Director: Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, and Jonathan Paley
Running Time: 77 Minutes
Release Date: July 13, 2012
Home Video Release Date: September 4, 2012
North American Box Office: $46 Thousand
Makuhari Media and Strand Releasing.
Documentary Feature Film. No writers credited.
★★★1/2 (out of 5 stars)
I suppose it is simply human nature that we inherently take things and people for granted. Since what people celebrate as entertainment is supposed to be escapist, a lot less thought goes into the lives the people live on this planet who thrill us, make us smile, make us cry, and inspire us to be better, try harder, or inspire changing something within ourselves. We seldom think of the hours, the laborious effort, and hard work it has taken for someone of that ilk to make it, to be bigger than life, to be a “star.”
Watching the searing baseball documentary Ballplayer: Pelotero, I was reminded of how many baseball games, and sporting events at large, I have witnessed and not given even one thought of the dedication, the training, the skill, and the abilities on display before me. When I watch my local teams – the Seattle Mariners, Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders, Seattle Storm, or flip to some national sports broadcast, I expect the game, match, or event will be exciting and well-played. If not, and I am at home, well, I can easily just flip the channel to something else. In this particular instance, Ballplayer: Pelotero shows us that what we may take for granted here as a disposable form of entertainment (i.e. professional baseball), is everything to a hopeful cache of hopeful baseball players in the Dominican Republic.
Narrated by John Leguizamo, Ballplayer: Pelotero is a short but measured essay exposing how Major League Baseball actively targets, recruits, and commercializes young hopeful Dominican baseball players into believing that a lucrative multi-million dollar contract is theirs for the taking. Scouts ravage the small island and entrench themselves into the lives of these players and their families. Trainers spend years molding and cultivating this talent and reap benefits of upwards of 35% of what the newly signed players receive in their initial contracts and signing bonuses.
As the trainers put in years working with these kids, and are intrinsically connected to pro scouts and Major League Baseball executives from all 32 teams, the feeding frenzy begins when peloteros turn 16, the minimum age for Dominican ballplayers to be able to sign with a major league team. The pressure and expectations are unrelenting and uncomfortably invasive, as families heap mountains of pressure on these kids, recognizing that maybe, just maybe, their 16-year-old baseball star-in-the-making could relieve them of impoverished and destitute circumstances and conditions.
Alarmingly and vividly, Ballplayer: Pelotero defines for us that these human beings, these children, are viewed as commodities, merchandise, baseball memorabilia, even before they receive tryouts or contracts. Directors Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, and Jonathan Paley open our eyes to a great deal of unspoken truths about how an island, roughly the size of New Hampshire, can claim home to the second-largest number of Major League Baseball players on big league rosters (behind the United States). Secret camera footage not only informs us that backroom deals are in play between the trainers and scouts, but that fraud is rampant in this industry. Mature as they are, the circumstances these families find themselves in leave them vulnerable to a whole host of promises and expectations. And there is no shortage of saviors descending on the island, leading to an untreatable rash of age fraud and the taking of performance enhancing drugs.
If kids who are less than honest in going through the system make it through, or are successfully shielded from scrutiny or untoward behavior, they are viewed as having made it. If they are caught being deceitful, they are vilified and their dreams are likely over. At 16.
Ballplayer: Pelotero succeeds in scratching the surface of a troubling epidemic in baseball and sports in general. Parallels can be easily made between the recruiting of African-American basketball players in impoverished cities in the United States for example. At 77 minutes, perhaps exploring those connections were a bit too ambitious for what Finkel, Martin, and Paley were able to achieve with this film.
If anything, I wanted more investigation because in observing the stories and events in this conversation starter of a film, one cannot come away with anything but the sense that if more exposure was levied upon these practices and these operations in the Dominican Republic, we would see even more disconcerting details about what really happens every year when Major League Baseball dignitaries come calling.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Custom made for huge baseball fans, but this topic and the subject matter can transcend outside of its inside baseball appearances.
- A disturbing peeling back of the curtain for Major League Baseball and one of the more curious trends over the last couple of decades. Notable that Major League Baseball declined to take part in the documentary.
- Makes you consider Dominican superstars in baseball in a whole new light.
- The running time is almost too brief and keeps this film more as a knee-jerk, guttural reaction piece.
- Seems a bit held back at times, which proves frustrating. At times it feels like it backs away from its thesis when it should be driving the nails down harder.
- The very subject matter is limiting, turning away a lot of potential viewers.