Review of Ballplayer: Pelotero
Thankfully, it is available through several sources right now. Some cable providers have made it available as On Demand. It can currently be seen at St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis and other select theaters around the country. It is also available on iTunes, which is how I watched it.
Obviously the key draw to this documentary for Twins fans is the fact that one of its main ‘characters’ is Twins top prospect Miguel Sano who is referred to as Miguel Angel (his middle name) throughout the movie. It’s an interesting look at his life and the pressure on him even as a 15 year old. But, it also is a nice glimpse into his personality. It is understandable why his nickname is “Bocaton” (translated to “Big Mouth”). He is a fun-loving kid with the world of talent.
Fred Guerrero, the Twins scout in the Dominican, also has several quotes in the movie, early in the process and even after he signed.
It was also an open look at how the recruitment process affected him and his entire family. He had to go through rigorous and very personal tests in an attempt to prove his age to MLB, teams and more.
The movie certainly points to the Pirates scout (Rene Gayo) who did whatever was necessary to get Sano to sign with him, including some very non-ethical maneuvers. As the director commented in our forum,
“Rene Gayo and the Pittsburgh Pirates were able to scare off many other teams because of unfounded concerns about Miguel's age. The Twins did a very brave thing by stepping up and signing him. And hopefully they will be rewarded for it for years to come. Fred Guerrero the DR scouting director is a really great guy and knew from day one that this kid was special.”
Did you know that 20% of all players in the big leagues and the minor leagues come from The Dominican Republic, a country with just 2% of the population of the United States?
Most of those players sign for very small bonuses that are important for their families. Many are just represented by their mentor/ trainer/ coach at various academies. However, a player like Sano also had his own agent. Sano grew up very poor, in very humble surroundings. His agent moved him and his family and extended family into a nicer area of town.
Jean Carlos Batista is the other 16 year old whose trek is documented in the film. The switch-hitting shortstop hoped to receive a signing bonus of $1.5 to $1.8 million. He was offered significantly less than that after going to several tryout camps. But later on, Batista’s mom admitted to his trainer and coach Astin Jacobo that he was actually a year older than he claimed. When Jean was ten, his parents found a way to “change” his age, and they ran with it. See how that admission affected his eventual signing bonus as well as his relationship with his trainer.
One of the trainers made the comment that kids come to their academies when they are as young as 13 or 14. He compared it to a harvest in which they plant seeds, put in time and energy and at the end of the day (when a player signs), they sell it. Trainers generally get a percentage (As much as 35%) of signing bonuses.
This is a documentary. It’s not Major League, so you won’t be laughing the whole time (although there are some funny moments). It’s not The Natural or Field of Dreams where everything is wonderful or even mystical at the end of the day. It is, in a way, baseball’s version of Hoop Dreams, the excellent documentary of two young basketball players as they worked from middle school to high school. In my mind, it’s a great movie for Twins fans as we get a glimpse of a young Miguel Sano and all he endured to get signed. It’s a great movie for all baseball fans as it captures what it is like to be a kid in the Dominican Republic and how much effort goes into getting signed, and how much it means for their families for the kids to be signed.
I definitely recommend viewing Ballplayer: Pelotero if you have the chance! I'm not going to pretend to be a movie critic and know how to analyze greatness in a movie, particularly in a documentary. One way I determine whether or not I really liked a movie is how I feel when the movie comes to an end. At the end of this movie, I wanted it to keep going. I wanted to know what happened next. Obviously as Twins fans, we know how Miguel Sano is doing on the field, but what's going on off-the-field too and how has he adapted to playing and living in America? Well, you'll be happy to know that the same cast has occasionally been following Sano through his minor league time the last couple of years and do plan on another documentary following his career (hopefully) to the big leagues!
Learn much more about the characters and the movie at the Official Ballplayer: Pelotero website.