to experience all this, is the ultimate high.

8.    Full Access? we had access to places where other fans were not allowed to go to like stadium clubhouse, locker rooms, dugout, mess hall, gum, etc. Since the US State Department was the one who arrange our visit, there was a PR person who was assigned to us fulltime to take us around, explain their organization and introduce people to us.

9.    What lessons did you learn from the trip? oh so much! we all learned the right way how to ran a program. To be competitive, it is not enough to practice once or twice a week. You need to let the players do the drills over and over again for them to make the right split-second decisions during games. Four 2-hour practices a week and 1 game should be the minimum. We were also taught how players and coaches carry themselves during practices and games. We learned how to apply the different types of coaching in the 4 disciplines of the game – fielding, hitting, throwing and base-running.  We were taught new drill variations and methods using unique but inexpensive equipment. And lastly, the sequence on how you run practices starting from warming-up up to cooling down.

10.    Does softball/baseball have a bright future in Cebu? Phils? Oh yes, baseball and softball has a very bright future in Cebu and the Philippines. It just has to start somewhere. I learned that there is no quick fix to the sport. We need to start from the very bottom which is to teach very young kids (6-8 years old) the proper way to play. These kids will grow up learning the sport and when they reach the age of 11-12, they will be very competitive already. So it will take a few years. I just came from Clark Freeport 2 wks ago and saw how teams from other parts of the country playing excellent baseball and softball already. I was amazed how well they play. Cebu has to start opening up to the sport especially the private schools. Ateneo, La Salle, UST, UP and other private schools in Manila all have good baseball/softball programs and offer scholarships. Most of Cebu’s private schools don’t have a baseball or softball programs. I am still trying hard to convince the different school administrators to adopt baseball and softball as an alternative sport to students.

11.    What specific programs/steps will you undertake (coming from the trip)? I will be working hand in hand with the Cebu City Sports Commission with their grassroots program in the barangays as a volunteer so i can teach them what i learned in the US. I will personally continue promoting the sport in private schools and work hard to make them realize how great the sport is and be part of future tournaments. I am working with some Manila-base partners on bringing manila teams and even International teams to Cebu to compete against our local teams sometime 2012-2013

Fastball summer program…. Fastball is starting its 2012-2013 Baseball and Softball program with a Summer Camp for kids ages 5-16 y.o. starting on Monday, April 30 to May 18, 2012 at the Aboitiz Sports Field in Subangdaku. Practices will be from 4-6pm daily, Mondays thru Fridays. For more details, pls contact Coach Jesse Bernad, 0917 3222284, jessebernad@yahoo.com of FB Jesse Bernad.

King of Clay beats the King of Tennis

I’ve never been to Monte Carlo. But my wife Jasmin and her whole Mendez family did, back in 1993. Says Jasmin: “Monaco is one of the most picturesque locations in the world. You’re standing up on a hill, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, gazing at multi-million dollar yachts and Lamborghinis. It’s Europe’s rich-and-famous playground.”

One man who calls Monte Carlo his playground stands 6-foot-1, weighs 188 lbs. and is tennis’ version of The Gladiator: Rafael Nadal.

Isn’t he the world’s happiest person today? He is. After losing to Novak Djokovic the last seven times, all finals, he won last Sunday on the red clay of Monte Carlo, 6-3, 6-1. Vamos, Rafa!

“Nobody beats Rafa eight times in a row!” as if he was to scream to the world. Now, Frank Malilong, the lefty lawyer, can exhale a huge sigh of relief. His idol won. Same with Manny Sainz, Bob Lozada, Noy and Amale Jopson, Fabby Borromeo, Ernie Delco and millions of other Rafa-natics!

“Monte Carlo is the most beautiful Masters 1000 tournament for me,” Nadal said. “To start the clay-court season winning here is an amazing feeling. To beat Novak in a final after losing a few is an important result for me. It was important to break this series and to do it here – it’s perfect.”

Rafa’s eighth victory in one event is not only amazing—it’s outrageous. It’s not fantastic; it’s irrational. Monte Carlo is a Masters 1000 tournament—one of Earth’s biggest in tennis. Starting 2005, he’s won every single match.

“To have eight victories, you must be lucky, you have to have no injuries, perfect conditions for eight years in a row. That’s the first thing,” said Nadal. “And you have to be playing almost perfect to win eight titles in a row, especially in a Masters. The best in the world always play – you have to win against the best.”

