15 April 2013

An Interview with Jon Paley on his Miguel Sano film and the DR.

In case you have not heard, Jon Paley and his band of filmmakers are working hard to complete the sequel to Pelotero.  In the sequel, the focus is on one of the two prospects covered in the first film, the top 100 talent Miguel Sano.  The film shows his journey from the Dominican Republic and will end with his debut in the Majors Leagues which will be this year or next.  In order to put enough of the film together to entice established production companies, these independent filmmakers need money to give the powers that be something to be excited about.

This is where you come in.  They are about to finish up their Kickstarter campaign.  Kickstarter is a money contribution system where you give to them to help create this film and in exchange, you get not only the satisfaction of seeing this film to completion, but also a gift.  Based on your contribution, you could receive something like Rosewood headphones, a Miguel Sano signed bat, or even a tour provided by the film crew so you can meet the trainers and prospects as well as go to the academies.  It is a pretty exciting way to encourage helping them out.  The contribution period ends on April 17th at 2pm, so hurry.  Limited supplies are available on some of the items like the signed bat.

I talked to Jon recently about the first film and some of his experiences since he began this journey.

Jon Shepherd: When you first started out filming Pelotero, it was a more comprehensive look at several kinds of prospects in the Dominican.  Do you still keep in contact with the ones that wound up not being included in the final film in addition to Miguel and Jean Carlos?

Jon Paley: Miguel and Jean Carlos are in the minors and both making incredible progress. We have lost touch with the other three guys unfortunately. We try and catch up with them once a year or so when we are in the DR. One signed with the Astro's, but I think has been cut. I think the other two are out of baseball.

JS: One of the interesting parts in the first film is the deterioration of the relationship between Astin and Jean Carlos.  Have they been able to reconcile?

JP: Astin and Jean Carlos are still not on good terms. There was a major violation of trust there and I can see how that is difficult to overcome.

JS: After releasing the film last year, Bud Selig made a point to speak out against Pelotero.  Has there been any follow up to that?

JP: Bud Selig spoke out against the film saying it was out of date and they never had a chance to comment. Of course we had offered them a chance to comment and proved it to them, but they never seemed to correct the record on that one. As far as the out of date critique, if you talk to anyone on the ground in the Dominican things haven't improved at all since 2009. MLB has passed all kinds of reforms which are meant exclusively to protect themselves.

JS: There has been some consternation over nutritional habits of minor leaguers and that, perhaps, MLB teams need to be more focused on providing nutritional support.  What have been your experiences as you accompany Miguel Sano?
JP: There are certainly days where these kids, and ourselves for that matter, are eating out of the concession stands. More often though they are being fed by host families who cook for them or allow them to cook themselves. 

JS: You often see when MLB players go on rehabilitation assignments in the minors that they provide special items for the clubhouse (e.g., food spreads, flat screens, furniture, game stations).  With Sano's pay day, has there been any expectation for him to be generous with minor leaguers who did not sign for as much?

JP: Hardly! There is some pressure on Miguel because he is expected to succeed, but there is some understanding of where he is coming from and the extent of the family is responsible for supporting. 

JS: A hurdle for Sano in the United States is learning English.  How has he done?  How are the Twins are providing instruction?

JP: Every team has an english program although it varies how seriously they are taken. The Twins' are doing a good job though and after a few years Miguel's english has really turned a corner. I'll let this video from the Pioneer Press speak for itself. http://www.twincities.com/sports/ci_22807939/minnesota-twins-prospects-dont-speak-english-well-help

JS: Would Dominican kids who may be talented at baseball stay in school longer if baseball was not an option or would they just as soon enter the workforce (e.g., cane fields)?
JP: The problem in the DR goes a lot deeper than baseball vs. school. Unemployment is incredibly high, the education system is a mess, and opportunity is scarce. Baseball is an opportunity even if it is a longshot and families recognize that. These aren't rash decisions made by 12 year olds with a glint in their eyes to drop out of school. Oftentimes this is a calculated family decision to try for the best opportunity available. They say 100,000 kids are training to try and sign at any given time. Of those only about 500 will sign a year. 
JS: Based on your connections, has the new soft international signing bonus cap affected the trainer business in the Dominican?

JP: It has dramatically lowered signing bonuses. MLB would say that is a huge success because they are concerned with maintaining the DR as a cheap source of talent. All it has done is make things better for MLB teams, and made the value double standard between Dominican and American players greater. 
JS: In the first film, there appeared to be some questionable things happening to Miguel with the age investigation.  Have you heard if the issues there have been straightened out?

JP: MLB and its member teams have two goals in the DR. To maintain low signing bonuses, and to protect teams from looking bad by signing players who lie about their age. There is absolutely no effort to protect players or trainers from things like what happened to Miguel. 

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