Another Ateneo Blue Eagle is set to spread his wings abroad this season.
Right-handed pitcher Paulo Macasaet has been signed by Czech Republic team Blesk Jablonec for the upcoming 2021 season of the Czech Extraliga.
This comes after Thirdy Ravena signed with San-En NeoPhoenix in Japan’s B.League, Marck Espejo played for Bani Jamra in Bahrain’s Isa bin Rashid Volleyball League, while Jarvey Gayoso is currently in talks with Muangthong United in the Thai League 1.
Macasaet, 25, was supposed to play Sakai Shrikes in Japanese league Kansai Independent Baseball League starting last year but the on-going coronavirus pandemic stopped his plans. He was able to join Sakai’s training camp last February of 2020 where he impressed head coach Hiroaki Ohnishi and pitching coach Hitoshi Fujie, both former players of Nippon Professional Baseball.
That stint gave him all the confidence in the world to prove that he can still continue with his baseball journey.
Fortunately for him, fellow Philippine national team member Devon Ramírez was able to hook him up with teams in the top-tier Czech league.
“One of my teammates in the WBC, Devon Ramirez, I messaged him last June because he is establishing his own brand as a journeyman. So I asked him if I’m capable to play abroad. I asked him if I can come to play in Australia since he was going there also but then since travel was restricted, even he couldn’t go there, he just went to Germany [Bundesliga]. Since some Czech leagues were looking for a pitcher, he connected me to them,” recalled Macasaet, who graduated from Ateneo last year.
The UAAP Season 79 Finals MVP and Season 78 Best Pitcher was invited to join the team last January. But before signing on the dotted line, the 5-foot-10 pitcher made sure to call Sakai first.
“They contacted me last January if I was interested. It wasn’t really in my plans to play in Europe because I had initial plans to go to Japan. But since they told me that the season was until August lang, I agreed,” he shared.
“I talked to them a few days ago, telling them lang that I’m going to play in Czech Republic. Since the season in Japan ends in October, I have time to join the team there.”
The past few months though have been challenging for Macasaet.
Besides not being able to go to Japan, he also cannot do his normal workouts while anxiously waiting for something to happen. He eventually lost at least 10-kilograms before regaining it back during the Christmas break.
In Extraliga, Macasaet is bracing for the unexpected. Despite knowing that he can keep up with not just the region’s best but also Asian-level baseball, little is known about how tough European competition is.
But for him, this opportunity is something that does not come to every homegrown baseball player.
“It’s huge. It’s scary because I’m going there for the first time. The competition will be in between what we faced here and in Asia. I can really know what I’m capable of in terms of skills,” said Macasaet, the MVP of the 2015 East Asian Baseball Cup and a part of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games gold medal-winning team.
“If I stopped playing just because of this pandemic, I will be living my life in regret not knowing my true potential.”
The Extraliga season begins on April 2 with Jablonec facing 21-time league champions Draci Brno.
Macasaet will be the third homegrown player and eighth Filipino to play in Europe. UST product Jon Jon Robles played in the same league from 2008-09 while Miguel Salud played in the Baseball Bundesliga 1 back in 2019.
“Filipino players gaining experience in another country is good news because he gets to play more competitive games,” said Philippine Amateur Baseball Association secretary-general Pepe Munoz.
“Europe will be a good experience for Paulo.”
For Macasaet, he hopes that this will open the doors to other Filipino baseball players to play abroad.
Moreover, he is thankful to his parents for supporting him in this journey.
“If you want to do something like this, you can’t just stay here and hope to get noticed.
“You have to be ‘makapal’ din and learn how to sell yourself. If I had the same knowledge I had now when I was in high school — like sending videos to coaches to be noticed by colleges, tracking stats, the importance of strength and conditioning — I could have tried to take the same leap Miguel Salud and Justin Zialcita did. Connections are what will make the game grow. And I’m just lucky that I have parents that are supporting me in this and giving me breathing room to pursue this,” he said.