America's Imports: Baseball Players From The Dominican Republic
The statistics quoted at the beginning of Ballplayer: Pelotero are staggering: 20 percent of the professional baseball players on American major league teams come from the Dominican Republic, and more than 100,000 young Dominican Republic 'peloteros' or baseball players aspire to sign contracts to join their ranks.
More Than A Game
For the young players, baseball isn't just a game, it represents a way out of poverty for themselves and their families. Baseball is their ticket to a career that will provide them with a vastly superior way of life. For the players, years of training -- sometimes at great expense to their already impoverished families -- leading up to their sixteenth birthday, when they are officially eligible to sign a contract with a major league team. The annual contract signing season begins on July 2, the day most sought after 16 year old players are likely to learn their fate.
The Aspirations of Two Phenomenal Players
Filmmakers Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin and Jon Paley take us into this world of aspiration, following two terrifically talented 'peloteros,' both excellent candidates to become major league recruits, as they approach their sixteenth birthdays, and the moment of truth as to whether their talent, dedication and discipline will pay off with a contract and, along with it, a very hefty 'signing bonus,' ranging from hundreds of thousands to several million dollars -- turning them into immediate successes and local heroes.
The players are Jean Carlos Batista and Migel Angel Sano. Both are short stops, both anticipate signing with huge bonuses. But their demeanor is quite different. Jean Carlos is a serious, down to earth guy, while Migel Angel is prone to showing off and bragging. The contrast between the two personalities is highlighted in the film, adding a good measure of human interest into the scenario.
Miguel Angel is widely expected to be the season's big catch, but his bid for fame and fortune is hampered by questions concerning his age and birthday -- questioned raised by United States immigration authorities who thoroughly inspect all prospects to make sure they have not assumed false identities in order to qualify for the baseball draft or clear bad records that might deter recruitment.
Issues over Migel Angel's eligibility certainly heighten the documentary's drama, but since the film was shot in 2009, the outcome of the controversy is already widely known and/or can be easily researched. Never mind. The documentary is still suspenseful and intriguing.
The Big Picture
While profiling Jean Carlos and Migel Angel and basing the film's arc on the what happens to them, the filmmakers also question why the people of the Dominican Republic are so obsessed with baseball, and why such a small country with a relatively small population -- it's just two percent of the population of the United States -- can produce some 20 percent of the professional baseball players under contract to U.S. major league teams. The film takes us to small towns where kids play in open fields using broom sticks for bats, shows us a bit of local life in the Dominican Republic, and the vast difference between the humble homes inhabited by aspiring 'peloteros' and their families and the palatial residences purchased by players who've signed with U.S. teams and received their bonuses. The film is all about baseball, but it's also a fascinating themed travelogue.
The Sum Of The Parts
Ballplayer: Pelotero also exposes a measure of the corruption that comes into play in negotiations, player training programs, issues of stats and records. And there is the specter of exploitation of 'peloteros' by American teams. All of the background adds up to a sobering look at the prevailing social and economic conditions in the Dominican Republic, and in baseball, in general. Bear in mind, however, that since this film was shot in 2009, there have been revisions in the collective bargaining agreement covering recruitment, and calculations regarding signing bonuses for 'peloteros' and other free agents have changed. But the stories of these aspiring players remain engaging, and the film continues to be of interest to anyone who favors America's favorite sport and wants to know all about its players.
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- Title: Ballplayer: Pelotero
- Director: Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin and Jon Paley
- U.S. Theatrical Release Date: July 13, 2012
- Running Time: 72 mins.
- Parental Guidance: Advisory for Parental Guidance for content
- Location: Dominican Republic
- Language: English and Spanish with English subtitles
- Production Country: USA
- Production Company: Mukuhari Media
- U.S. Theatrical Distribution Company: Strand Releasing
- Official Website