Matthew “Fritz” Gaston wanted to be a lawyer, but found out Ateneo de Manila could not include him on the varsity team if he pursued it.
And since he loved basketball more than law, he shifted to be able to play with the Blue Eagles in the mid 1970s and was part of the back-to-back champion team in 1975 and 1976.
After serving the national team, he then went on to the professional league and became one of the best defensive guards that the PBA has seen in its early years.
In fact, when the U/Tex Wranglers, coached by Tommy Manotoc and backstopped by imports Aaron James and Glenn McDonald, plus Lim Eng Beng and Bogs Adornado, played against Toyota in the 1980 finals, Fritz was given the unenviable job of guarding a prime Sonny Jaworski.
And I always kidded him that Sonny made him popular. But he had to accept that every time he tangled with Sonny and suffered a fall caused by a subtle push, he still got the boos and Sonny got the cheers. But he did stand his ground with Sonny and earned the grudging respect of serious basketball fans for his hard-nosed defense.
Unfortunately for Fritz at that time, there still wasn’t a Defensive Player award or a Defensive Team selection, otherwise, Fritz would have been there at the very least.
According to Matthew, attention then was on the scorers and it was a sacrifice to play pure defense, but the fulfilment of limiting his opponents was well worth the effort.
More known as Fritz than Matthew, he went on to play with other PBA teams until his knee injuries forced him to retire after the 1986 season.
He went on to take up his Master’s degree at the Asian Institute of Management, because the PBA did not allow the use of the PBA educational fund for studies abroad, or else Fritz would have tried Wharton or Fordham University in the US.
He went on a string of corporate jobs, but the truth is, he already worked with Mantrade in sales even while playing. He also had an expat stint in Indonesia with wife Duday Mandanas, also an expat worker. Fact is, he hosted me, my wife and his inaanak when we went to Jakarta in the early 1990s.
Eventually, he returned to the country to go back to basketball with Mobiline, where he also had a corporate job with the firm.
Manotoc was supposed to be the head coach with Fritz as an assistant, politics got in the way, and he had to move on, but managed to combine basketball with corporate work.
He even coached Danny Francisco and Jun Reyes to a UAAP championship in the mid 1980s at one time, and the women’s national squad to a silver finish in the SEABA in 2008 or 2009, I think.
He was with the Games and Amusement Board for several years recently, but his last work was during the 2019 SEA Games, where was assigned in Clark. But now, he is happily retired from work and has turned into a plantito, tending the family garden.
Now why do I know all this?
Simple. He, together with his two volleyball playing daughters Therese and Pauline, Babang and Ponggay to friends, were guests in our sports vlog The SWAB, to be launched this Sunday on YouTube.
It was a very interesting chat indeed with this cager, who was my best man in my wedding 37 years ago. We will feature Fritz and his daughters in Episodes 2 and 3. Watch our vlog and hear us admit we both tried marijuana in those good old days.