Firsts and lasts

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

We always remember our first. Whether it be work or love, a first time is always a breakthrough. We heave a sigh of relief at overcoming the feelings of being overwhelmed, and actually accomplishing what was put in our path. These milestones are markers of our growth. And as any athlete or sportsman knows, these are the memories that make the ascent to greatness worthwhile. Looking back at the hard times, the persistent problems, going through the wall is always unforgettable. Your first is always memorable because you see it coming from far away, dread its arrival, feel stretched and uncomfortable during its visit, then realize it was just a test that wasn’t fatal. And it sets everything up to become easier.

I remember many first very clearly. The first time I covered a major boxing match in the 1980’s was a Pretty Boy Lucas minimumweight title fight. I still recall all the unfiltered sensations of adrenalin racing through me at ringside, and the first time I was splattered with an athlete’s blood and sweat. I also remember not being able to sleep that night, or the next. I was filled with so many new emotions, it took a while to settle down. But it made all the next thousands of fights easier to cover.

I also remember being treated as an outsider back when television reporters were never seen at sports events. I was the eager new kid, trying to make a name for myself, trying to prove to my bosses that sports was worth the airtime on our crowded evening news. Some of my elders wouldn’t give me the time of day. We were considered overpaid and underworked mimics, even though we were the ones baking in the sun at golf tournaments while they sat in the clubhouse sipping iced tea, waiting for the competitors to lend them their scorecards. Needless to say, things are much better now on both sides. And it goes without saying that sports broadcast news has come a long way, even if it still doesn’t make the major newscasts on a daily basis. I will never forget the late Sim Sotto for realizing that what we were doing was also important. As president then of what was the Sports Columnists Association of the Philippines (SCOOP, which I would likewise become president of), he created broadcast news categories for their annual awards. Our consistent efforts won us two, including a special award for our exclusives from the 1989 Southeast Asian Games.

My first trip to the US as a broadcast journalist was also memorable. In 1988 I was invited to cover the Junior World Golf Championships in San Diego, the first television journalist from the Philippines to be there, my old friend and cameraman Rey Teodoro went with me, as we documented the kids who followed in the footsteps of Ramon Brobio and Carito Villaroman. It was also when I first met my biological father, who had separated from my mother before I was born. Back then, there were no direct flights to the mainland United States. It took 25 hours to get to Los Angeles from Manila. But I learned early on that that’s what you do when you love your experience was similar if more taxing on my first state visit with Pres. Fidel Ramos in 1993. Eight cities in 14 days, and we were flying commercial. It was, in a nutshell, a heck of a ride.

But the lasts are a little bit harder, because you don’t know when they will come. It brings everything into greater focus, and makes all the emotions sharper. As executive producer of the PBA broadcasts for Vintage Enterprises in the early 1990’s, I never thought I would get to work with the awesome talent that I was setting the table for: Joe Cantada, Andy Jao, Sev Sarmenta, Quinito Henson, Ed Picson, Romy Kintanar, and all those of us who walked in their shadows and later stood on their giant shoulders. If there was only one thing I could do over in my career, it would be to ask for more chances to do broadcasts with Joe. When I was promoted to analyst or color man, I only got to do one game with Joe before he was struck down by cancer. That first was also the last. I still treasure all his advice to this day, a quarter of a century later. He was the voice of boxing and basketball.

Sometimes, the last is a blur because you didn’t know it would be final, that somehow, there should have been more. More games to cover with someone, more stories, more bottomless laughter. I am grateful for all the friendships that sports has provided, and the memories that are still bright and kept alive by the magic of video recording. I still get to listen to my old departed friends Joe, Romy K., Butch Maniego and all those who now form a formidable broadcast pool in the heavens. We’re the lucky ones, in a way.

But some friends will have to live on in our fragile memories. Yesterday, this writer and a bunch of common friends paid tribute to Rey Pineda, the late president of the Philippine Lawn Bowls Association and its petanque counterpart, in Angeles, Pampanga. Rey loved life in such a large way, he ate it all up, savored every minute, loved and laughed with a passion even I have rarely seen. He loved his family, his sports, his Harleys and his friends with so much fire, he would brook no quarrel nor betrayal. Fractured friendships left him heartbroken, and in recent years, he had had plenty. He passed away late last year after a long motorcycle ride from the north, on his terms. No prolonged illness, no burden to the family. In the middle of a casual morning conversation with his beloved Charmaine, a heart attack, and that was it.

What we often find out when friends pass on, and what we find surprising even when it shouldn’t be, is how many lives they touch. From the mightiest in the corridors of power to the ordinary man on the street, Rey changed people for the better. He dreamed of things others didn’t see: a world champion in lawn bowls, an academy for petanque, nationwide franchises for his unique C’ Italian restaurants. He was a bridge-builder, bringing people together who ordinarily wouldn’t have been friends, and making friends out of enemies. Rey was also old friends with my father figure Bruce McTavish, proving it is truly a small world. We knew many of the same people in different circumstances, as colleagues in the Philippine Olympic Committee, or fellow riders. It is the brightest stars that often shine the most brief, after giving the most light.

It took me a while to remember where I last saw Rey, like trying to pick the best episode of your favorite TV show. The images mashed together. I remember Rey happily sitting at table with his cigar, happily listening to his son King play the blues, with that cherubic, beatific smile on his face, like everything was right with the world. Everything else may fade to black and white, but that memory will be with me forever. And it will make all my friendships that much sweeter from now on.












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