Like Pac, Mel’s a Filipino hero

Expats from the Philippines have long made an impact on Cayman’s sports scene. One of the latest to make a big impact is Mel Tagalog.

Originally from the city of Antipolo outside of Manila, Tagalog has surfaced as the top hurler in darts.

Last weekend he defended his overall title in the Mickey Mouse tournament. He claimed the singles title, besting former Caribbean champion and Cayman legend Edsell Haylock. From there he defeated Hank Ebanks and Jasper Esguerra for the doubles crown alongside Scotsman Eddie Ballantyne.

Tagalog states the Mickey Mouse title was fulfilling as he had to beat some of the island’s best players.

“I’m not used to all of the publicity but I’m very proud of my achievement,” Tagalog said. “It’s especially satisfying knowing I had to beat some good players. To win the Mickey title over Edsell was very good and I feel most happy about that. The Mickey Mouse format is my game. I feel I have a slight advantage in that I know the game. I played it a lot back home, for about 12 years.”

For Tagalog, 36, the Mickey Mouse victory is his second major local championship in the last month. In October he claimed the Vivian Rankine memorial crown. The Filipino star states that his success so far has been more about lucky breaks than calculated strikes.

“As far as me winning again I think I’m lucky. I don’t know where I rank myself in darts here. Maybe I am really good or maybe it’s just luck. For now I’m OK either way because I won. But I always tell myself maybe next time some one else might win.

“There’s no secret to what I do. It’s just focus and practice, that’s it really. I just have to keep playing with the big guys on the scene and learn from them.”

One of established figures in the sport he has learned from is Cayman Islands Darts Association president Paul Anglin. The West Bay native states Mel has undoubtedly become one of the best on the island.

“I see Mel as the one to beat in Cayman,” Anglin said. “However after seeing his (Mickey Mouse finals) match with Edsell, I wouldn’t say he’s head and shoulders above the rest. Guys like Edsell still have to be accounted for every time.”

That contest was arguably the highlight of the tournament. Dubbed ‘Pacquiao versus Mayweather’ the encounter saw its fair share of blows (on the darts board of course). It was a tight, back-and-forth affair that came down to a single mistake where Haylock missed an opportunity to hit a triple-12. Tagalog enjoyed the comparison to Pacquiao as the Filipino congressman is his idol.

“Do I admire Pacquiao? Of course. He’s a hero back home and I look up to him. I’m not that big of a boxing fan but I’m all for Pacquiao. Make that I’m only for Pacquiao.”

Tagalog is used to playing with top competition. Bach home in the Philippines he was a team-mate of Lourence ‘The Gunner’ Ilagan, who is currently ranked number 36 in the world by the World Darts Federation.

Ilagan, 32, was ranked as high as number three in the world at one point. He recently won the 2008 Malaysia Open, claimed a spot in the 2009 Professional Darts Corporation World Darts Championship and just missed out on a spot in the 2010 PDC competition.

Tagalog states darts is his sport mainly because of the friendship and unity he fosters with players.

“I started playing back home 14 years ago. I was off and on, playing for a year then taking three off. Darts is a part of me, I can’t live in a house without darts. As far as practising goes I’m not doing that much now. About 50 minutes a day once or twice a week is what I do. For a big game I’ll prepare for it by doing say a couple a hours at a time three times a week.

“I’ve been in Cayman going on two years and in addition to darts I also play basketball. With darts you don’t have to be tall or anything like that. It’s about the camaraderie and making friends more than anything else.

“Friendship is above all because you can play today and still be friends with people tomorrow. With other sports like basketball it’s not necessarily the case. Darts here is a family for me. The Filipino guys (Jasper, Rodan Asuncion, Randy Cruz) who play are now my very good friends plus locals like Cassius (Anglin) and Paul (Anglin) are my buddies.”

Interestingly his involvement in the sport locally is embraced by his employer. Tagalog works for Artisan Metal Works in George Town and his boss Karoly Szucs states he understands why he is a good darts player.

“With that guy nothing makes him nervous,” Szucs said. “I’ve never seen him fazed. He’s as cool as ice. That’s probably why he is a good darts player.”

Mel’s response? “I’m happy about those comments and I’m happy my boss is very supportive of me.”

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