THE MAGIC OF EFREN 'BATA' REYES

'Bata' Reyes with FPJManila, May 4, 2003 -- (Below is the editorial for the next issue of Billiards Digest, which publisher Mike Panozzo, through Puyat Sports, distributed to Philippine newspapers yesterday. Puyat Sports is among the primary sponsors of Efren "Bata" Reyes and other Filipino professional billiards players.)

On July 12, Efren Reyes will be formally inducted into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame. He will be honored in the Greatest Players category, and justifiably so. He has won some of the biggest tournaments pool has staged, including the World 9-ball championship, a pair of World 8-ball championships, and a US Open 9-ball championship.

But the fact is, Efren Reyes could just as easily be inducted in the Meritorious Service category, because no single player in the last 20 years (or even since Mosconi, for that matter) has had a bigger impact on tournament pool than the humble, quiet, friendly, deadly interloper from Angeles, Pampanga, near Manila in the Philippines. Has Earl Strickland added something to pool with his talent, flare and unpredictability? No doubt. Has Jeanette Lee transcended the sport and brought notoriety to our industry through her celebrity? No doubt. But neither can match Reyes' impact.

For nearly 20 years, Reyes has played the Pied Piper to pool fans everywhere, all the while teaching his contemporaries around the world that there is still plenty to learn on the table. When Reyes plays, people crowd around to watch. Players crowd around to watch. And it's been that way since Reyes first set foot on American soil, back in January 1985, at that memorable event in Houston.

Red's Open 9-Ball Championship was typically Texan. It was a raucous circus staged inside a sprawling bi-level sports bar. The music was loud. The people were loud. For the first few days of the tournament, little attention was paid to the thin, square-shouldered shooter with the roller-coaster stroke playing under the name of Cesar Morales. But as "Morales" painfully easy stroll through the talent-packed 108-man field began to take shape, heads began to turn. After each win (no player reached seven in the race-to-10- matches), Reyes would depart the arena flanked by a Filipino entourage that gambled, giggled and taunted their unsuspecting hosts with the only English words they seemed to know: "Where's the beef?" Reyes' only miscue in Houston was following the title match, when he instinctively signed an autograph-seeker's program "Efren Reyes." Noticing his own gaffe, Reyes grinned, shook his head and walked away. The charade was over.

That Reyes won the Red's title undefeated isn't important. In pool, hidden talents have popped up with fair regularity. What left an indelible mark on the game was the manner in which Reyes won. He was clearly playing a game no American players had ever seen, much less played. He played position off jump shots. His kick shots either pocketed the object ball, or resulted in carefully plotted safeties. And his safety play left players and fans alike scratching their heads and pushing their jaws back into place. Equally important, he energized a lethargic game and drew flocks of fans back to tournaments.

Amazingly, little has changed in the past 20 years. Even at 50, "The Magician" continues to confound with his unmatched creativity and his dizzying arsenal of shots. And the more you learn about Reyes, the more you're convinced you're in the presence of genuis. From chess to cards to any game played with balls and cues, it quickly becomes obvious that Reyes' mind works more logically and at a faster pace than most humans. He understands. His win in Houston marked Reyes' second attempt at 9-ball. He didn't even know all the rules! Because of his versatility, Reyes was chosen by his Philippine team to compete in the snooker portion at the Asian Games in the early 1990s. He'd never played before. He finished third. On a lark, he entered a world-class three-cushion tournament in 1985 that featured Raymond Ceulemans and Torbjorn Blomdahl, among others. He barely missed making the finals bracket, then posted a gaudy 1.30 average in winning the consolation bracket.

The topper? He's impossible to dislike. He says so little, yet his actions say so much. He smiles mostly with his eyes, but it's an endearing smile. He never complains. Never acts cheated. Is equally gracious in victory and defeat.

He is why we have a Hall of Fame.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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