I went to the Boston screening of Ballplayer: Pelotero last night. This is Bobby Valentine and company’s new film about two Dominican baseball prospects.
Bobby V. is an executive producer, and was in attendance for the screening. He spoke about the history of his film company. It started when he allowed these filmmakers the make a documentary (The Zen Of Bobby V) of his time in Japan. Because they were so talented (NYU grads, don’t ya know!), he wanted to give them a chance to make another film. This led to Valentine and these filmmakers starting this production company. It’s a story or talent and opportunity. And after all, that’s what the Ballplayer: Pelorero story is all about.
If you think that’s a bit hokey, maybe I shouldn’t talk about the honks that were present in the audience. The ones that were hanging on Bobby V’s every word. I couldn’t help but laugh as Valentine concluded his opening remarks with a rally cry for the second half of the season. Of course, the crowd erupted. The cynical bastard I am — I snickered.
Luckily, once the cutesy stuff was over, the film really delivered.
The films follows Miguel Angel Sano and Jean Carlos Batista for eight months. The time frame of the film surrounds the June 2nd international signing day. Starting on that day Dominican players that are at least 16-years-old can sign a contract with a Major League team.
Because of this, July 2nd has become something of a holiday for Dominican baseball players.
The film, which is narrated by John Leguizamo, starts out with a startling (but not entirely surprising statistic). Around 20% of the Major Leagues is comprised of Dominican players. That, as the movie states, means 1:5 MLB players are from this tiny island. It is an incredible fact.
I have seen multiple sites where the movie has been getting negative reviews from fans. However, critics seem to love the film. I am siding with the critics.
The film is only 1 hour and 12 minutes. Short and sweet, the way I like it. Yet, in that small window of time, the filmmakers are able to teach you about these two players. You learn about where they are from, and the situations that surround them. This makes you care about what will happen to them on July 2nd.
The big rub of the film is in regards to the practice of lying about players’ ages. It has been quite common with Dominican players for years and years. But, more recently, the MLB has cracked down on the players.
The MLB executives — and even more so the MLBPA — are heated about the film. The MLB doesn’t want their people and practices to be judged on the big screen. Because, lets be honest, some people will cry “foul” and say that the league is exploiting the poverty of the Dominican people. As for the player’s association, lying about a players age is a good thing. We’ve seen the MLBPA’s attitude before. Anything (drugs, lies, etc.) that increases players salaries/bonuses is a good thing in their eyes.
So, if the MLBPA is fine with this practice, why has the MLB decided to attempt to put a stop to this? Hint: it does have to do with money.
As kids lie to make themselves appear younger, this artificially inflates the signing bonuses for these players. In turn, clearly, this can cost MLB teams more money.
The entire reason Major League Baseball teams have such a presence on the island isn’t just because their is great talent there. It goes beyond that. There is great talent in the Dominican, and that talent is often more cheaply accessible than top prospects in the amateur draft. Ah, yes! The money piece!
In the end, the filmmakers don’t tell you how to feel. There isn’t a blatant agenda present in the film. This, I love. Although the connotation is that Major League Baseball is just another big business and individual ballplayers are interchangeable, the film lets you formulate your own opinion about the current system.
It’s amazing to see the joy the players have for the game. It’s a far cry from what I see daily at Fenway Park. That is refreshing. Moreover, when these kids (and I do mean kids!) get 6 and 7 figure paydays — that is a recipe for interesting film. That’s a good sum of money for us in America. It’s a small fortune in the Dominican. Specific to the two ballplayers — they have tremendous personalities. These personalities produce some truly tremendous cinematic moments.
I will also not spoil what happens to the two pelateros in the film. But I highly recommend making the trip to your local theater to take in Ballplayer: Pelotero. Or just Google their current situations.
[Official site: Peloterothemovie.com]