Farewell, Hardball
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - March 11, 2019 - 12:00am

Tonight, the ABS-CBN News Channel broadcasts the final episode of “Hardball”, the longest-running sports magazine show on Philippine television. It features an exclusive interview with 1977 PBA Most Valuable Player Freddie Hubalde. Par for the course, it will be replayed at different times throughout the week to hit the various time zones on The Filipino Channel.

Hardball started as a nightly program of this writer’s creation in November of 2006. Originally slotted at 10:30 p.m. after The World Tonight, it featured myself, Boyet Sison and Jinno Rufino. Jinno had a sports show on Studio 23; Boyet was a student in one of Noel Zarate’s workshops that I spoke at. Hardball quickly gained a life of its own, particularly in the US, where Pinoy sports fans got a healthy, funny dose of sports before going to work in the morning. One fan at the time even said we were better than the American version of ESPN. Their words, not ours. 

In the intervening years, so much has changed. After Rufino left, Boom Gonzalez added his own touch to the mix. But another change in airtime made it impossible for Boom to stay on; so it’s been myself and Boyet ever since. Our young writer, Warren de Guzman, is now a credible business journalist, and we are immensely proud of him. Our executive producer Paul Loyola, pushed our ideas to management. Our director Tito Robles tirelessly kept all technical personnel focused, not an easy task since everyone worked multiple programs. Maila de Layola, whose father was one of my first cameramen, took care of shepherding our guests, and they were legion.

Hardball has interviewed multiple Olympic medallists, NBA players, US ambassadors, world boxing champions, foreign coaches and corporate magnates. We have tackled the green-headed monster of politics several times, and have helped unseat a handful of terrible sports leaders. As we used to say, the program was the only place we played hardball. We defended athletes and associations who got a raw deal, and stood up for what was right. By defending one of my co-hosts, I even got an online writer fired for factual inaccuracies and horribly biased writing. We were not affiliated with anyone, so we were beholden to no one. 

We have had almost every NCAA and UAAP men’s basketball champion team in the studio, and most women’s volleyball champions. Guests have come from different nations other than ours: the US, Canada, Thailand, Serbia, China, South Korea, Germany, just to name a few. We have helped every sport in the book, new or old. Basketball, boxing, bowling, billiards, cycling, capoeira, chess, athletics, ice skating, hockey, rugby, shooting, tchoukball, karate, mixed martial arts, cheer dancing, dancesport, darts, beach games, windsurfing, mountain climbing, e-games, equestrian, motor sports and every competitive sport imaginable have been featured on the show. It has been the go-to program for the real score on sport.

But Hardball’s trademark is its tongue-in-cheek humor, which we’ve been able to get away with partly because we were on cable. Boyet and I have been taking good-natured jabs at each other about our weight, retreating hairline, color, and whatever we can think of. But we are, at the end of it all, brothers under the skin. We’ve lost many friends and family members, and consoled each other. That will not change.

Hardball has, in many ways, changed the way we analyze sports, and the motivations behind it all. We exposed those who were not really there to help the athlete, and fought for athletes who deserved more. This new transition is my last program with ABS-CBN, a position I was once in 20 years ago. Things change, and we will have to evolve with time. Boyet is a well-known DJ, and has become a respected emcee and ring announcer. I continue to create content and events, and conduct corporate training and team-building workshops. This May, I will also launch the first Bill Velasco Sports Broadcasting Workshops in Cebu, Metro Manila and Davao. Life goes on, and we gotta make a living. 

We were instructed not to say goodbye on the program, or do anything extraordinary. Why, we do not know. But there is much to be grateful for. The last three Gawad Tanglaw Awards for Best Sports Show were just unexpected manna. The noble warriors and selfless philanthropists we encountered, the courageous patriots, pioneering women in sport, all honored us with their presence. All the happy memories, the laughter, the craziness. It brings a tear to my eye just writing about it all. The last few years, we settled into a nice groove on Monday evenings. Thanks to everyone for all the love.

As I used to say on another program I created, wherever you go, whatever you do, always remember: we’re all on the same team. Hardball will echo through time, the happiness multiplying in those who will remember.

We can’t ask for more than that.

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