The MLB All-Star break is upon us, so those of you needing a baseball fix should check out “Ballplayer: Pelotero,” a new documentary now in release. And much like the American League in last night’s game, the whole MLB system takes a beating in this film.
To paraphrase a famous quote, baseball players are like sausage. You love ‘em, but you wouldn’t want to see them being made. “Ballplayer: Pelotero” takes us to the MLB sausage factory that is the Dominican Republic. We are introduced to two Dominican youth, Jean Carlos Batista and Miguel Angel Sano, who are the year’s two hottest prospects. These talented and personable young men have placed their and their families’ entire futures on the hopes of being signed to a major league contract and landing a big signing bonus. It is very disconcerting to hear these impoverished youth bandy about million dollar figures and their dreams of buying a new home for their mothers, but the reality is that, for the rare few, it does happen. So what’s the greatest obstacle they must face in achieving their dreams? Their age.
You see, it’s all about being sixteen, the ridiculously low age that MLB has set as the threshold age for signing with a team. Some of these kids have been working with Dominican trainers since they were really young in the hopes of being able to showcase their talents by the time they hit sixteen. Signing at that age leads to the biggest money. Each year over the age of sixteen can cut your financial reward by 50% or more, so it’s really important to be able to prove you’re sixteen. That can be tough in a third-world country. It also leads to fraud and corruption.
After impressing the MLB scouts at official MLB training camps, questions are raised about Batista’s and Sano’s ages. The investigative process begins. Then things really get interesting. Who’s doing the questioning? What’s their motivation? Where’s the evidence one way or another? I suspect MLB wanted nothing to do with this documentary, so we really only get to see things from the boys’, their families’, and their trainers’ perspectives. That’s a good thing, actually, as it helps the audience to have a better appreciation of their frustrations and anxieties. Will they be ‘cleared?’ If they are, how big will their offers be?
“Ballplayer: Pelotero” rips the casing off of Major League Baseball’s Dominican farm system for all to see. Will anybody care? The next time you’re at the ballpark, try and remember that the Brat you’re eating wasn’t the only meat to be ground up for your enjoyment that day.
“Ballplayer: Pelotero” open July 13th at the San Francisco Film Society Cinema. Producer/Editor Isaac Solotaro will be in attendance for a Q&A after all showings July 13th and 14th. Check your local theatre listings for a showing near you.