When looking at professional sports, one can only help but imagine where, with thousands upon thousands of amateur athletes in each city in each county in each state in these United States (and then some in every country on the planet) a rather tiny number of teams are able to farm their talents. In a world where children around the world are brought up with a baseball glove in their hands, the chances of ever hitting the pros are relatively tiny. However, when one has the talent, teams will come knocking. But what happens when that system, particularly for foreign born players, is institutionally broken, and only getting worse as the seasons pass?
During a season in which his name has been tossed around in rather negative sentences given his team’s issues this year, iconic manager Bobby Valentine has taken to producing a brand new documentary taking a look into the world of baseball and the baseball ‘farm system,’ particularly as it pertains to players born inside of the Dominic Republic. Narrated by John Leguizamo, Ballplayer: Pelotero has now been released on DVD via Strand Releasing, and while football may be the sport of choice given the start of the college and professional seasons, this film shines a white hot light on one of the most problematic aspects of trying to fulfill your dream as a professional baseball player.
Helmed by Ross Finkel and Trevor Martin, Pelotero tells the story of two Domican-born baseball prodigies. Following the pair of Jean Carlos Batista and Miguel Angel Sano, the film finds both of these hotly talked about amateur ballplayers as they attempt to make a big league roster, or at least sign with one of their minor league affiliates. However, the problems that face them are as massive as they come.
Following years of controversy surrounding the validity of players statuses, particularly pertaining to their truth of age (you must be of a certain age before being able to sign, 16, and the younger one is, the higher the signing will likely be), MLB has made it as tough as humanly possible to be proven truthful, prior to signing a contract. Finding one person interviewed for this film saying that it’s akin to being guilty until proven innocent, the league has become a beaurecratic nightmare for foreign born players only looking to get their families out of their current situations.
As far as a documentary goes, the film is enthralling. Featuring a relatively short running time, the film is a quick watch, not wasting much time giving us much more than just the raw insight with regards to the subjects and their plight, talent, potential and ultimately their trials and tribulations with agents, MLBL offices and teams. Finkel and Martin don’t have access to a wide variety of voices here, but it’s a brisk and ultimately quite intriguing watch. Well made, the filmmakers have a lot of passion for the sport as well as these two players, making for intimate portrayls of the kids, their families and the fight that they put up.
Ultimately however, the film just feels far too slight. To children in the Dominican Republic, baseball is as important to them as their next breath, and while that weight is felt here, the sport’s cultural impact truly feels shrugged away from the film. Unable to give the viewer a glimpse into the culture itself, the film ultimately feels one sided in favor of the players, despite a league that is admittedly dealing with some of the worst publicity they have ever fielded. Never allowing a moment to breath or to reflect as to how the rules that have been implemented by MLB truly got here (save for a handful of previous examples of players lying about their age), the film feels rushed, or simply uninterested in dealing with the larger implications of these rules, and what its impact may ultimately be on a sport that is as big as any within the Dominican Republic.
Overall, baseball fans with past knowledge of this type of tale will get something out of the relatively short documentary, but ultimately not feeling comfortable expanding its horizons, Ballplayer: Pelotero feels far to slight to make a dent during a year in which we have seen a handful of some of the greatest documentaries in quite some time. A worthy rental, this documentary may not be eye opening, but it sure is hard to turn away from.