In all these eight years—take a deep breath on this ludicrous statistic—Nadal has lost only six sets. He lost zero sets this 2012. And won $603,000 to increase his career total to $48 million. No, our ‘Man… Pac is still richer, but $48M translates to over P2 billion pesos. Wow. And this excludes Nike’s dollar payments.

On the significance of last weekend, Peter Bodo, my favorite tennis scribe, wrote this: “This is also a record 20th Masters title for Nadal, and perhaps most significantly if not most glamorously, his first tournament win of any kind in 10 months—since he won the French Open in early June last year…

“This overwhelming win may has enabled Nadal to hit that reset button for which he’s been groping for so long now, going all the way back nearly a full year to Madrid, where Djokovic pulled a nasty surprise on the then-No. 1. He pummeled him on clay, a feat that by then many had consigned to the realm of the impossible.”

More? Here’s one more: April is Rafa’s lucky month. On this month, he’s won 72 straight matches on clay. King of Clay? Yes. But, also: King of April.

Still, the King of Tennis isn’t him. It’s still the Serbian 6-foot-2 (Novak) who leads the world rankings with 13,270 points. Rafa only has 9,715 while R. Federer trails with 8,880. At No. 4, A. Murray lurks with 7,860.

I’ve had the chance, twice, to watch Mr. Nadal in person. The first was in 2007 when, together with Dr. Ronald Anthony Medalle and his beauteous wife Stephanie, I sat with Jasmin inside the Malawati Stadium in Kualu Lumpur, Malaysia. Rafa played an exhibition match against Richard Gasquet. That was a most memorable trip (two days after, it was Sampras-Federer) that included a bus ride from KL to Singapore.

Jasmin and I again saw Rafa during the Olympics. We witnessed him fall to the Beijing floor after championship point to claim an Olympic gold medal.

Why is this fierce, Gladiator-like warrior so likable? Because he’s both: humble and soft-spoken with the killer instincts of a Navy Seal. As buotan as he is during interviews and off-court, he has the complete opposite, I-will-do-everything-to-beat-you attitude when he’s inside that tennis rectangle. I can’t wait for May 17, the French Open.

Track oval reopens as PRISAA opens

FR. VIC UY. When I spoke to him yesterday morning, he sounded buoyant and enthusiastic. Fr. Vic Uy, SVD, is a familiar name and face to Cebuanos. For many years prior to his transfer to Bohol, he was a senior official of the University of San Carlos. He also headed the local chapter of the Phil. Sports Commission.

Today, Fr. Vic is the national president of the PRISAA. And, today, the national PRISAA Games unfold right here in Cebu City.

“We’re all ready,” said Fr. Vic. “All the physical preparations are set. And we’ve very lucky. The PRISAA is the first event that will use the new track oval of the Cebu City Sports Center.”

An estimated 6,000 athletes and officials were expected to arrive this weekend. Unfortunately, some teams backed out—including the strongest contingent, from the NCR.

“They could not decide which teams to send… the UAAP or the NCAA champions. Sayang that NCR couldn’t join us,” said Fr. Vic. But with or without Manila, the Cebu games continue.

Today’s activities begin with an activity that Fr. Vic cherishes the most: Holy mass. “We start this 2 P.M. at the Sto. Rosario Church,” he said. “The parade follows at 3:30 and the opening before 5 P.M.”

Back to the CCSC track oval—isn’t the reopening a perfect timing this weekend?

If you recall, it was 18 years ago when the CCSC was built. That was in 1994. Now, we’re April 2012. While we previously criticized our city government for taking too long on the CCSC rehabilitation (the oval has a targeted lifespan of 10 years; so it became “obsolete” in 2004)), we welcome this good news and say, “Finally!”

Who worked hardest for this latest repair? We give credit where credit is due: Vice Mayor Joy Augustus Young. It was he, back in 1994 and heading the city’s Committee on Sports, who pushed for the construction of CCSC.

Fast forward to two years ago, after Joy assumed his position as the city’s No. 2, he convened a team to deliberate on the reconstruction. Together with Ricky Ballesteros, Dr. Danny Villadolid, Nimrod Quiñones and a few others, I was part of the Technical Working Group (TWG) team tasked to study the various options and bidders.

VM Joy spearheaded our weekly meetings. We scrutinized the various presentations. We deliberated on the cons and pros of each surface. Finally…. it’s done.

