My Hardball journey

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

Six years is a long time for a television program. The majority of TV shows launched every year don’t survive past a year and a half. Those that do get past five to seven years become part of the furniture, including almost all major newscasts. It isn’t easy, given how competitive the atmosphere in the industry is, especially with the emergence of competition online. Studies have shown that most youth actually watch their television on laptops and mobile devices.

The ABS-CBN News Channel sports talk show “Hardball” just reached its sixth anniversary on Nov. 21, a remarkable achievement considering that, in the last six years, there have been at least two other programs with similar formats that did not get past their first year. It has not been easy, but the show has tried its best to keep up with trends and the news. 

Hardball first launched the day after the third Manny Pacquiao-Erik Morales fight. If you recall, their first match-up in 2005 was Pacquiao’s last loss until the Timothy Bradley debacle. At the time, Pacquiao had won titles in two weight classes, Morales was only the second Mexican to win three. After the third fight, Morales retired, then returned, moved up to lightweight, and lost to David Diaz.

What I found most memorable was driving to Angeles, Pampanga, to interview veteran international referee Bruce McTavish, who along with his wife Carmen have since been the most steadfast, loving friends any man could ever wish for. It was then that Bruce pointed out how Pacquiao dominated opponents through power brought by his phenomenal speed. I still remember our conversation about the fight.

Since then, Hardball has gone through many changes. Our original partner, Jinno Rufino has moved on, and his place has been filled in ably by ABS-CBN stalwart Boom Gonzalez, one of this generation’s most complete sports broadcasters and consummate professionals. Boyet Sison, for his part, is still everyone’s favorite party guest, and has since metamorphosed into a budding newsman. We often kid Boyet that he is ANC’s new “weather girl.” 

What has happened in sports since 2006? Let’s see. Back then, the Miami Heat won their first NBA championship with Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal brought his larger than life personality to Florida, but deferred to Wade. Back then, every time the Heat would get into trouble, Pat Riley would come to save the day. Today, Erik Spoelstra is the man.

Floyd Landis blew a 15-year career and was confirmed to have used artificial substances like testosterone, and was stripped of his Tour de France, sounds like deja vu, doesn’t it? Thinking about it, why did things have to get worse? Imagine, it’s only now that they finally nailed Lance Armstrong and the rest of the pack for using banned substances. And Armstrong was being accused of doping even before Landis.

Also in 2006, Kobe Bryant blasted the Toronto Raptors for 81 points, the second-highest single-game scoring record since Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 more than four decades earlier. I was actually somewhat surprised that it’s already been six years, because Bryant’s still bailing the Lakers out today. The NBA itself has been through so much, so I suppose that compresses time. 

We at Hardball and our executive producer Paul Loyola have been through a lot, too. We’ve been on at 10:30 p.m. (my favorite timeslot), 9:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and experimented a lot. But so far, we’re still here. Unknown to many, we’re actually exempted from the station’s dress code. We’re actually allowed to wear sneakers on the air. Like I always say, best job in the world.

But kidding aside, it has been a fun ride, the best I’ve had in over a quarter of a century of sportscasting. Being able to talk sports for a living, have some laughs, and prove people wrong is such a kick. A few times people have walked up to us and questioned our opinions, but each time, they’ve turned away nodding in agreement. Hardball has proven we can have fun and still know what we’re doing.

At the end of the day, though, it’s all about the people who have shown their faith in us, our boss at ABS-CBN News Ging Reyes, and our CEO at ANC Cilette Liboro, who allow us our regular therapy of foolishness. There is no overdose of sports for us. We have the best seat in the house all the time. The only possible improvement would be if we were allowed cheerleaders, beer and maybe popcorn. But that’s okay.

So I thank everyone who has watched Hardball and had a good chuckle with us. It has been a blast. Thank you for the opportunity.


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