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Salute to the legendary Bata Reyes

04:02 AM December 18, 2019

In what could be the last stand of Efren “Bata” Reyes as an athlete, he contented himself with a bronze medal win in the 1-cushion carom in the just concluded 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games. Yes, it’s still a win despite him not taking home the gold medal, because that’s what he’s been doing for our country for decades.

Famously called “The Magician,” the 65-year-old Reyes is the recipient of more than 70 international titles in the 8-Ball and 9-Ball Pool competitions.

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I grew up watching him on television and falling in love with the sport when I was still in grade school. His moves and signature smile spell magic for the audience and for his opponents as well. Because of the sport’s popularity at the peak of his strength in the ’90s and early 2000s, his thriving impact on Filipinos manifested itself in our culture.

In my former neighborhood, contests were regularly held, brought about by our collective fascination with the beauty, brilliance and wizardry of the sport where Reyes was unofficially world No. 1.

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A memorable episode still reverberates in my mind every time Reyes’ name is mentioned. It’s June 11, 1995—the 9-Ball Open Finals. Reyes was going against Earl Strickland of the United States, his strongest rival at that time. Reyes pulled off the infamous “Z Shot.”

The audience members were exhilarated at having witnessed what is still considered one of the most difficult shots ever made. After two more shots and Reyes was left with the 9-ball, Strickland conceded. It was a great show of sportsmanship, a moment that cemented Bata’s legacy.

Reyes’ out-of-this-world touch may have faded with time—he recently revealed that he could no longer do his trademark moves on the pool table, and that he has body aches all over — but when I saw him competing again, his aura seemed unchanged. He still had the charisma that Filipinos loved. His humility, honesty and connection with the masses were still present.

There can never be another Efren “Bata” Reyes. He’s a living legend and the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) in his discipline.

As he embraces his possible retirement, may he be given the best treatment he’s entitled to receive as one of the diamonds of world sports. Now, that’s more valuable than gold.

BENRE J. ZENAROSA
[email protected]

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