Yesterday, I also called Ricky Ballesteros, the manager of our CCSC, and, like Fr. Vic, he was upbeat and excited.

“The oval looks great!” boasted Ricky. “The workmanship is excellent. We had a former Olympian who came over to inspect the grounds and, compared to the likes of Cagayan de Oro and Baguio, this one is excellent.”

Ricky is used to working under intense, maximum pressure. As the head of the Sinulog festivities, each January, he is subjected to excessive tension and stress. Like the CCSC reopening, they finished it right on schedule.

“The line markings were just completed yesterday, right on schedule,” said Ricky. “We had everything programmed to finish on time and we did it.”

Ricky was impressed with the work ethic of the Malaysians, who supervised the construction of the new red rubberized track oval. “They’d work under the extreme sun, no stop. We’re also blessed with good weather and no rain so there was nonstop construction. I, personally, watched their work and asked the help of Danny Villadolid and our other coaches. We’re all set for the PRISAA opening.”

Today is a proud day for Cebu sports.

PRISAA in Cebu

From this Sunday until next Saturday (April 22 – 28), our island will be hosting one of the largest sporting events of 2012: the PRISAA National Collegiate Games. PRISAA stands for the Private Schools Athletics Association and our PRISAA Region 7 (Cebu, Bohol and Dumaguete) will be welcoming collegiate athletes from all over the country.

Fr. Vicente Uy, SVD is one of the most humble, friendly and sports-loving people I know. He’s also one of the most senior officials of the SVD (Univ. of San Carlos). But more than his lofty credentials in the academe, he’s the national president of the PRISAA.

That’s a mighty job. But Fr. Vic, whom I’ve played tennis with on several occasions, has sports dribbling inside his heart—and so he’s most capable.

How big is the National PRISAA event next week? Consider this: Delegates from Regions 1 up to 13, from CAR, CARAGA, ARRM, NCR and the host Region 7 will be competing.

Each regional team has over 320 participants (270 athletes and 50 coaches/officials). If we multiply that with the 17 regions and add the 200 officiating personnel, we’ve got over 6,000 participants landing in Cebu next week. Wow. This is huge.

Events? Plenty. There’s baseball, basketball, beach volleyball, football, softball, volleyball, athletics, badminton, boxing, chess, dancesport, karatedo, lawn tennis, swimming, table tennis, taekwondo and cultural competitions such as vocal solo and Miss Mutya.

The last time Cebu hosted the PRISAA? Ten years ago. It’s about time. Plus, very timely, the newly-refurbished Cebu City Sports Center will open its doors and rubberized track oval to welcome the visitors.

J vs. J in Cebuana Lhuillier Men’s Open

Make yourself available starting 3 P.M. today. It’s the quarterfinal round of the Cebuana Lhuillier Men’s Tennis Open. Happening only once every 12 months, this is a rare treat for Cebuanos—right at the heart of the city, at Baseline.

Eight players remain and, thus far, there are no upsets. This is surprising. Usually, one or two “seeded” (meaning: ranked) players are “upset” by lower-ranked journeymen. Not this April.

Who remain? Of course, the ones first-named Johnny and PJ and Onyok and Rolando. If you follow Philippine tennis, these guys are familiar names… Arcilla, Tierro, Anasta and Ruel.

The match to watch today? It starts at 4 P.M. It’s the No.1 seed and long-time top-ranked Pinoy netter, Johnny Arcilla, versus the youngest rising star of our archipelago: Jurence Mendoza.

J vs. J. That’s Johnny The Experienced against Jurence The Future. Johnny, of course, we know as super. He’s the defending champ. He was in Lapu-Lapu City when we played the Davis Cup twice in 2011. Jurence? Only 16 years young, he reached the finals last year of the grandest tournament in this nation: the Phil. Columbian Association (PCA) Open. En route, he defeated the former No.1 PJ Tierro.

How good is Jurence? In the first round two days ago, he played our local favorite Roy Tabotabo. The score was 6-0 in the first set. As narrated to me by Atty. Frank Malilong when we met yesterday afternoon: In the second set, had not a friend of Roy’s jokingly shouted to Jurence to give our man a chance, he’d probably have done the same love-set. Final score: 6-0, 6-1. Against Roy Tabotabo. Yesterday, against Antonio Sagansay, he demolished him the same: 6-1, 6-2. J & J: watch it this afternoon in Baseline.

