The realities of baseball can be hard-hitting, but the fairytales turn into stories told over lifetimes. Iggy Escaño tells The GAME what both sides are like.
In 2019, Ignacio “Iggy” Escaño, one of the veterans on the De La Salle University baseball team, won the UAAP championship for the baseball tournament after defeating Ateneo de Manila University in a thrilling three-game finals series.
“I’ll never forget that moment,” Iggy told The GAME.
As an athlete, of course, one can never forget a winning moment, especially when you’ve beaten your biggest rivals. And Iggy still had one year left to play for the Green Batters to try and top this win.
The following year, he suited up for UAAP Season 82 for one final season. The goal was to defend the championship. However, a big wrench flew into the face of his plans.
“Our season was supposed to start in March. We had training on a Monday, and then lockdown started on Tuesday. Our first game was supposed to be Wednesday,” Iggy recalled three years since the first lockdown during the pandemic. It was another unforgettable moment in his career as a batter, but in a wholly very different way.
No one expected the lockdown to last as long as it did. And even after trying to extend his stay at DLSU, adding a minor to his undergraduate degree, he still ended up graduating in the middle of the pandemic, thinking he would never suit up to represent his school again.
But when UAAP Season 85 rolled around, a unique opportunity was presented to Iggy — the chance for a graduated player to come back to compete one last time.
“I felt like I wasn’t able to say goodbye in the right way,” he expressed. “I didn’t know if I was going to play baseball again.”
He dove in headfirst and took the opportunity in front of him. He could finally have the Swan Song every athlete deserves.
A Cinderella story
When UAAP Season 85 gave the green light for baseball after a three-season hiatus, Iggy Escaño came back to DLSU, now as a graduate student taking up his master’s degree. He was ready for one last season with the Green Batters.
But given that years had passed since his last playing year, naturally, a lot had changed.
No longer an undergrad at DLSU, Iggy came into the UAAP baseball season with a lot of commitments on his plate. “It was really hard for me to even train with the team,” he admitted.
He would spend his mornings at national team training, afternoons coaching baseball to younger players, and nights attending classes for his master’s degree — all this on top of the projects he had to run at work. With this heavy workload, he could only train one day per week with the Green Batters.
And to make matters more challenging, the DLSU Baseball Team boasted a roster heavy with rookies. Iggy expressed that this could have been one of the reasons why the squad’s first few games of the season were a bit of a struggle.
“But what really made it so easy for us was that our team is so close,” he shared. “We’re like brothers, and ever since, that’s been the culture of DLSU baseball. It’s like we’re a close group of friends, so it goes way beyond baseball, and when you have a bond like that with this group of guys that you play with, you play for each other. It makes playing together so easy.”
And it was this tight bond that took Iggy and the Green Batters all the way to the UAAP Finals, where they swept the UP Fighting Maroons in just two games to become back-to-back champions.
“Winning the championship this year with all the uncertainty was really so sweet and it felt like it was so worth it for me. It felt like everything was meant to be, like a Cinderella story, honestly,” he said.
After waiting years to come back to the baseball diamond, defending the school’s baseball title had to be the perfect way to say goodbye to his career with the Green Batters. But just a few days after lifting the trophy, he was already on a plane chasing another championship win.
For the flag
The Philippine National Baseball Team competed in the BFA East Asian Baseball Cup and dominated the entire tournament. The Filipino batters went undefeated from start to finish, opening with a commanding 21-2 win over Malaysia and closing with a 10-2 victory over Hong Kong for the championship.
“It’s been a crazy two weeks,” Iggy shared. “It’s been really hard on my body, not even recovering from the UAAP season and then having to play another tournament.”
But for Iggy, the work was worth the struggle.
“I love being Filipino,” he asserts. “Being part of the Philippine team — I really cherish and enjoy playing for my country. It’s such an honor.”
And like the Green Batters, the last time that the National Team competed internationally was years ago, in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. But they came back onto the scene in a big way, securing a four-peat in the tournament.
“In Southeast Asia, the Philippines really is a force to be reckoned with,” Iggy asserted. “This is why I believe that baseball should get more support in our country because it’s really a sport that we can succeed in.”
