Pinoys built for baseball

Joaquin Henson - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — American coach Bill Picketts is convinced that with the right direction, Filipinos can excel in baseball based on his impressions from several days of scouting the national and random varsity teams at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Picketts, 51, arrived here last Wednesday as a Major League Baseball designate to advise the Philippine Amateur Baseball Association (PABA) on forming the national team to play at the World Baseball Classic qualifiers in Tucson on March 18-25. He was a second/third baseman and shortstop in three seasons with the Southern Oregon As, Madison Muskies and Reno Silver Sox in the minors and is now head baseball coach at Los Angeles Pierce College. Picketts returns to L. A. tomorrow.

Picketts said it was destiny that he came to the Philippines and cited several reasons why. “First, I’m married to a Filipina and we’ve got two Fil-Am boys, one of whom Will is 21 and eligible to play for the Philippines,” he said. “My other son Jake is 10. My wife (Eden Tampus of Cebu) hasn’t been here since 1989 and this is my first visit. Second, I’ve been in touch with a Filipino, Oscar Marcelino, who’s a baseball coach at the American School in Singapore, over the last five years and we’ve been tracking Filipino and Fil-Am potential major leaguers. And third, our school president Dr. Alexis Montevirgen is Filipino and he’s given his go-signal for the Philippine national team to train on campus for about a week before the qualifiers.”

Picketts said his short-term mission is to spot players from here who could compete in the qualifiers then address the gaps in the roster with Fil-Ams and Philippine-born players eligible to suit up for the Philippines. “I’m impressed with the talent I’ve seen,” said Picketts who spent mornings and afternoons taking down notes on players at Rizal. “I felt the passion. Rizal’s an amazing field, lots of history and nostalgia with markings of how far Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig hit homers when they played in Manila back in the day. But I think it needs some sprucing up. Putting an artificial turf will go a long way in inspiring guys to come over and play ball. It’s a wonderful feeling when you’re playing on a nice field.”

If PABA is agreeable, Picketts said he’s willing to invest in developing a national development program for the sport. “Filipinos are built for baseball,” he said. “Height isn’t a prerequisite. Look at the Houston Astros’ best player Jose Altuve who’s only 5-6. I’d like to be involved over the long haul, not in a quick fix. For the qualifiers, we’ve got a list of about 20 Fil-Ams or Philippine-born players. Now that I know what we’ve got from the Philippine side, I’ll fill in the gaps with the guys in the US. Our US list includes Brady and Riley Conlan, Travis and Chase Darnell, Miguel Ofilada, my son Will who plays for Cal State Bakersfield, former football quarterback Tim Tebow and one-time MLB postseason MVP Tim Lincecum. We’re definitely reaching out to Tebow and Lincecum and even if they don’t play, their presence will be a big boost to our team.” Picketts said he’s in touch with US-based Filipino coaches like Vince Sagisi and Rainel Caranto on options to recruit. A shoo-in for the team is pitcher Miguel Salud who played a year with Ateneo and another year at Cal Lutheran. Varsity standouts, like La Salle’s Diego Lozano, may not be available for the qualifiers because of a conflict in schedule with the UAAP season.

Marcelino, 63, used to be an MLB coaching envoy who conducted clinics all over the world. He was based in Fresno for several years until relocating to Singapore to accept a teaching job in 2011. Marcelino was a Meralco little leaguer at 12 before moving to the US at 15. Baseball has been in his blood since he was a boy. A blind phone call he made to Pierce College inquiring about an opening for a Filipino player five years ago led to a close relationship with Picketts. He was in town to scout Filipino players with Picketts.

Picketts said he doesn’t know what to expect in the qualifiers. The Philippines is bracketed with the Czech Republic, UK, New Zealand, Panama and Spain. The top two finishers will advance to another qualifying tournament before making it to next year’s World Baseball Classic. The plan is to fly players from Manila to L. A. to train with the Fil-Am and Philippine-born recruits for a week before moving to Tucson. “We don’t know the players from the other countries,” said Picketts. “I’m sure they’re recruiting like us. Right now, I think Philippine baseball is about five years behind. We’ve got some catching up to do.”

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