Only gold in batters’ sights

(The Philippine Star) - October 14, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine Amateur Baseball Association (PABA) president Chito Loyzaga said yesterday he expects no less than the gold medal from the batters representing the host country at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games late this year with the sport making a comeback after an absence in the last three editions.

Baseball will be played only in the men’s division at the Villages in the New Clark City. It has been in the SEA Games calendar only thrice ever in 2005, 2007 and 2011. The Philippines took the gold in 2005 and 2011 and the silver in 2007. Thailand bagged the gold in 2007, silver in 2005 and bronze in 2011. Indonesia finished third in 2005 and 2007 and advanced to second in 2011.

With the SEA Games gold medal in mind, the Philippine team left last Saturday to participate in the 29th Asian Baseball Championships in Taichung, Taipei. The Philippine delegation is led by Dumaguete City Mayor Felipe (Ping) Remollo and lists a 25-man roster. Head coach is Adamson’s Orlando Binarao assisted by La Salle’s Joseph Orillana and Isaac Bacarisas, Air Force’s Wilfredo Hidalgo and Japanese executive/volunteer Keiji Katayama.

In June last year, the Philippines qualified for the Asian Championships by topping the Baseball Federation of Asia (BFA) East Asia Cup in Hong Kong with an unblemished 4-0 record over Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Singapore. The Philippines missed the chance to gain experience in the Asian Games that same year. “The critical date of entry for the Asian Games was in March but Chito was elected in May so the deadline had passed,” said PABA secretary-general Pepe Munoz. The Philippines has not played baseball in the last three Asian Games. Its highest finish in the Asian Games was fifth in 1998 and 2002.

In Taipei, the Philippines is bracketed in Group B with Korea, Pakistan and China. Group A is made up of Japan, Hong Kong, Chinese-Taipei and Sri Lanka. The Philippines faces Pakistan today, China tomorrow and Korea on Wednesday. The top two finishers of both groups advance to the “super round” where the top two placers battle for the gold and the last two placers for the bronze on Sunday. The last two finishers of both groups in the preliminary stage will play in a consolation round. In the previous Asian Championships in 2017, the Philippines finished fourth.

Loyzaga said the Asian Championships are a qualifier for the fourth U23 World Cup next year. Chinese-Taipei won the first World Cup in Taichung in 2014 and Japan took the second in Monterrey, Mexico, in 2016. Mexico captured the gold in the third edition in Barranquilla, Colombia in 2018. The top three finishers in this year’s Asian Championships will represent the continent in the coming World Cup in Mexico.

“It’s a qualifier for the U23 World Cup, a rule set by the BFA,” said Munoz. “If we make it, we’ll send a younger team to Mexico.” The Philippine team’s average age is 25 with 12 players over 23. The senior players are Itakura Parts Philippines Corp.’s centerfielder Jonash Ponce, 37, Air Force’s pitcher Jon-Job Robles, 33, Adamson-Air Force’s pitcher Romeo Jasmin, 31 and NU-Itakura’s outfielder Jarus Inobio, 31.

The roster also includes 2019 UAAP Finals MVP third baseman and pitcher Kiko Gesmundo, 22, 2019 UAAP MVP rightfielder Diego Lozano, 22, Adamson’s outfielder and pitcher Jerome Yenson, 23, La Salle’s first baseman Ignacio Luis Escano, 21, Ateneo-Thunderz shortstop Adrianne Ros Bernardo, 27, Adamson’s catcher Mark Steven Manaig, 20 and Ateneo-Thunderz pitcher Paolo Macasaet, 24. There are 11 pitchers in the cast – Gesmundo, Yenson, Macasaet, Robles, Jasmin, Ateneo-Tornado’s Miguel Salud, 25, Rizal Technological University-Air Force’s Ferdinand Liguayan, 26, La Salle’s Arvin Herrera, 22, NU-Katayama’s Junmar Diarao, 23, UST’s Ron de la Cruz, 21, NU-Air Force’s Clarence Caasalan, 24.

“Training has been mainly at Rizal Memorial,” said Munoz. “There is no age limit in baseball at the SEA Games so it’s an open competition. We’re going for the gold.” Loyzaga said the Taipei competition is part of the national team’s preparation for the SEA Games.

Regarding baseball’s exclusion from the last three SEA Games, Loyzaga said it’s the host nation’s prerogative. “The only reason which makes sense is the host countries will not make it to the medal podium,” he said. Munoz mentioned that since the host nation decides the sports, baseball was struck out by Myanmar in 2013, Singapore in 2015 and Malaysia in 2017.

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