Tugade had looked forward to the festivities every year, and had graced it every time in his shining new playing uniform. For the first time in 12 years, he wasn't part of it - and the feeling, he said, wasn't nice.
“Masakit pa, eh,” Tugade, who decided to retire before the end of the season, told Spin.ph.
They say athletes are the only people in the world who die two deaths - the first when the realization hits them that their careers are at an end. It was no different with the 6-3 former Red Bull star.
“Though alam ko naman na dumarating talaga itong ganitong time sa isang player, pero iba lang, masakit pa kaya di muna ako nagpakita sa opening,” he said.
The 6-3 forward from Alaminos, Pangasinan was one of the most athletically gifted homergrown players to grace the pro league floor, armed both with graceful moves and a silky touch from long range.
Go ask Allan Caidic. The Hall of Famer considers Tugade one of the finest shooters of his generation.
He lived up to all expectations when he joined Red Bull, his best days coming during the 2005-2006 season when he made 153 of 393 shots from three-point zone - the most in his pro career.
His scintillating performances earned him his only PBA Finals MVP award while helping Red Bull to the Fiesta Conference championship, the franchise’s fourth in the pro league.
Tugade's career, however, took a dive when he left Red Bull as he bounced around from one team to another while injuries started to blight his performance.
He hit rock-bottom last season when he hit career-lows of 3.72 points and 1.5 rebounds in 13.31 minutes while an assortment of injuries limited him to just 32 games for the campaign.
Making things worse was the freak mishap he had during one practice with Petron. He was playing defense against former teammate Paolo Hubalde when, suddenly, he felt something snap on his right hand.
“Nung pina-check ko na, sinabi sa akin na nabali pala yung dalawang bones ng daliri ko sa shooting hand ko,” recalled the former National University Bulldogs star.
That turned to be the last straw.
Although Tugade was dealt last April by Petron along with youthful slotman Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Rey Guevara to Powerade in exchange for Marcio Lassiter and Celino Cruz, he never joined GlobalPort, the team that had bought the Powerade franchise in the offseason.
He decided to retire at age 34.
The pain of saying goodbye to his pro career still lingers, but Tugade finds solace in having prepared early for his post-PBA life. He now spends most of his time tending to his poultry business in his native Alaminos and maintains some apartments in Greenland, Rosario, Pasig that he rents out.
“Mabuti na lang nakapag-start magpundar ng maaga...Nakapaglaro na rin naman ako ng 12 years. Malaking blessing na din kahit paano,” he said.
Follow the writer on Twitter: @richava