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(c) Paulo Macasaet


Paulo Macasaet, Junmar Diarao chase dreams in international baseball

In the Philippines, one sport that has excelled on the international stage is baseball.

The Philippine national baseball team is the reigning four-time champions in the BFA East Asian Cup, having also secured three out of four gold medals in the Southeast Asian Games.

In the Asian Games, although they have yet to win a medal, the Nationals have achieved fifth place three times and sixth once in their four participations – closely trailing continental powerhouse nations Japan, South Korea, Chinese Taipei, and China.

As of December 31, 2023, the latest update of the rankings places the Philippines as the 28th-best country in the world and the sixth-best in Asia.

Despite their success, opportunities after their collegiate careers are limited outside of national team duties.

That’s why when Japan, the leading country in the sport, reached out, Philippine ace pitchers Junmar Diarao and Paulo Macasaet didn’t hesitate.

Diarao and Macasaet, both national team members, are now part of Saga Indonesia Dreams in the Kyushu Asia League, which is affiliated with IPBL Japan – an organization encompassing all independent leagues there.

Currently, Saga is an associate team in the league, playing half the number of games compared to the regular schedule of the other four teams: Hinokuni, Oita, Kitakyushu, and Miyazaki.

However, reaching the pinnacle of baseball in Asia required considerable effort for the Filipino duo.

Almost Striking Out

2019-sea-games-baseball-paulo-macasaet Paulo Macasaet, Junmar Diarao chase dreams in international baseball Baseball News  - philippine sports news
Diarao and Macasaet were supposed to be in Japan earlier this year, but travel issues got in the way.

Macasaet, the right-handed pitcher from Ateneo de Manila University, was actually scheduled to play abroad as early as 2020. The UAAP Season 79 Finals MVP had plans to join the Sakai Shrikes in the Kansai Independent Baseball League in Japan, but it was canceled due to the pandemic.

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Then in 2021, Macasaet signed with the Czech team Blesk Jablonec, but that also fell through due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Even on their flight to Japan, things didn’t go smoothly as the runway at Fukuoka airport was closed just as they were about to land, forcing their plane to divert to Osaka.

After years of delays and a lengthy flight around Japan, they are now settling in and getting accustomed to the style of play and environment there.

Finally being in Japan and playing baseball there brings them great happiness and excitement.

“Very excited to play this kind of level of baseball. Syempre sa country pa na Japan na number one sa world so very exciting talaga,” said Diarao, a product of National University.

“Opportunities like this don’t fall from trees. So the moment na nalift na yung travel restrictions anywhere, 2023 we got the invite I said yes without a doubt. Ipinaalam ko rin sa parents ko and very supportive of it,” shared Macasaet.

“And then a year later we’re here. I just want to make the most out of everything and happy to be not too far away from home, not in another continent or ibang timezone or whatever,” he continued.

Swinging for the Fences

2023-BFA-Asian-Cup-Philippines-vs-Malaysia-Junmar-Diarao Paulo Macasaet, Junmar Diarao chase dreams in international baseball Baseball News  - philippine sports news

Having been elite pitchers in the Philippines, Diarao and Macasaet went to Japan for the same reason: to further improve and refine their skills.

This can be achieved through more games against high-tier competition.

“Siguro sa akin hindi pa ako satisfied kung anong meron ako ngayon. Kung anong meron ako sa Pilipinas, kung anong laro meron ako sa Pilipinas, I want to explore and magiging open-minded ako dito to get different training dito kung saan ako magiimprove at kung ano pang maiimprove ko sa sarili ko,” said Diarao, a 5-foot-8 left-handed pitcher.

“Kumbaga iiimprove ko pa over the limit, kailangan ko pang lagpasan kung anong meron ako,” added the 28-year-old standout from Negros Occidental.

For Macasaet, aside from personal improvement, he aims to contribute to Philippine baseball in his own way by absorbing knowledge from his teammates, coaches, and opponents.

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The Dreams team comprises Indonesians, Sri Lankans, Japanese, a Singaporean, and an American, with a coaching staff consisting of three Japanese tacticians, one Sri Lankan, and one Indonesian.

Both Diarao and Macasaet had their first experiences on June 8 and 9 against the Hinokuni Salamanders.

“The fact na nandito na kami on a different environment already motivates me to do much better whatever way possible like asking questions sa mga coaches, kung anong pwedeng maimprove, kung anong mali at tama, anong pwedeng maidagdag,” said Macasaet, thinking about the growth of Philippine baseball.

“For my stint here, well it’s to play well. We will play to win games. The score starts with the opposing team at 0. It’s the ultimate goal and the program of this team, continue from here on out because aside from our other tournaments, right now the team is scheduled to play 24 games excluding practice games,” he added.

“If I could get a lot of good innings, that would be great to add for my stats.”

This experience will also serve as valuable preparation for 2025, when the Philippine national team will compete in major tournaments. They are scheduled to participate in the World Baseball Classic qualifiers, Asian Championships, and the 33rd SEA Games, marking the return of baseball and softball after their exclusion in the past two editions.

Field of Dreams

2018-BFA-East-Asia-Cup-Philippines Paulo Macasaet, Junmar Diarao chase dreams in international baseball Baseball News  - philippine sports news

Regardless of the outcomes of their games in the Kyushu Asia League, this opportunity holds significant meaning for Philippine baseball simply because it demonstrates that it can be accomplished.

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It shows that Filipino baseball players, similar to basketball and volleyball athletes who have played abroad as imports, can compete in international leagues.

In addition to Diarao and Macasaet, outfielder Erwin Bosito and infielder Aids Bernardo were initially set to join Saga but withdrew due to personal reasons after prolonged delays.

“Siguro kaya nga ginusto ko rin na makapunta dito, isa yan sa mga reason kung bakit ko itinuloy ito. Para makita rin ng mga bata na sumusunod sa amin na kaya naman palang sumabay, kaya naman dito, at huwag silang mawalan ng pangarap sa baseball di ba?” commented Diarao.

“Kapag makita nila na may ganito palang opportunity, malaking impact ito sigurado. Malaking impact ito sa Philippine baseball,” he continued.

Meanwhile, Macasaet reflected on the Philippine national team’s recent encounters with Japan, which occurred last year in the Asian Games and Asian Championships, resulting in 0-6 and 1-9 losses, respectively.

Those outcomes convinced Macasaet that he is in a position to contribute positively to the Philippines’ progress, especially after the team climbed 14 spots in the world rankings from 2022 to 2023.

“Playing against Japan’s Amateur National Team allowed us to set our expectations for the level of play here,” said Macasaet.

Written By

Just a kid from Cavite trying to make a difference.

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