Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Efren Bata Reyes: A Genius In Our Midst!

Efren Bata Reyes GraphicAs promised, here is the conclusion of the very interesting piece on Filipino pool player Efren Bata Reyes, which was written by Ronnie Nathanielsz in 2006. For those not in the know, Ronnie Nathanielsz is one of the Philippines’ premiere sports journalists.

If you’re thinking the first part was a must-read, then you’re in for the surprise of your life because this one, the conclusion, is just awesome! And I kid you not!

To all my billiards buddies and pool players, hope you enjoy the read!

A Genius in Our Midst by Ronnie Nathanielsz

Efren “Bata” Reyes’ only miscue came after the finals when signing autographs on the souvenir program, he signed Efren Reyes. Mike Panozzo recalled that Reyes “noticing his own gaffe grinned, shook his head and walked away. The charade was over.” But not the winning.

In winning his first US major and the princely sum of some $10,800, Reyes showed the Americans a facet of the game they hadn’t seen before with a dazzling array of shots, including exquisite safeties, perfect position off jump shots and kick shots that invariably pocketed the object ball or resulted in carefully plotted safeties. Suddenly, Reyes had brought an exciting new dimension to the game of pool. And while his opponents were dumbfounded, the fans were enthralled.

The Filipino invasion of the US circuit was pioneered by Jose “Amang” Parica, who set the stage for Reyes, Francisco “Django” Bustamante and to some extent Rodolfo “Boy Samson” Luat, who followed. But there was nobody quite like Reyes. After the Houston Red’s Open, Reyes was on a roll. He won the prestigious Sands Regency 9-Ball Championship, repeated the feat two years later when he also showed his uncanny versatility by competing in snooker at the 1987 Southeast Asian Games and winning the gold medal. He won the 1988 McDermott Masters, the 1990 World Cup in Taipei, the 1992 World 9-Ball Open in Tokyo, the International 8-Ball Classic in 1992. The list goes on and on.

The year 1994 was a specially rewarding year in terms of achievements. Besides winning the coveted US Open, he anchored the Philippine Team that won the World Team Championship and then returned to Manila and gave the US squad a whipping in a two-day series at the Ninoy Aquino Memorial Stadium. If 1994 was rewarding, the following year was memorable. Reyes put together a string of spectacular victories and was named Player of the Year.

But the defining moment for Reyes and indeed his relationship with millions of his countrymen was the 1999 World Pool Championship in Cardiff. While an entire nation was riveted to their television sets into the wee hours of the morning, Reyes was in an awesome form and demolished Taiwanese star Hao Ping Chang, 17-8, in the finals.

He came home a hero to be embraced by his countrymen. He received the cherished Philippine Legion of Honor and was the Outstanding Filipino Awardee of the Jaycees. He was named Athlete of the Year by the Philippine Sportswriters Association. His victory was a boom to pool. Suddenly, 9-ball was the game to play and to be seen playing. Pool halls sprouted all over the place and they were crowded both on weeknights and weekends. It drew a new breed of enthusiasts from middle-level executives to basketball superstars and showbiz personalities. Reyes, by his creative genius at the pool table, had moved the sport right up for the people’s attention with professional basketball and professional boxing, although Filipino ring idol Manny Pacquiao still hadn’t burst into our consciousness. That was to happen a few years later.

The Americans, often dazzled by Reyes’ creative genius and his courage to go for shots that others don’t even see, have made believers of many. As Billiards Digest once noted, “the more you learn about Reyes, the more you’re convinced you are in the presence of genius.”

The genius—and the decency and simplicity were recognized when Reyes was inducted into the Billiards Congress of America Hall of Fame in 1993. The BCA said Reyes was “the leading figure of the Philippine invasion of the 1980s and 1990s” and described him as the best 9-ball player in the world. Reyes, in his almost divine simplicity, said: “It came as a surprise. I thought the Hall of Fame was only for Americans.”

Grasping the reality of the honor, Reyes remarked, “It gives recognition to my country, which I represent in international pool events. The honor is not mine alone. I share it with my countrymen, who have always supported me.”

That support was probably best exemplified in his once-in-a-lifetime encounter with the stunningly attractive Jeanette Lee in a Race-to-13 encounter dubbed The Black Widow vs The Magician at the standing-room only Casino Filipino amphitheater. Lee was a superstar in her own right and her black ensemble further accentuated her lissome frame and her radiant beauty. A somewhat nervous Reyes eventually proved far too good and won by a wide 13-5 margin. Lee embraced Reyes, planted a kiss on his cheek and said, “You are the greatest.”

As with all athletes, no matter what the particular discipline, Reyes’ eyesight began to falter and his arms and hands began to ache, sometimes from signing too many autographs, he whispers. But he never turns a fan away. Never. When former Philippine Basketball Association commissioner, the eminent lawyer Rudy Salud, suggested to Putch Puyat that Reyes get his vision corrected at the American Eye Center, Reyes balked. He didn’t want to do it. There was fear in his smiling eyes. But Puyat convinced him and soon, two of the finest eye specialists in the country—Dr. Jack Arroyo and Salud’s son, Dr. Arnold Salud—operated on Reyes. Some three weeks later, he won a big international tournament. The first thing Reyes did was to get on his phone, call Puyat and ask him to thank the doctors, who had completely restored his 20-20 vision.

When AZ Billiards once asked Reyes what his advice was to young players, wanting to become professional pool players, he replied: “My advice is to prioritize their education first before pool and stay away from vices, especially drugs.”

The buildup to the battle between the Black Widow and The Magician, which was sponsored by LG Collins and staged and covered by Viva Sports, drew the biggest ratings for a billiards match ever… over 52 percent and an audience share that was much higher. It obliterated everything else on TV that dared challenge the delayed telecast on prime time. That alone made industry people regard it as phenomenal. Only when Pacquiao came along and smashed his way into the consciousness of the nation with his epic battles against legendary Mexicans Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik “El Terrible” Morales were those ratings surpassed.

Interestingly, when Pacquiao’s Pacland Forum ran a poll the other day on “Who’s your ultimate Philippine idol, Manny or Efren?,” the results were telling. Reyes had a two-to-one advantage, 66 percent to 33 percent. It was a testament not just to the consistent genius of Reyes, but a recognition of his undying simplicity, his down-to-earth disposition, his decency at the table or away from it. Efren “Bata” Reyes has indeed been transformed from folk hero to Living Legend.

*The article was published in the September 2006 issue of the Manila Standard. Credits for the great read go to Ronnie Nathanielsz and the Manila Standard.

"It's a kind of magic with The AnitoKid."

*Did you enjoy the post? Did you find it interesting?
You know what to do...:)

Add to Technorati Favorites

Get news and updates!
It's fast! It's free!
And I kid you not!

Enter your email address


It's always a runout at The Runout TV!