Flying Baseball Bat


(Photo by Christopher Horner/Pittsburgh-Review)

Amazing “save” by the dad! Read the story of this picture-perfect photo in the NYTimes.

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, [email protected] of FB Jesse Bernad.

Jesse Bernad hurls a sales pitch for baseball

Jesse Bernad (right-most) in last Sunday’s game

Yesterday, via email, I interviewed the man whose passion for softball and baseball is akin to Jun San Juan’s fervor for volleyball, Paul Taneo’s obsession with MMA, Boojie Lim’s craze for chess, Lando Alvarez’s fascination with swimming. Jesse Bernad, whose Fastball Sports Ventures holds court at the Aboitiz Sports Field, offered these words in a Q & A:

How was the Manila-Cebu “Baseball Phils Series 8” last Sunday?

“The Baseball Philippines Independence Day Encounter between the Cebu Dolphins and Manila Sharks last Sunday held at Aboitiz Sports Field was fantastic. We couldn’t ask for a better game. We had over 300 people watching from all walks of life – rich, poor, young, old, players and non-players, foreigners, etc. Everybody had a wonderful experience of high-caliber baseball and with our own Cebu Dolphins playing, we had so much to cheer for. Sharks led the game with 2 early runs and the Dolphins fought back to tie it and eventually lead by as much as 3 runs. But the Sharks clawed back to tie the game at 6 all and eventually won it with a final score of 8-6. A classic game of ups and downs which is a trademark of a baseball game. Its a marathon of a game. No lead is safe.

“After finally accepting Fastball’s invitation to come to Cebu, Baseball Philippines is in fact hinting on coming back again for more games especially if the Cebu Dolphins make it to the Finals. It makes us all proud since this is the first semi-pro league official tournament game played outside of Luzon and it was a huge success. The weather cooperated and the playing field was excellent. We owe our success to all our sponsors, volunteers and everyone who lent a hand. We however feel there are a lot of improvements that needs to be done to make the next games better and more successful in terms of attendance.

“In the morning, we got to meet up close and personal the Dolphins and Sharks players during the baseball clinic for kids. We had a very good turnout with around 120 kids  who joined ages 4 to 16 and they got to learn the different techniques of how to play the game the right way direct from the Coaches and players themselves.”

How was Ken Griffey Jr’s visit?

“The Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball Clinic last March 3 and 4 was a huge success and it opened a lot of doors for us. It led Team Cebu to finally joining the Little League Philippines Series, after seeing the talent pool we had during the clinic. There were over 300 participants from ages 4 to 18 and over 30 Coaches and Trainers that PSC Commissioner Jolly Gomez invited us to dinner together with Cebu Sports Leaders to convince us that we need to open our doors and compete outside of Cebu and expose ourselves to better competition and learn better techniques so we can gauge our skill level against teams from other parts of the country. True enough, we learned a lot during the games in Lipa City, Batangas. We noticed that our players lacked the composure during tight games due to lack of exposure. We also observed that our training techniques and mental approach were lagging behind. With the experience we had in Lipa, perhaps we can improve our performance in future competitions.”

How is baseball and softball in Cebu today compared to a few years back?

“No doubt, baseball in Cebu has improved by leaps and bounds since the time Fastball started promoting the sport. Through our program, we have created Baseball Clubs in different private schools. Our talent pool has dramatically increased through our Baseball Clinics and Summer Camps. As for Softball, the number of adult Softball Clubs and tournaments have tripled since we first introduced our Softball Summer League for Adults and our 1-day Leagues. More people are playing now, which was our goal in the first place – giving more access to beginners and former players to get into the game. Other groups and organizers are catching up and joining in the fun – which is fine for us. Fastball is proud to be in the forefront of the revival of the 2 sports in Cebu.”

What are your other plans for 2011?