He isn’t wrong. In fact, the Philippines was once a force to be reckoned with even beyond Southeast Asia.
The age-old tale
Many may be surprised to find out that in the inaugural BFA Asian Baseball Championship in 1954, the Philippines defeated Japan — a nation now globally recognized for its baseball prowess — in front of 17,000 fans. But the last time the National Team finished in the top three of the tournament was back in 1971.
While neighboring countries went on to develop the sport’s growth and popularity since then, the momentum didn’t quite take in the Philippines as well as other sports like basketball and volleyball did. Ballparks are not as easily accessible, the country currently doesn’t have an operating pro league, and baseball bats are more widely viewed as self-defense weapons.
This doesn’t come as news, however, especially to the baseball players themselves.
“You can’t play baseball forever, especially in the Philippines,” Iggy admitted. “It’s like the age-old dilemma, I’m sure in other sports too, where you can either continue the dream of playing baseball or doing your passion, or you can move on to work on your career.”
Unlike popular sports in the Philippines, such as basketball or volleyball, baseball does not garner the same level of attention. It’s sad but true. So even for someone like Iggy who is passionate about the sport and has dedicated his entire life to the sport, opportunities are very limited.
In the case of baseball, playing in the UAAP and for the national team are two career peaks one can reach. But past this, it becomes increasingly more challenging to find ways to compete. This is why many baseball players hang up their cleats earlier than other athletes.
Iggy himself admits, now that he is getting older, he is becoming busier by the day. He admitted, “I’m getting kind of busy with work and everything. Maybe after this year, I’ll already consider retiring.”
This is also what has made the pandemic feel very frustrating, particularly among baseball players. Losing three years is not just a blip in their careers — it is a massive fraction of the time that they could have spent playing.
Looking back at the pandemic, he reflected, “Baseball is really my biggest passion, and I didn’t even know if I had already played my last game. As a kid, you’re always envisioning in your head how your last game is going to be…I already had a picture in my head, but the pandemic definitely wasn’t in the picture.
“But I’m glad I took this year after the pandemic and just dedicated it to baseball.”
Developing the narrative, growing the sport
Among Filipino baseball players, the passion for the sport evidently runs deep.
Even in the middle of the pandemic, when baseball tournaments were still on hold, Iggy found a way to pick up his bat and glove again in a new way — he started coaching players in high school and middle school.
“That’s why I coach, it’s because of my passion,” he expressed. “I want to grow the game as much as I can so that kids can have the same opportunities I did and fall in love with the game. It’s my way of giving back to the game that’s given me so much.”
And although he has admitted that he has to, at some point, say goodbye to the sport, he does not mean that he will be letting go of it completely.
“If my schedule permits, I would do anything baseball-related. Any way I can stay in the game, I would do it.”
But luckily, the baseball games haven’t come to an end just yet for Iggy. He still has tournaments left on the calendar for the year that he is looking forward to. In September, he will again don the Philippine flag to represent the country in the Asian Games — something that has been on his bucket list for some time — and in November, the team will be flying to Taiwan for the Asian Baseball Championships.
“If this is my last year playing, I’ll be happy with how it went,” Iggy told us.
From believing he had played his final game as a Green Batter to getting one more shot to defend DLSU’s UAAP baseball title; from achieving a four-peat in the BFA East Asian Baseball Cup to representing the country at two more major international tournaments in the coming months, it has definitely been a swan song of a year for Iggy.
And even though he won’t be able to play baseball for the rest of his life, he has made memories that will undoubtedly last him a lifetime.
“What I’m most proud of that I’ve gotten from baseball is not even the awards, not the championships, not the wins. It’s the relationships that I was able to build with my team, my teammates, and the people I’ve met along the way. That’s what I really cherish the most.
“It’s also taught me a lot of lessons that I can apply in life. It made me a hard worker, it taught me how to persevere. And in anything that I do, I know that if I really want to achieve something, I can do it, as long as I put my mind, do it, and I put in the work. I don’t think I would be the person I am today without baseball.”
Images from UAAP Media.