Saturday, July 7, 2012

Hitting for Dollars

See Ballplayer: Pelotero in Theaters

Hitting for Dollars

(from 7/7/12)
You may have seen in the papers that the Mets recently signed a 16-year-old shortstop named German Ahmed Rosario from the Dominican Republic for a $1.7M signing bonus. So many teens are signed on the island at that age--Dominicans comprise an astounding 10% of MLB players--that you may have just taken it in stride, but if you were at all curious about the background of Rosario and other Dominican youths who strive for large bonuses from major league teams to escape poverty, then I recommend a new documentary called Ballplayer: Pelotero. Directed by Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, and Jonathan Paley, executive produced by Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine (once the manager of the Mets), and narrated by John Leguizamo, it follows the troubled signings of two teenage star prospects--Miguel Angel Sano (smiling, with glove) and Jean Carlos Batista (fielding and hitting tire)--a couple of years back, and its gritty, up-close,
 behind-the-scenes approach reveals a world we havent seen before.
This film will also serve as a welcome complement to the excellent 2008 indie narrative Sugar, about a prized Dominican Republic pitcher who has trouble adjusting to minor league ball in Iowa after he receives his bonus. Ballplayer: Pelotero was an official selection of the Hamptons International Film Festival, Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Miami International Film Festival, Cleveland Film Festival, and Portland International Film Festival. It opens this Friday in New York and L.A. courtesy of Strand Releasing. You can see it here at the Maysles Cinema ( and the Quad Cinema. There will be a Q&A with co-directors Finkel and Martin after the 7:30pm screening on the 14th at the Maysles Cinema at 343 Malcolm X Blvd / Lenox Ave (Between 127th and 128th Streets) Contact: email: phone: (212)582-6050. 
The following the DIRECTORS STATEMENT from Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin and Jonathan Paley:The central question behind Pelotero was a simple one: Why are Dominicans so good at baseball? The tiny island nation is consistently overrepresented in the Major Leagues, and as America's pastime continues to globalize, every year brings a fresh crop of young Dominican Peloteros to the top levels of the game. We had a romantic image of these players humble beginnings etched in our minds; poor kids chasing rolled up socks through dusty streets as motorbikes whizzed by. However, that vision of street ball felt disconnected to another romantic idea of Dominican baseball; Big Papi, Sammy Sosa, or Robinson Cano slowly trotting around the bases under the bright lights and cheering fans of a big league ballpark. How does one lead to the other? And what is the story in between the two?
Ballplayertire.jpgJean Carolos Batista
When an opportunity arose to secure some grant money in college to produce a documentary, we decided to travel to the Dominican Republic and do our best to connect the dots. That research trip allowed us to survey the country, build relationships and get a feel for what was really going on. More importantly though,we left the island infected with the spirit, passion, and zealousness of Dominican baseball.
When we came back a year later, this time for the long haul, we discovered that our simple question had a very complex answer -- one that had more to do with the hallways of Major League offices than with any dusty street. Where we had expected to find the Wild West of Baseball that we had read so much about, we instead discovered a highly nuanced system struggling with its own identity.
The Dominican system is one of stark contradictions. It's institutionalized yet independent. A free market, yet frequently manipulated. It is a system where integrity and corruption are interchangeable tactics in the pursuit of the country's top players. Indeed, the forces that make Dominican players so successful are the same forces that make the Dominican system so dangerous for MLB. Most importantly, for all these reasons, or perhaps in spite of them, the Dominican system is extremely effective.
Pelotero sheds light on some of the most pressing issues regarding the export of Dominican baseball players to the US: age and identity fraud, exploitation, and the opaque role Major League Baseball plays in determining the fates of young players and their families. However, at heart, the film is a story about two gifted young men with a shared dream, doing their best to navigate a mercenary world with the hopes, fears and burdens of their entire families riding on their success or failure.


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