What About Parica?
|Parica's best year might have been 1997, when he won the Camel Tour's
points title and its $50,000 bonus.
Growing up in two downtown Manila poolrooms owned by his father, Parica was already a decent player by 9. At 17, he was the best in the country. Going by the alias "J.R.," he entered his first-ever U.S. event in 1978, the World Open Straight Pool Championship, and with few having a clue who he was, he placed a respectable 9th-through-12th. But it's what he did afterwards that got everybody's attention. He beat Mike Sigel for $12,000 playing rotation even and, getting a 50-ball spot playing straight pool to 150, beat Steve Mizerak out of $5,000 more. "He beat Sigel easily, made it look like a joke," Allen Hopkins remembers. "I mean, Jose out-moved him, out-everythinged him. I bet on the match and bet on Sigel. I couldn't imagine anyone beating Sigel back then. He was playing better than anyone. In fact, I thought there might've been some business going on until I found how good Parica really played."
A couple of years later, Parica swept through Texas and defeated the likes of Earl Strickland, Kim Davenport, David Howard and Louis Roberts. He won his first U.S. title by beating Nick Varner, 11-10, at the Clyde Childress Open in Lexington, Ky., in 1986, and in the time since has won over 100 big, small, and middling events.
Parica briefly retired from tournaments in the early 1990s, a period that coincided with one of the toughest episodes of his life. After assaulting a man in a nightclub, he faced a handful of years in prison if convicted. A rumor had passed around that Parica killed the man. Not true. "I hurt him badly, though," he admits. "I broke a lot of bones, but he was only hospitalized for a couple of months. What started it was he was bothering my wife [Aurora]. I went crazy. I ended up going to jail for a day. My wife bailed me out. He told his lawyer that I took his money, wallet, Rolex, and jewelry. My lawyer and I tried to make a deal with the guy. We offered him $25,000, but he wanted $50,000. We went to trial and I even testified on the stand. It was very scary. I was spending a lot of money in lawyer's fees and I was afraid of going to jail for a long time. I won the case after almost three years. But if somebody harasses my wife I'd do it again."
The story of what prompted his return is this: One day, while Parica and Aurora were in Las Vegas, Aurora overheard a Filipino say that Reyes was the best Filipino player ever, that he could beat any Filipino, including Parica. Aurora told her husband what she'd heard, and convinced him to play competitively again, just to prove he wasn't yet over the hill. Parica took it as a challenge and resumed playing on the circuit by 1996.
The next year, he won two Camel Pro Billiards events and was the tour's Player of the Year. The year-end points title, and the $50,000 bonus awarded to the top player, came down to a semifinal match against Buddy Hall, who led the points race by a hair. With the score tied 5-5, Parica missed a straight-in shot on the 5 and figured he'd blown the match and the $50,000. But he hung on and beat Hall 9-7. "That was the highlight of my career," he says. "That was a lot of pressure. Who-ever won that match would be the Player of the Year. But I was cool and I played my game." And, maybe just as importantly, Parica beat Reyes several times in a row that year.
Coolness in the face of extreme pressure is the hallmark of Parica's game. "I have great concentration and a big heart," he says. "I forget about all my problems when I get to tournaments. I don't think about anything but the game. And my heart, I think, comes from my [late] father [who died of a heart attack in 1996]. He was a policeman and a soldier. I rarely ever get nervous. And if I do, I just bite my lip a little and I'm over it."
His favorite way to get away from the game is spending a day at the racetrack. "I've lost a lot of money there," he says, "but I forget about the game. My wife keeps saying, 'Why don't you focus on something that doesn't have to do with gambling?' It's too much. She doesn't want me to gamble. It's tough. I'm a gambler. In fact, I used to have a lot of money. A fortune. But I lost all my money playing cards and dice in the casinos." At tournaments, he relaxes before matches by staying in his hotel room and watching game shows on TV. "I especially love 'The Wheel of Fortune,'" he says with a laugh. "It takes my mind off the game. I go to the tournament room about 20 minutes before the match. I don't like to practice too much. You can burn out that way."
He says he has no plans to hang up his cue in the near future. "If I'm not making any money anymore in pool, I'll retire. I'll either work with my wife [in home healthcare] or do my own thing by opening a pool hall or a billiard supply store."
In the meantime, while he's still a force to contend with, he'll continue to chase the legacy of his arch rival Efren Reyes, looking to knock him down a notch every chance he gets - even though he knows neither he nor Reyes is the best Filipino player anymore. They handed it down to yet another.
"It's Francisco Bustamante," Parica says. "He's the best 9-ball and 10-ball player. He's better than me and Efren now. With his big break, he's playing 6-ball all the time. Me and Efren always have at least eight balls on the table. How can we beat him?"
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