DOUBLES. All singles matches begin at 3 P.M. Right after the quarterfinal games, the men’s doubles follow. These will be played at night. Why this late schedule? To accommodate us—the crowd—and our busy, working-day schedules. This 3 to 8 P.M. time slot is perfect.

PRO-AM. Beginning tomorrow, there’s a side event where a Pro is paired with an Amateur. I’m joining. My partner? Juvan Divinagracia. No, we haven’t met yet but we’ll be together with seven other pairs in this interesting category. Last year’s champions? Jun Toledo and Jean Henri Lhuillier. Others who are joining this year include Fabby Borromeo, Johnny Bohol, Dodo Laza, Mikel Ugarte, Jaime Quiñones…

MOA’s Arena

I was in Manila over the weekend. Attending the 32nd national anniversary of the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals (BCBP), the 4,000+ attendees crowded the SMX.

What else did I see at SM’s Mall of Asia? A giant, glass-covered dome that will soon be one of the most hi-tech and applauded of coliseums in this continent.

Mall of Asia Arena gleamed and sparkled when lighted by the summer sun. Workers installed roof beams. Maintenance staff wiped the see-through walls. Construction is at full speed.

The reason? Barely a month is left before the long-awaited “We’re Open!” sign is hung from the entrance. On May 19, the 16,000-seating-capacity gymnasium will open. Two nights later, on May 21, it’s the concert of the concert queen herself, Lady Gaga.

Sports? Ahhh. NBA exhibition games? Check. Nadal-Djokovic? Double-check (meaning, we’re hopeful!). UAAP and NCAA games? Check.

This sports arena is long-overdue in Manila. The Smart Araneta Coliseum is 52 years old. That’s grandfather-age. It’s time for a world-caliber venue for sports and concerts.

According to details I obtained via Google, the venue… “boasts of floorings by Robbins Inc., Spalding basketball goals, Daktronics scoreboard—similar to what the NBA is using—and LED ribbon boards surrounding the 3rd and 5th floors. There are press rooms… and four dugouts. Another feature is the Corporate Suites—private rooms with their own restroom, mini bar, sofas and a private gallery with cinema seats. Occupants will be entitled to a season pass for all the shows.”

They have 31 of these Suites for rent. How much? They offer one- to 5-year leases between P9 to P12 million. Wow.

Cebuana Lhuillier Men’s Open: Game on!

Like Mike Limpag, I’m excited about this week. It’s the 5th edition of the Cebuana Lhuillier Men’s Open at the aptly-tennis-named Baseline courts.

Johnny Arcilla will be the man expected to win. But he’ll face plenty of local competition—including from Cebu players led by Jacob Lagman and RJ Abarquez.

The main draw starts today. Hopefully! Why? Because last night, I received a phone call from tournament organizer April Toledo. The top 16 players were scheduled to leave Manila at 10 A.M. yesterday. When April called me at 6 P.M., the wearied players were still in the airport!

“Can you help me contact someone from Cebu Pacific?” asked April. I called one of the airline’s senior officials, Agnes Gupalor, and, hopefully, the Top 16 arrived last night. You’ll find out today when you visit Baseline.

I’m most eager to watch a 15-year-old. His name is Jurence Mendoza. In the recent Mitsubishi Lancer junior event, he reached the finals. No easy feat because that tournament is one of Asia’s most prestigious. Also, in last year’s PCA Open, he defeated PJ Tierro to reach the finals (losing to Arcilla).

Last year, Jurence and Jacob Lagman were together here during the Davis Cup. The teenagers will be our future Cecil Mamiits.

CCSC Track Oval to open

Ricky Ballesteros is the man at the helm of the Cebu City Sports Center renovations. Here’s Ricky’s update:

We have finished overlaying the final red rubber last Saturday. Markings started yesterday and will take 3-4 days… Blessing will be on April 22 at 3:30 pm before the opening parade of the national Prisaa… The good thing with the rubber now is that we don’t have to wait for 2 weeks for the curing period. We can use the track the day after we put the rubber; drying only takes 5 minutes.

We are now on the finishing touches; fencing and putting of a wider gate… We also transferred the triple long jump to the D section; we have a wider cemented area for volleyball, sepak takraw, martial arts practices… The football field is under rehabilitation, greening will take another 3-6 months.

Cost of rubber track including civil works is P26M; previous track was only 13mm, the new rubber is 15mm thick.. Football field, civil works (fencing and cementing) P7M… After Prisaa, the track will be open to the public except the football field.

