Mark Caguioa and Jayjay Helterbrand, the only holdovers in Barangay Ginebra’s last league championship in 2008, were not born yet when Gin Kings statistician Rey Baron began his career in 1975, the year the PBA was established.
For generations of PBA fans, who came to watch and personally witness how the game evolved from 1975 up to the present, they probably will never know Baron, who called himself a “small-time” staff member of a pro ball club.
But if you zoom in closely at his PBA career, Baron became part of 14 championships since the pro league’s inception 41 years ago.
Accidental job in the PBA
The 62-year-old Ginebra team staff still remembered vividly that moment when he was “accidentally” brought by his uncle, then a team official at N-Rich (one of the many names of the Great Taste Coffee franchise in the PBA) to the pro league as an assistant liaison officer.
Back in the days when the PBA was a fledgling league, Baron said he did virtually everything for N-Rich.
“Bale sa umaga, magre-report ako sa opisina sa Ugong, Pasig, then tatakbo naman ako sa ensayo pagkatapos. Sometimes, nagre-referee. Nilagay kasi ako ng uncle ko sa team para tumulong lang,” Baron told FOX Sports, in recounting his initial experience of being part of a PBA team.
As a clerk at CFC (Consolidated Food Corp.), he shared how good he was in handling the office’s big typewriter, keying and safekeeping the files of the employees and players in regards to insurance, LTO (Land Transportation Office) records, among others.
The soft-spoken Ginebra team staff though never imagined in his wildest dreams that he’ll be able to last for four decades in the PBA, and even see his kids graduate one by one through the salary he earned as a team staff.
“Nung una, iniisip ko na panandalian lang ako dito (N-Rich). Yung uncle ko kasi nasa legal department ng CFC,” he said.
“Nero nung nawala na siya sa kumpanya, sa isip isip ko, baka wala na ako sa team, pero sinabi sa akin later, na tuluy tuloy lang ako even kahit pumasok na yung bago naming team manager na si Mr. (Ignacio) Gotao,” explained Baron.
Worked with Grand Slam coaches
It is rare for anyone to work in the PBA for 40 years, but Baron holds that sole distinction.
Through the years, he was able to master the ins and outs of his job as a liaison officer. From there, when legendary PBA coach Virgilio “Baby” Dalupan came at the helm of Great Taste in 1984, he began to work closely with the man they call “the Maestro”.
Baron was part of Dalupan’s game preparations, providing the vital statistics the Great Taste coach needed for the game.
He would also give updates on the team or players’ foul situation during games. (Dalupan passed away on early Thursday morning.)
Baron said undoubtedly, the entry of Dalupan, who already won 8 PBA championships with Crispa, including the 1976 Grand Slam, spelled the biggest difference for the Great Taste franchise.
From 1984 to 1985, Great Taste won 4 league titles in 6 conferences, a mean feat for a franchise that used to hog the cellar before. The Coffee Makers rode on the exploits of a young Fil-Am guard by the name of Ricardo Brown, center/forward Manny Victorino and forward Willie Pearson.
The team also had Jeff Collins and later, a man-mountain import in Joe Binion as reinforcements in the import-spiced conference.
From there, Great Taste gained the respect of other teams.
But it was also during the 1980s when Baron developed friendship with PBA pioneer stars like Philip Cezar, Bernie Fabiosa, Atoy Co and a young Allan Caidic, who came into the franchise as a sweet-shooting rookie in 1987.
In 1990, Great Taste changed its name to Presto Tivoli and went on to rule the All-Filipino conference, with Caidic winning his only MVP trophy.
Two years later, Presto bid goodbye to the PBA as its franchise was bought by Sta. Lucia Realty.
Baron thought the end of the Great Taste franchise would mean bidding goodbye as well to the PBA. But to his surprise, he was absorbed by Sta. Lucia at the start of the 1993 season.