“Fastball has a lot more to offer in the coming months.
1. We are coordinating with Philippine Amateur Baseball Association (PABA) to conduct a Coaches and Trainers training here in Cebu by coaches from Major League Baseball soon. We also plan to request a training for Umpires in Baseball and Softball to improve their game-calling
2. Fastball has created new Baseball and Softball Clubs in the new schoolyear to jump start our plans for a tournament between private schools.
3. We will continue the Fastball baseball and Softball clinics for individuals who do not have teams or Clubs.
4. Fastball will be hosting an Invitational Tournament wherein teams from Manila and nearby cities will play against our local teams in the 10 & under, Little League Baseball and Softball Majors and Softball Juniors categories.
5. With the successful application of our Cebu Little League Charter with Little League International, Fastball will be launching the Cebu Little League tournament which is the preeminent league for baseball and softball for kids.
6. Fastball has been contacted and offered by certain groups to organize and host bigger leagues or tournaments in Cebu which are yet to be finalized.”

What is Fastball doing to help the sport?

“Fastball is creating ways not only to improve our players but to attract more people to the sport. Hence, by convincing the US Embassy to bring Ken Griffey Jr. to Cebu was a big start. Then we had Baseball Philippines coming over which as also huge. We have now gotten the attention of the public -fans and non-baseball fans. The support from the LGUs is a huge boost to us and they know Fastball is sincere in our dealings with them. Our league at the recent Cebu Fest 2011 in SRP had one of the most participants with 22 teams from ages 5 to 60 years old from 6 different categories. We were the first to start and the last to end our games at this sports festival created by CCSC.”

How can Cebuanos play the game?

“Interested players who do not have Baseball Clubs in their school but want to join and play with us can join our Baseball Clinics for kids – boys and girls which we do on Saturdays. Adult Softball players can join our Leagues: the 1-day Leagues that we hold every 3 months or the Fastball Summer Softball tournament. Groups can also contact us to conduct private clinics or friendly games at their convenient time and venue. They can reach us thru email: [email protected] or mobile 09173222284 for more details.”

What is your ultimate dream with softball and baseball in Cebu?

“The plan is to make Baseball and Softball at par with Basketball and Soccer in terms of popularity for players and spectators. Right now, it is a challenge to convince schools and students to join our organization since most are into the 2 aforementioned sports. But with our persistence and determination, we will soon achieve our goal. Kids don’t know that the easiest way to reach international level competitions abroad is through baseball with so many “Invitationals and Regionals” games going on in nearby Asian countries. The challenge is also to convince corporate sponsorships to support our program. We need someone to see us thru and make sure we achieve our dream.

“Lastly, we dream of our very own “Field of Dreams”. A baseball/softball diamond where we can play our game anytime and call it home.”

Baseball? Here’s one catch I’ll never forget

The past two mornings, watching Games 3 and 4 of the World Series finale between the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers, the sight of curve balls, homeruns and base hits elicited unforgettable memories.

Twice, I watched Major League Baseball. These happened in 1993. Yes, that’s a long 17 years ago. Our entire family had the opportunity to travel in America. We visited Disneyland, gazed at the HOLLYWOOD sign perched on the hilltop, drove to San Diego to survey the Sea World whales, stared in awe of the giant Universal Studios.

Sports? Manny Pacquiao was only 15 then. He wasn’t in Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym yet—so that wasn’t part of our itinerary. In the era of Michael Jordan, no we didn’t watch No. 23—and I can’t recall why not. The sport I forced my family members to attend? Baseball.

I love baseball. In college, it was one of the favorite events. Jesse Bernad—who operates Fastball Batting Cages and who’s a skipper of the sport today—was U.P. Cebu’s top pitcher. And batter. He was the MVP of our college’s MLB-version. My other batch-mates included Jeffrey Pabriaga, Dustin Morada and Neil Ceniza. Softball was fun.

Back to our U.S. trip: We were in Los Angeles and, with my dad Bunny, I watched my first-ever Major League Baseball game. It was the L.A. Dodgers against a rookie team, the Colorado Rockies. That 1993 game was their first-ever meeting. Thanks to Google (while researching for this piece yesterday), I tracked down the date and it’s “May 21, 1993.” The Dodgers won that game, 8-0, and my dad and I watched Mike Piazza hit a homerun.

