On the shoulders of 15 intrepid boys lie the responsibility of putting the Philippines back on the world baseball map.
That may seem a little unfair but these kids are proving up to the task, overcoming great odds to rule the inaugural Asian Pacific qualifying tournament and earning a trip to the PONY Bronco-11 World Series in Virginia next month.
The 15 kids came from different parts of the country and from widely diverse backgrounds, but they put their act together quickly enough to beat Indonesia, Russia and host Singapore in the last Asia Pacific Zone Bronco-11 Championship.
“They have chemistry and teamwork, they do it for each other and for the country,” said Philippine Tot Baseball Foundation president Rodolfo Tingzon.
The Barakos did not drop a single game in the Lion City eliminations before beating the Indons, 5-4, in the final, earning the right to represent the region in the July 25-31 World Series in Chesterfield, Virginia.
The team members are Rovic Villanueva, Jonas Palad, Genesis Manabat, Vincent Noprada, Atong Natanauan, Kiel Agojo, Ian Mercado, Chris Clark, Gabs Alcaraz, Dino Mendoza, Marti Ranada, Cobey Tingzon, CJ Castillo, Yoji Ueda and Gian Cruz.
The World Series represents another chance for the Philippines to make its presence felt in the world baseball stage after an embarrassing Little League age-cheating scandal in 1992.
However, the Virginia showpiece will be an entirely different story for the Asian Pacific champions as they will be ranged against boys bigger, better trained and better equipped than them.
The Barakos’ preparations have also been far from ideal, their main problem being geographic in nature.
Ten of the players are based in Batangas while four are living in Muntinlupa and one in Marikina, leaving coaches Ruben Angeles and Romar Landicho no choice but to train the boys separately at most times.
“Yung mga taga-Manila, nagpa-practice the same way as ‘yung mga taga-Batangas kaya pare-pareho ‘yung alam nila,” said Tingzon.
To prepare for matches against highly fancied teams from Europe, South America, Mexico and the hosts which will be represented by four teams, the Filipino sluggers have taken a page out of the Japan playbook and are concentrating on contact hitting and aggressive running.
“That’s the basic training of Asians. We want singles. Doubles and triples are just icing on the cake,” said Tingzon.
“Everybody should be going for singles and we want to run aggressively. That’s how we can match up against bigger players. That’s the reason why Japan is the World Baseball Classic champion,” Tingzon said.
Tingzon said the Barakos’ pitchers should also learn how to throw curveballs, knowing American kids usually have a hard time dealing with the pitch.
“Ang mga Amerikano, sanay sa fastball pero hindi sanay sa curveball kahit magaling pumalo. Kailangan natin ‘yun para maging patas ang laban,” he said.
But whatever fate awaits the Barakos in Virginia, Tingzon said the boys have already done the country proud.
“Looking at the world level, I can say we are getting there. With the system in place, baka sakali pwede na tayo maging world champion at this level. We just need more exposure,” he said.