Reviewed everywhere (more below) – Sports Illustrated: “Compelling!”- The Washington Post Critic’s Pick: “Enthralling… A “Hoop Dreams” for baseball!” – NYT Critics Pick: “Startling!”
Jon Paley, co-director, returns to St. Louis!
– Jon started editing this film in my documentary class –
New York Times Movie Review
NYT Critics’ Pick
Baseball Dreams and Schemes
‘Ballplayer: Pelotero,’ Baseball Scouting in the Dominican Republic
Latin American names are common on major league rosters these days, but how those players end up in a Dodgers or Mets or Red Sox uniform may not be something the casual baseball fan has given much thought. “Ballplayer: Pelotero” is a stark documentary that examines that process in the Dominican Republic, a significant source of players.
Forget feel-good boys-of-summer tales. This film shows a shady business in which scouts and the teams they represent try to manipulate teenage players, and to some extent the players do some manipulating of their own.
The film follows two well-regarded young players, Miguel Sano and Jean Batista, as they approach the date when 16-year-olds are eligible to sign. The trainers who have helped them develop their skills are hoping for fat contracts, of which they would receive a percentage, but the major league teams want to keep the signing bonuses down.
The resulting scheming — is either player lying about his age? are the teams colluding to avoid a bidding war? — is dismaying, to say the least. Commendably, the film, narrated by John Leguizamo, sugarcoats nothing, and the people involved — the players, their trainers, their parents, the scouts — are remarkably forthright. We’re so used to hearing innocuous clichés come out of the mouths of major leaguers in postgame interviews that the accusations and innuendo in this film are startling.
One of out every five professional baseball players in the U.S. comes from the Dominican Republic. Take a second with that stat. Here’s another: Every big-league team runs a baseball academy on the island. Unless you follow baseball, you probably had little idea how important signing young Dominican players is to Major League Baseball. And unless you follow MLB, you probably can’t imagine what a mess it has been to make of the whole process. Ballplayer: Pelotero, a documentary narrated by John Leguizamo, follows two of the country’s hot prospects of 2009—shortstops Jean Carlos Batista and Miguel Angel Sano—in the months leading up to July 2, “singing day,” in which MLB allows kids who have reached 16 years of age to sign contracts with teams. Clearly, the filmmakers picked the right boys, as their individual paths to their July 2 paydays, so assured at the start, each become mired in controversy as the months wear on. An unexpectedly gripping portrait of how MLB’s sausage gets made, the film pits the frustration of the young players and their families, who see baseball as a way out of poverty, against the inflexibility of MLB, which battles age and identity fraud among players—and which declined to be interviewed for the film. Indeed, one family member calls MLB “a Mafia.” A rebuttal might have served the sport well. Michael Leaverton
The Wall Street Journal
by Joe Morgenstern
The next time I see some superstar athlete giving an interview that suggests the absence of a functioning soul, I’ll think of the two tense, joyless boys at the center of this quietly devastating documentary. (The film can be seen in theaters listed at peloterothemovie.com, and is available on demand through iTunes and Amazon, among other sources.) Both boys are Dominican, and nearly 16, or claim to be. That’s the age at which they’re eligible to sign with Major League Baseball’s Dominican farm system, and these two hot prospects hope their contracts will shower millions of dollars on them and their impoverished families. “Ballplayer: Pelotero” depicts a recruitment process that has nothing to do with baseball’s beauty or grace. It’s all about the dehumanizing power of money, and growing kids into superstars at bargain-basement prices—”like harvesting the land,” a Dominican trainer says without irony. Never mind if that harvest strips poor children of their youth, or turns them into steely-eyed monsters.
“Ballplayer: Pelotero” was made by Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin and Jon Paley, and is narrated by John Leguizamo. The film follows two young shortstops, Miguel Angel Sanó and Jean Carlos Batista, during the run-up to a signing season, with surreal complications along the way. Since signing bonuses can be huge by island standards—though modest by the standards of major league teams—families often falsify kids’ birth dates. That means the teams must use DNA tests, bone scans and detective work to make sure they’re not buying underage or overage talent. In one case, though, there’s reason to suspect dirty dealing on the part of a team that may have alleged age-fraud where there was none in order to weaken a lavishly talented kid’s bargaining position. Major League Baseball has passed new rules for the Dominican system, according to the film’s closing credits, rules that will limit signing bonuses. Yet the harvest will continue, and it’s not a pretty sight.