What an experience. The gigantic Dodger Stadium—today’s third-oldest MLB ballpark—happens to be, according to Wikipedia, the largest baseball park in the world (based on capacity) with 56,000 seats. That’s Baseball Story No. 1.

The second is more dramatic: As our family moved northward to San Francisco, we resided in the home of one of my mom Allen’s relatives. Lo and behold, our relatives’ children—my age—had free tickets to a baseball game. No, it wasn’t the San Francisco Giants—now leading 3-1 against the Rangers and poised to win their sixth World Series title—but it’s neighbor across the island, the Oakland Athletics.

Together with my cousins, my dad, and my brother Randy, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and hopped to the Oakland Coliseum where the Oakland A’s were to meet the defending champions, the Toronto Blue Jays.

The atmosphere was chaotic and loud. With over 30,000 boisterous fans—many shirtless, many with Budweiser beers on-hand, many chewing on hotdogs—it was a thrill. David Cone pitched for the Blue Jays. One of his teammates was Joe Carter—made famous with this “Golden Moment” homerun just months earlier to win the World Series for the Jays.

Mark McGwire, nicknamed “Big Mac,” (and who homered 70 times in 1998), was the most revered A’s player then. (Prior to his admission of performance-enhancing drugs.) Sadly, he was absent that day. But Rickey Henderson—who holds the all-time “stolen bases” record—played for Oakland.

My group sat at the back of the home plate. We had a close look at the batters. Now, here’s my believe-it-or-not moment: It happened in the fourth inning. I don’t recall who was batting but, when the ball struck his wooden bat, it floated on-air and hovered back—towards our direction. One… two… three seconds later… the baseball swooped downwards—right towards us.

Bang! It hit the seat fronting us! I jumped down—as did a few others—everybody scrambling for the ball. We bumped shoulders. Hands jostled. Finally, after the scuffle, my hands gripped the white leather. I clasped it hard. Yes! With hundreds of eyes staring at our direction, I lifted the prized catch onto the California clouds.

It was a moment I’ll forever cherish. A sport I’ll always follow. As George Will once said, “Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.”

A sales pitch for baseball and softball


What a shot! Jesse smashing a picture-perfect hit

Thanks to Jesse Bernad, these two sports involving mitts, shortstops, bats, ground balls, and a playing field called a diamond—is back. A star pitcher at the UP Cebu College, Jesse opened “Fastball Batting Cages” at the Aboitiz Sports Field (at the reclamation area, beside Makro) last November to fulfill his lifelong goal of constructing a “Field of Dreams.” Since then, hundreds have trooped to swing, to throw and to score homeruns in a real softball game on a real baseball diamond.

Two days ago, Jesse sent an email. Tackling the WBC, the state of the game in Cebu and his plans for summer, here’s Mr. Bernad:

Jesse Bernad builds his Field of Dreams

When I studied college at U.P. Cebu, the one week that I looked forward to each year more than any other was Intramurals. The sport that got my palms sweaty and my heart racing 178 beats per minute?

Softball. But while I enjoyed gripping that aluminum bat, inserting that leather glove on my left hand and catching and throwing balls and stealing bases, the one player I detested facing was the pitcher of the Seniors team: Jesse Bernad.

In an article I wrote on this space last year, here’s how I described Jesse: “If you saw Troy, he’s Achilles. Our Michael Phelps of the Athens Games. Everybody sweated facing Hulk. As softball pitcher, he threw underhand fastballs that screamed at you like a bullet ambulance. How do I know? I stood meters from him as batter and almost fell off my backside at the zooming softball’s pace. As basketball center, Jessed pulled down rebounds like he were picking mansanitas, deflected shots like one would mosquitoes, and “owned” the low post like a Tim Duncan.”