Gen, Marko and Jovi on Bubba Watson

(Reuters/Mike Segar)

In Cebu golf, Marko Sarmiento is one of the longest-hitters off the tee. He averages 290 yards and, when the fairways are dry, that number can exceed 340. Just like Bubba Watson. “Yeah we’re both long hitters that aren’t great putters!” said Marko.

Here’s Marko’s assessment of the new champ:

“It’s no secret the key to winning the Masters is great putting. When Tiger won his first green jacket in 1997 he didn’t have a single 3 putt!

“Bubba? He’s one of the worst putters on tour. He’s ranked 154 out of 182 but.. he’s ranked 1st in driving distance (313 yards!) and 2nd in greens in regulation. In other words, he gives himself a lot of chances for birdie because of his superior power which leaves him mostly wedges for a 2nd shot. He’s also known to be able to shape the ball any way imaginable and this has to do with his inability to hit fairways off the tee because of how much club head speed he generates. And because of his creativity, he won the Masters!

“This could not have been more evident with his 2nd shot on the 2nd playoff hole. He had to hook his ball 40 yards with a pitching wedge! Trust me, this isn’t easy to do. Having a Masters champion like Bubba is great for golf. He’s known to be very outspoken, uses a pink Ping driver and cries like a baby on national television every time he wins a tournament. The saying “drive for show and putt for dough” didn’t hold up last week!

“Unlike Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald (the 2nd and 1st ranked players in the world), Bubba (who’s now at number 4 after his win) isn’t as well-rounded. But because of creativity, raw power and a new found confidence, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him challenge them. Go Bubba!

“When Tiger won in Bayhill two weeks before the Masters, he said his swing is still at 70%. He’s been revamping it with new coach Sean Foley and I guess it’s safe to say the remaining 30% showed up in Augusta. I have no doubt that his new swing has the potential to get him back to number 1 in the world but what I do doubt is his health. With four surgeries and a WD in the World Golf Championships earlier in the year because of some soreness, who knows how sturdy that left knee is. He’s only 36 and in golf years that’s still fairly young. If you also consider his incredible work ethic, he may not have enough left in the tank to break Nicklaus’ record of 18 Majors.”

JOVI AND GEN. I also asked help from Atty. Jovi Neri to comment. Here’s Jovi:

“Gen Nagai, CCC’s star rookie in the PAL Interclub, is perhaps the biggest Bubba Watson fan in the entire island of Cebu. Just recently, he even had his driver painted pink.

“Last year, Gen was able to visit the headquarters of Bubba’s equipment sponsor, Ping Golf, in Scottsdale, Arizona, to be fitted for clubs in their special driving range. Of course, the first thing he asked the people there was about Bubba.”

Said Gen Nagai: “They said Bubba always visits there as much as twice a month just to hang out. He is quite friendly and fun. But he is also weird because he tries shots that no other pro would try. For example, he would face the other way and try to hit the ball under the roof, then over the trees, then into the putting green.

“Bubba is also the only Ping-sponsored pro who can hit it over the boundaries of the range which is over 350 yards away. Other Ping pros include Lee Westwood, Louis Oousthuizen, and Mark Wilson.

“They said that while Bubba is known for hitting the ball very long, he has incredible touch and feel, and attempts a lot of shots out of the ordinary using his creativity and imagination.

“Bubba also loves hot colors, with the text of his clubs having colors such as pink.”

Jovi continues… “After hearing Gen’s stories about what the people in Ping said about Bubba and his incredible shots in their facility, it was less of a shock to see his 40-yard hook with a wedge from over 150 yards below and around the trees in the second playoff hole that sealed the victory in the Masters.

“My take on Tiger: two tournaments ago in Bay Hill he just won convincingly. He may have struggled in the Masters but it’s just one tournament. Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald quietly had mediocre performances too but it slipped under the radar because they are not scrutinized as much as Tiger.

“If a Filipino got invited to play the Masters and made the cut, he would probably be hailed as the greatest Filipino golfer of all-time. But if Tiger just makes the cut and fails to contend, people think he is a goner. Tiger is a victim of his greatness.

“Tiger upped the ante during his heydey, and the new breed of players led by McIlroy have risen to the challenge elevating their games to that level. At 36 years old and with new young and fearless competition, Tiger will never dominate like he once did but that doesn’t mean he will not win anymore. Nicklaus won 3 majors after turning 40. The more pressing X-factor would be Tiger’s health.”