Bata’s Olympic dream
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - July 29, 2019 - 12:00am

You would think that Efren “Bata” Reyes would be satisfied. For over half a century, he has managed to master every form of one of the most unpredictable sports of all. The world-renowned pool legend has won everything there is to win, on every big stage of the game. He has confounded commentators, comrades and competitors alike, turning a game of geometry and physics into his personal artistic canvas. Even better, he has helped, inspired, taught and developed other world-class pool players, spreading fear of Filipino cue artists around the world.

The Kapampangan hero spent his youth in pool halls, in the old Lucky 13, hanging out, observing. He finally picked up a cue, and revealed an innate imagination that showed him ways to get a ball from point A to point B in a way no one else could imagine. And truly, no one could comprehend the shot-making process inside his beautiful mind.

“I kept watching other people’s shots and kept learning,” the player dubbed The Magician told this writer. “Wherever there were games, I went. I knew I could be good at it. I just kept working on my shot.”

Reyes gained a reputation as a consistent, deadly shot-maker, seeing things before they happened. He could predict if a shot would go in or not just by looking at the position of the balls on the table. People wouldn’t believe him, until things happened exactly the way he said. He kept getting better and better and better. He kept winning and winning and winning.

In 1999, Bata took himself and the Philippines off the map and into the firmament. He won the World 9Ball Championship in Cardiff, Wales, a seismic victory over a field of almost a hundred of the greatest players in the world. But he corrects a certain misperception of the event.

“There were already world 9ball championship before that,” he explains, rattling off places and dates he had played prior. “1999 was the first televised one. That’s why people remember it.”

By some estimates, that event propelled billiards to multiply in Metro Manila alone by up to 800 percent. In the intervening 20 years, how many more world champion billiards players have emerged and been inspired to take up the sport since? New events like 10ball have become part of the landscape.

“Tatay Efren has really been one of my inspirations,” admits two-time world champion Rubilen Amit. “When he’s around, it really makes a difference. He’s always helping us, giving us confidence.”

But there is one thing that Reyes longs for in his heart of hearts: an Olympic gold medal. And he’s been saying it for over two decades: billiards should be in the Olympics. He prays that he will see it happen in his lifetime. He’s getting up there, and his shoulder is starting to ache from well over half a century of constant play.

“That’s the only thing I’m waiting for,” he says in the vernacular. “The Americans talked to me to campaign to get into the Olympics. They said let’s do an exhibition team event. When I got my players, they quit because they kept losing to us.”

Success can be its own worst enemy. But there would be no more fitting exclamation point on a once in a lifetime athlete like Efren Reyes than a gleaming Olympic gold medal around his neck.

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