FIELD OF DREAMS II: Smokey’s diamond in the rough rises | Inquirer Sports

FIELD OF DREAMS II: Smokey’s diamond in the rough rises

08:27 AM September 19, 2010
MANILA, Philippines—Whenever he can, 15-year-old Roman Arnold Leonardo visits a flattened patch of garbage land and helps out in a construction activity that has been going on for quite some time.
Sometimes Leonardo just comes to watch. Mostly, however, he is driven by the urge to protect the area. “We want to guard this field all the time,” he said.
The field used to be a small part of the infamous Smokey Mountain dump in Tondo, Manila.
A year ago, representatives of Gawad Kalinga and Little League Philippines managed to convince government and private-sector officials to send trucks of gravel and soil for use in leveling one of the peaks of garbage that form Smokey Mountain, to produce a makeshift softball/baseball field that was awarded hosting rights for a prestigious summer tournament.
But the people behind the initiative had a bigger dream.
“Our dream is to turn this field into a regular playing venue for our kids,” Manuel “Nonoy” Marquez, project director of Gawad Kalinga-Smokey Mountain, told the Inquirer a year ago.
Last Sept. 11, the dream turned into reality.
‘Our second home’
Gone is the dusty field that turns into muddy puddles in the rain. Gone are the bamboo poles and fishnet perimeters that served as makeshift, futile defenders against home runs.
In their place is a grass pitch with steel poles surrounding the field, black net walls hoisted higher, a scoreboard on one side, and five-step concrete bleachers for spectators.
Beside a murky river, amid decades-old hills of garbage and stacks of blue and red container vans, the children of Smokey Mountain now have a playground of their own.
“The Smokey Mountain field is our second home,” said Leonardo, a baseball player for Team Smokey, which campaigns in a number of tournaments. “We really want to take care of this place.”
Said 11-year-old Audie Ambrosio, a sixth-grader and also a member of Team Smokey: “We now get to play and run around the field without slipping, even when it’s raining. We’re very happy [that we now have a field to play on].”
Ambrosio’s friend, Rexie Relox, also an 11-year-old sixth-grader, echoed his sentiments.
Not just a playground
The field was a project undertaken by Manila Jaycees (JCI-Manila), which turned the finished product over to GK-Smokey Mountain a week ago, with wide-eyed kids in attendance.
Nonoy Marquez recalled that while residents had reined in their hopes for a spanking-new field, it did not require a leap of faith for JCI-Manila to buy into his dream.
“The first time I told the residents that we will rehabilitate the place, there were doubts, of course,” he said, beaming. “But here it is, the Field of Dreams that we talked about before.”
And the dream that has come true is fast spawning even more dreams.
“It isn’t just a playground. It’s a place to help the kids achieve their dreams through playing sports,” said Steve Allen Tycangco, project chair of  JCI-Manila.
True enough, Smokey Mountain has seen its own sports program boom, with events such as football, dodge ball and even archery being mentioned.
The GK-organized Tondo Cup, a football tournament for high school and elementary public schools in Tondo, will be held late this month.
The field is ready for use by Smokey Mountain residents who want to play or learn baseball, softball, or any other sport. Schoolchildren even troop to the place to watch their friends play.
It has become a popular—and safe—hangout for the youngsters, and for some families, an extension of the four-corner, two-window flats they call home.
Out of the dark alleys
“My son is here all the time. He comes here every day after class,” said Evangeline Sinio, 47, a resident of the nearby temporary housing area whose son also plays with Team Smokey.
“He gets home late at night, but it’s okay with me just as long as he is here practicing,” she said.
More importantly, the field has flushed kids out of the dark alleys that cut through the tenements in a maze of alcohol, drug addiction and petty crimes.
“It’s a good thing we have this field because other kids here are easily turned to vices,” Sinio said.
Now, the kids are seriously practicing their sports, providing Marquez the welcome problem of scheduling who gets to use the field on a given day.
He has come up with a solution that also encourages their schooling: Those who are supposed to be attending classes cannot use the field until they’re done.
‘I’m their coach’
Gary Riparip, 32, the coach of Team Smokey elementary baseball squad, supervises a lot of these practice sessions. His three sons—Geron, Gerald and Gino—are team regulars.
“When they’re in the field, I can supervise their actions. When they do something wrong, I will tell them what they did,” said Riparip, who also played baseball in his day.
“[My sons] can’t skip practice because I will find out; I’m their coach, and I will personally look for them,” he added, laughing.
The training is serious, according to Leonardo.
“Sometimes our bodies hurt from practicing. We get really tired,” he said. “But our opponents are really tough, so we have to train really hard.”
Besides, the kids have found that the tradeoff can be life-altering.
Courtesy of the game he loves, Leonardo is seeing the world beyond the hardened trash fencing in the housing project where he lives, and has gone as far as Daet, Camarines Sur, in his second-hand sneakers.
“We’re happy even though we lose games because we get to go to places through playing baseball,” he said.
Also through baseball, Riparip’s eldest son Geron secured a physical education scholarship at Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
“It’s a big help to us because we really can’t afford to send him to college,” the father said.
Endless possibilities
To think it all started with the kids traveling to Rizal Park at first, just to be able to train, and next making do with a makeshift field to hone their skills.
With a new field and a rejuvenated sports program, the possibilities are limitless.
“This is definitely a dream come true,” Leonardo said. With a report from Francis T.J. Ochoa, Photo by Celest Flores
TAGS: Baseball, Gawad Kalinga, Kids, Little League, Smokey Mountain, Softball

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