Ballplayer: Pelotero makes a political statement as well as good art. It is short and effective, thanks to the efforts of Directors Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin and Jon Paley, Film Editor Mary Manhardt, and Producer Isaac Solotaroff.
The film follows Jean Carlos Batista and Miguel Angel Sano, two 16 year-old baseball prodigies stuggling just to eat in their native Dominican Republic, let alone devote their waking lives to baseball. The best Domincan prospects are awarded $5 million dollar bonuses. They are pushed by their highly motivated coaches – who typically receive 30% commission – to be one of the tiny country’s top five peloteros, or baseball players.
The film touches on the wider problem of the US, as a rich country, taking advantage of a poor one. More specifically it reveals corrupt aspects of Major League Baseball.
Major Leauge Baseball has a monopoly on the sport professionally. Teams have to shell out 5 or 6 million dollars for the best Dominican players, but only if the player is 16. Since their value drops precipitously after that age, if you are a pelotero it pays to be 16. Players often lie about their age and forge their birth certificates. Pittsburgh Pirates scout Rene Gayo takes advantage of this fact, and his actions are later exposed and explained. When questioned by the filmmakers, he claimed he was well within his job description. These documentarians clearly want to make the leauge more transparent by exposing the poor design of the bonus system. Hopefully this will result in justice for young peloteros in the future.
The film is tight and well-structured, movng steadily towards Julio dos – July second – the day in 2009 on which the two protagonists have hung all their tremendous hopes and hard work. Film Editor Mary Manhardt cuts down on unneccesary anecdotes or sidebars common to biographical documentaries. The presence of the cameras clearly influence the subjects, but Directors Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, and Jon Paley don’t let that stop them. They and producer Isaac Solotaroff deftly catch the most intimate and important conversations of these boy’s lives without destroying any of the spontaneity.
Jean Carlos and Miguel Angel’s unbridled enthusiasm at the prospect of getting their families a nice house provides the driving narrative, and keeps spring training interesting throughout. The two peloteros are ambitious and loyal, flawed but likable. They are good boys, fighting to stay that way in the face of vast riches, and despite the blatant greediness of Major League Baseball.
Running Time: 77 minutes.
Ballplayer: Pelotero opens July 13, 2012, at West End Cinema – 2301 M Street NW, in Washington, DC. More information and purchase your tickets online.
Ballplayer: Pelotero website.