A little over two years ago, I posted an interview with Jon Paley on the documentary he was working on called Pelotero. What drove me to seek out the makers of this film was that they were in an excellent position to ask questions about the inflow of baseball talent from the Dominican Republic. I had thought, and still think, that this aspect of the talent market is grossly neglected and poorly understood here in the States.
There have been a few attempts to bring to light how talent arrives from foreign countries. The movie Sugar was an excellent, and somewhat accelerated, movie about the difficulties that a foreign born player faces when he is dropped in the middle of America and expected to perform with a scant support system. However, that movie begins after the signing process has taken place.
A book that should be required reading is Venezuela Bust, Baseball Boom. This book focuses on Andres Reiner's development of Venezuela as a major reservoir for highly talented baseball players. However, if you read about Venezuela to understand what like is like for Dominican players, you will be mistaken. The highly structured youth leagues of Venezuela do not exist in the Dominican Republic. Talent simply develops differently in these countries. To understand how it is developed in the Dominican Republic, Ballplayer: Pelotero is a great start to begin your education.
I will let the filmmakers of Ballplayer: Pelotero provide their own synopsis of the film:
In the run-up to the most important days of their lives, two young Dominican baseball players confront competition and corruption to achieve their Big League dreams.
For 16 year old Dominican baseball players, or peloteros, the only real chance to escape crushing poverty comes every July 2nd, the day they become eligible to sign professional baseball contracts. Ballplyaer: Pelotero provides an intimate portrait of two prospects as they navigate the calculating, mercenary and often corrupt elements that surround Major League Baseball's recruitment of the island's top talent.
Ballplayer: Pelotero will be playing locally in Washington, DC at the West End Cinema from Friday, July 13th through Thursday, July 19th (buy tickets here). During the week, the film will be shown three times a day and four times a day on the weekend. You can also access it on iTunes.
I interviewed Jon Paley again this week briefly about the film. I asked him about what drove him to make this film, Miguel Sano, the Orioles' presence, and what he hopes the film imparts on the audience.
When people ask where this project came from this is the story I always tell them.
I grew up in Pikesville as an Orioles fan. Four or five years ago in some of our darkest days I gave up on the big league team along with my fellow Baltimoron Josh Wolf and began to fixate on the farm system (as many of your readers I'm sure can identify with). It was seeing countless Dominican guys like Daniel Cabrera and Radhammes Liz come and go through the ranks that inspired the question of why Dominicans are so good at baseball.In regards to Miguel, the story I always tell is about the first time we met him. We had just arrived on the island and barely had any connections. We showed up at one of the biggest showcases with around 50 scouts and most of the islands top prospects. We were setting up the camera when we started hearing these booming thunderclaps. Prospects had been hitting BP continually since we arrived. But this just sounded different. We turned around and saw Miguel for the first time putting on a BP display like he was in the Home Run Derby. We knew he was something special even before we saw him.The O's were EXTREMELY close to signing Sano. They had slow played their interest the whole time we were there. They brought Miguel in for two days of back to back tryouts just before July 2nd, the day he became eligible to sign. Stockstill was there and was high on the kid. At one point, the O's were ready to offer $5 Million for Miguel, but they were concerned about his investigation. They weren't willing to take a chance on it and lost out to the Twins. The O's had the inside track to secure a cornerstone player here and failed to act. Trust me, the vision of Miguel Sano wearing orange and black and how close they were has kept me up nights.What we found out making this film is that the baseball system in the DR is a lot more nuanced than we had ever thought. Its easy to write off every player as a liar and every trainer as an unscrupulous bloodhound but that is not the case. Baseball is good for the Dominican Republic, and we are not trying to reform or eradicate that system. We just want to make sure that Dominican players are treated equally and fairly to their American counterparts.