Panes: One year

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By Joel Panes

Optic Yellow

Monday, June 23, 2014


THIS day marks a first of many firsts in life. This column made available for a game I have loved since youth and was blessed to have a record of excellence is now a year old. Though I enjoyed the cardiac game of basketball and was tempted to try my fortunes in a varsity squad at one time, Divine Providence had taken me to a clearer pathway to play and love baseball from the time one seasoned coach and a retired Philippine Army colonel convinced his fellow officer in the armed forces, next door neighbour and my father.

Although each breath is a miracle by itself, not everyone gets to be part of something which distinguishes it from the others. All play the game but not all emerge as champions.

While there are those who emerge as champions, not all hold the distinction of having consecutive titles or even a grand slam title. A grand slam is a rare feat that scores four runs in one attempt. As a UP Maroon playing with like-minded players from different year levels bearing daily the burden of academic requirements as "iskolars ng bayan" UP baseball won 4 consecutive UAAP championships under Artemio Isidro. It was no small feat. To date, not many players and teams with better individual players in their squads can share in the same privilege.

Not all are also national champions.

For 10 years since the fabled Pete Mendoza, then Athletic Director of BCF entrusted a bunch of young university girls, aging men and their progenies in the game of batted would narrate many memorable moments of one of Cordilleras' favourite games. They would recount of many competitions they had against the Philippines' best in the game. The Athletic Bowl I gather from their narratives was then brimming with life and excitement. Corporate teams and funds brought teams from Baguio and Benguet to compete in many famous venues but the glory for softball had eluded them.

To be at the helm of that UC softball squad on my 10th year of coaching the squad was special and just as memorable to the young ladies. Four of these were freshmen and half of the team had barely two years playing college softball experience. In addition, softball equipment was scarce and the lack of money was always cited as a convenient reason.

In addition, there was an unbelievable air of self-righteous acrimony, which half-men could not reason against. These constraints notwithstanding, Divine Providence was still pleased to bring to the University of the Cordilleras a national collegiate championship in softball at the Private Schools Athletic Association, its first. With an Australian twang, which I had just learned, this was for Baguio, Cordilleras and Northern Luzon no longer an elusive first, but a realized first.

Looking back, I will always be grateful how far the journey has been. The list unto whom I owe a debt of gratitude is lengthy. Even during these times last year when the spirit of acrimony sought to severe ties, I valued every prayer and sympathetic spirit who commiserated in the loss and also cherished the progress of one of Cordilleras' favourite games.

There is something mystical in the way divine grace bestows such honour without succumbing to a bestial instinct. There are sacrifices which when rendered in its purest form bring an ultimate reward. I have not only seen it from a distance but have been raptured in its swirl. I have seen both the promise of softball success and endured the contempt and even evil designs. Divine Providence has been good to have taken me to cherish every breath blissfully tasting these successes. And I have not been alone.

I realize that after winning the national championship in 2014, my greatest joy is not that these privileges are purely mine. About 30 young ladies have been part of the winning experience but only twelve ladies, one coach, one institution and one city in the Cordilleras own the distinction of being national champions. That is immensely good for me.

Decades ago, I received from many good coaches how the game should be played. Decades after that youthful and decadent time, I had the opportunity to give back. These highlands were ripe for the blessing. I gave, had given and given more than what had been financially endowed.

The costs had been high and trusted relations were strained but looking back at these ten years, the realization that the sacrifice against the odds was worth taking sinks in. More than anything, I knew I had returned something of value to the game.

A distinguished dean in law school once preached to a classroom full of students concerning legacy. After citing a famous source, he enumerated a few things constitutive of legacy - to plant a tree, raise children and write a book. Of such, I have done the first two. After another year or maybe more, I can compile a year or so of Sun.Star's Optic Yellow and publish it in a book. But for me, it will not be as important as the legatee.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on June 24, 2014.

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