This is my entry for “P” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “P” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Paris is Burning, Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, Prohibition, and Punk’s Not Dead.
Release Date: 2011
Director: Jonathan Paley, Ross Finkel and Trevor Martin
Production Company: Makuhari Media
The Dominican Republic is a small nation on an island in the Carribean, yet it produces 20% of the professional basebally players in the United States. Pelotero, also known as Ballplayer, focuses on two young prospects who hope to be signed by a Major League Baseball team, Miguel Angel Sanó and Jean Carlos Batista. Historically, Dominican players have received smaller signing bonuses than players in the United States, Candada, Japan, and elsewhere, but in recent years new records for bonuses have been set. Sanó is expected to challenge that signing record.
July 2nd is the big date in the Dominican Republic when 16-year-old players are able to sign with major league teams. We watch Sanó and Batista over several months of early 2009 as they practice and audition for several teams. They speak of their bonuses which they expect will be able to lift their entire families out of poverty. The bonuses will also be used for the coaches who run the training academies on the island who do not get paid except for a comission if the player gets a bonus. Because players cannot sign until they’re 16 and bonuses are smaller for older players, there is a history of fraud, where players (and their families, coaches, and agents) fake their ages and/or use performance enhancing drugs.
Unfortunately, both of Sanó and Batista fall under suspicion of age fraud, and undergo lengthy MLB investigations. Due to the ongoing investigations, no team will sign them on July 2nd. There’s a suspicion in Sanó’s case that the investigation is being used to force him to sign for a lower bonus, and the effort to prove his age involves a series of humiliating medical tests and confirmation of official documents. In the end, Sanó is signed for less than expected to the Minnesota Twins, while Batista is suspended for one year, and signs with Houston Astros the next year.
Just a side note, this documentary has some excellent reggaeton tracks deployed in the soundtrack.
What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:
The grim, exploitative reality of Dominican baseball is played out on the screen. There’s a lot riding on the hope of a signing bonus, although only a smal portion of players will be signed, and then a tiny fraction of them will make it to the major leagues. Many people in this film use terms that make these young men sound like commodities, which I find very disturbing.
Miguel Sanó made his Major League debut with the Twins in 2015, and played in the All-Star Game in 2017, and is still with the Twin but starting the 2019 season on the injured list. Jean Carlos Batista played a few years in the Astros’ minor league system, but doesn’t appear to be in professional baseball anymore.
If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:
The most direct comparison to Pelotero is the 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams which focuses on two boys from Chicago who enter into prestigious high school basketball programs with expectations for the future in college and NBA basketball.
The Arm is a book that focuses on programs – sometimes exploitative – that focus on training young players in the United States and Japan to become effective pitchers.
019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:
And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:
And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.