THOUSANDS of miles away from home and on the eve of the biggest game of their careers, Manila’s women softball players were told of an unfolding disaster in the country that was endangering the lives of thousands of Filipinos, most likely their families and friends among them.
“Nung nag-meeting kami ng mga bata bago ng championship [game], sinabi ko na medyo hindi maganda ang kalagayan sa Pilipinas,” head coach Ana Santiago told Spin.ph, hours after Manila’s conquest of the Big League Softball World Series title in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
“Sabi ko sa kanila na alam ko nagwo-worry tayo sa mga pamilya natin pero pagdating sa field, mag-concentrate muna tayo dahil ‘yung laro naman natin, ide-dedicate natin sa mga nasalanta,” said Santiago.
The grim news could’ve easily turned the women into a bundle of nerves and caused them to lose focus. Instead they showed the world that, just like thousands of their countrymen dealing with killer floods in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces, Filipinos are capable of rising above adversity.
The softbelles, after all, were no strangers to difficulty.
From the time the standouts from different universities in Manila were banded together for the Asian-Pacific qualifiers to the days leading up to their departure for the World Series in Michigan, the team had to hurdle one obstacle after another, most of them caused by lack of funds.
Funds were so scarce that initially the Manila Little League Charter was left with no choice but to send only 10 players to the Michigan finals. On the prodding of Santiago, charter president and Manila councilor Che Borromeo managed to put up enough money to send one more player.
Flying on a budget, the 11 players left for Chicago on July 27 on separate connecting flights via Japan, Honolulu, Seattle and Minneapolis. From there the team took another three-hour bus ride to get to Kalamazoo.
“Halos dalawang araw kami nagbi-biyahe,” said Santiago.
Back in Manila, Borromeo was able to solicit the help of former president Joseph Estrada to be able to send two more players to join the team. The two arrived just in time for the Manila team’s debut on August 2 (August 3, Manila time) — a doubleheader against Latin America and California.
Not surprisingly, they lost both games.
“Wala nang pahinga-pahinga, may sakit pa nga ‘yung dalawa kong players dahil sa tagal ng biyahe,” said Santiago.
“Na-disorient ‘yung mga players dahil sa jet lag,” said Borromeo, who joined the two additional players in the trip.
But as soon as the Manila softbelles settled down, they went on an amazing run. The Asian-Pacific champs won their next six games, including a 12-2 victory over their tormentors in last year’s finals Grand Rapids, to get to the finals against West representatives California.
All the while, the only news they get from the gloomy events in Manila was what the coaches told them.
On Thursday, while the tail end of the monsoon rains battered Manila, the team whipped up a storm of their own as Rizza Bernardino blasted her fourth home run of the tournament and pitched a five-hit complete game to lead a 14-2 hammering of California.
“Talagang determined ‘yung mga players. Kahit anong nangyari, determined sila at talagang lumaban,” said Borromeo.
The emphatic win atoned for Manila’s finals defeats in 2008, 2010 and last year and gave the Philippines its first softball World Series title since a team from Bacolod won the junior league softball crown in 2003.
Not surprisingly, the team’s run to the title didn’t generate as much buzz in mainstream media, coming as it did at a time when the nation’s focus was on the floods in Manila and the attention of the sports world was on the Olympic Games in London.
But for the team, the thought that they were able to bring a little cheer to their kababayans at a time of great distress while showing the world what Filipino resilience is all about made their sacrifices worth it.
“Alam namin na magiging proud ang mga kababayan namin sa atin na nakapagbigay kami ng karangalan at kahit pansamantala, malihis ‘yung usapan tungkol sa kalamidad,” Santiago said.