But he didn’t last long with Sta. Lucia after joining San Miguel in 1994 through the help of Caidic, with whom he developed friendship since their days at Great Taste.
Caidic, the left-handed PBA star, was acquired by a powerhouse San Miguel Beer team after Presto disbanded in 1992.
Baron’s move to the Beermen signaled the start of his long and fruitful tenure with SMC.
Norman Black, just five years before, steered San Miguel to the PBA Grand Slam title. Black would bring San Miguel to greatness again during the 1994 All-Filipino conference with the Beermen beating a strong Purefoods team, 4-2 in the Finals.
The next five years saw San Miguel experience a title drought as Alaska dominated the last half of the decade, including registering only the fourth Grand Slam in PBA history in 1996.
But the ascension of Uichico injected fresh vibes for the proud San Miguel franchise, who went on to win 6 league titles from 1999 to 2005.
“Yung paglipat ko sa San Miguel, naging madali naman yung transition ko. Ang babait nung mga players dun, sila Danny Ildefonso, si Danny Seigle na pinaka-mabait na Fil-Am na nakilala ko, kasi malapit siya sa tao. At kahit anong problema mo, nandun siya,” recalled Baron during his time with the Beermen.
He was also happy to experience working and interacting with the PBA’s legendary star Ramon Fernandez, Franz Pumaren, Hector Calma and Yves Dignadice in 1994.
“Masarap kasama yung mga beterano even though pa-exit na rin sila sa team.”
When Uichico moved over to Ginebra in 2007, Baron eventually followed suit as requested by the multi-titled PBA coach.
He admitted that the transition to the team wasn’t easy at the start.
“Siyempre, pagdating ko sa Ginebra, ibang pakikisama uli yung gagawin ko with Mark Caguioa and Jayjay Helterbrand, though sila naman mababait din,” he said.
In the 2008 Fiesta Conference, Ginebra went all the way to the Finals and eventually defeated Air21 in seven games to capture what would turn out to be the most popular team’s last PBA title.
“Ang saya nung time na yun (2008) kasi bata pa sila Mark nun,” he said. “Makikita mo yung sakripisyo ng mga players. Dumedepensa saka tinginan pa lang alam na nila ano gagawin kasi nagkakaunawaan sila.”
Ginebra won just 2 league titles since 2007, a long drought that in a way has saddened Baron and the Gin Kings’ legion of fans.
“Sa isang banda, malungkot din ako para sa Ginebra. Siyempre, ibang karangalan talaga yung maibibigay mo sa kumpanya kung mag-champion ka dahil kahit paano, gusto mo mai-angat yung trophy,” explained Baron.
“Siyempre, iba yung masabing champion ka, proud ka dun and at the same time, malaking bagay yung bonus na ibinibigay, lalo na sa mga kagaya namin.”
Ginebra has had numerous coaching changes since Uichico to move out of the team by 2010 as the Gin Kings tried to search for answers in a bid to end their championship drought.
But year after year, Ginebra ended empty-handed.
As someone who has been with championship teams in the past, Baron understands that it will take time even for a talent-laden team like Ginebra to hit the championship jackpot in the PBA.
“Honestly, medyo parang wala pa kasi kinakapa pa ni coach Tim yung ibang mga players,” observed Baron. “Pero ang magandang ginagawa ni coach Tim eh laging may activities gaya nung kapag nag out-of-town, gusto niya lumakas ang samahan ng team kaya pinapasama niya mga asawa, girlfriend, kasi gusto niya maging close.”
With Cone around, Baron works with Ginebra’s assistant coaches Richard del Rosario and Olsen Racela, providing the stats they need in their game preparation.
Baron said even at 62, he is willing to go the extra mile like serving as referee in practice if needed, or run errands for the coaches and players. For the long-time Ginebra staff, he hopes his small contributions will eventually helping Ginebra achieve its dream of winning a championship and bring back the smile of the faces of its loyal fans all over the country. – Richard Dy
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