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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Film Review: Pelotero

A quick look at the Reds' roster reveals three players from the Dominican Republic: Johnny Cueto, Alfredo Simon, and Ramon Santiago.  That's 12%, which is right around average: overall, in major league baseball, of the 1013 players to wear a big league uniform this year, 101 are from the Dominican Republic.  And yet, we rarely hear much about the journey those players make to get here, aside from the annual highlights of the latest 16-year olds to sign with big league clubs.

Pelotero, a documentary by Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, and Jonathan Paley, tells the story of two players approaching their first day of eligibility to sign with big league clubs: Jean Carlos Batista and Miguel Angel Sano.  While Batistia is attracting some interest from scouts as the documentary begins, it's Miguel Sano who is getting the most attention.  If you follow prospects, you've already heard of Miguel Sano: he is a top prospect at third base coming off a huge year last season, and were it not for the failure of his Tommy John ligament, he'd probably be looking at a major league call-up this season.  Best wishes to him on a fast, full recovery.

Interestingly, the story of Sano's signing is far from straightforward.  Neither is Batista's.  It is their stories that make up this documentary.  It is frankly riveting: we have deception, underhanded dealings, corruption...  Some of the scouts working for MLB teams come out of this looking horrible, and I think we'd be naive to think that these are the only cases like this.  While the recent rule changes that have tightened how much teams can spend on international free agents might have reduced the profile of these signings in recent years, there's little reason that I can see to think that the cases we get to see in this film are particularly exceptional.

It's a great film, and highly recommended.  Even my wife and mother, the latter of whom was visiting when we watched it, found it engaging and provocative.  Baseball is the focus of the film, but it's really just the context in which the story is told.

The one criticism I have about the film is that of omission.  While both of these players ultimately do win the lottery and attract attention from major league teams, there are a lot of kids who basically forego secondary school in the Dominican Republic to concentrate fully on playing baseball.  And then, when they don't make it, what are they left with?  I've written a little bit about this before, but MLB's affect on the Dominican Republic really needs further investigation.

For more on Pelotero, check out Carson Cistulli's interview with one of the directors last January.  Carson's interview is what made me aware of the film in the first place.  Pelotero is currently available for streaming on Netflix.