Birthday boy Natividad talks about dreams and Bulldogs’ second father away from home
ABS-CBN Sports on Sep 25, 2017 11:34 AM
Recent birthday boy James Natividad with National University team manager Junjun Abcede whom he affectionately refers to, as do the rest of his teammates, as his second father.
An early Sunday morning call on Sept. 17 woke Bulldog James Natividad inside the imposing NU athletes’ dormitory. It was from his parents from Garita, Bani, Pangasinan, wishing him “Happy birthday, son” on the day he turned 19.
“I went to church afterward, then treated a few of my teammates I am extra close with to lunch at Robinson’s Magnolia,” he said in Filipino, a smile lighting up his face.
The birthday celebration extended up to the following day which saw the Bulldogs, as Natividad had fervently prayed for on his birthday, bounce back from their second defeat via a hard-fought 25-21, 17-25, 27-25, 25-23 win over the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers.
As his birthday treat to Natividad, team manager Junjun Abcede herded the players and the coaching staff to buffet lunch in a posh restaurant along Edsa, where he as well surprised Natividad with a further gift, a pair of the boy’s dream shoes.
“I knew all along that Boss Junjun would give me a gift as he always does to anyone on the team who celebrates his birthday,” said Natividad. “He has always been a second father to all of us, more so for those who are from the provinces like me. In times of emergency, we run to him as he often advises us, and he never ever fails us.”
With a measure of pride, the prolific open spiker went on voluntarily to say that the birthday celebrants on the team immediately before him, setters Kim Dayandante and Banjo Mondero, and a few teammates were flown by their generous team manager to Albay to join Natividad himself and Bryan Bagunas, who were taking part in the BVR national championships there.
There in that part of faraway Bicol, they had the time of their young lives experiencing the luxury of the high-end beach resort that is Misibis Bay, according to Natividad.
Much earlier than that, Natividad said he was lucky to have been picked as part of the small entourage whom Abcede had flown along with then birthday boy Francis Saura to Davao to celebrate with his family there.
“For three years now,” added Natividad, “I have been celebrating my birthday away from my family in Pangasinan, but Boss Junjun has always warmly filled in their absence in his own way.”
A willful Pangasinense
The six-foot Natividad, a third-year Financial Management student, has always been a willful and resourceful person.
Unlike most of his teammates who were scouted and recruited by coach Dante Alinsunurin from the Palarong Pambansa, Natividad said, though he played in two Palaro in high school, he failed to impress the Manila scouts and so was left on his own to find a way to play for any UAAP member school.
He approached Pangasinan’s most beloved volleyball hero, Cesar Mondero, an extraordinary, if a bit controversial, setter, from long ago, and teammate Banjo’s father, for a recommendation to a Manila school.
Not only did the legendary ex-Philippine Air Force setter obliged him with a recommendation letter; he also volunteered to accompany his young promising kababayan to NU and coach Alinsunurin, who’s also enlisted with Air Force and a member as well of the Jet Spikers’ coaching staff.
Upon seeing who he was with, Alinsunurin, recalled Natividad, took him in right there and then without having to go through a tryout.
And the fourth in a brood of seven of a company bus driver didn’t disappoint his padrino. He arrived at NU a year behind Bagunas & Co. around whom Alinsunurin was building his first six. Natividad willed to become a first stringer, worked hard at in training, and less than a year after began starting for the Bulldogs at the expense of the more veteran Madz Gampong of Tawi-Tawi.
“James, by dint of hard work, has overtaken many on the team,” said Alinsunurin.
Looking ahead to the not-so-distant future, the Garita Elementary School and Bani National High School graduate sees himself as graduating from his studies and playing in commercial leagues possibly for Philippine Air Force which this early is already recruiting him.