Ballplayer: Pelotero: Film Review

"Ballplayer Pelotero"
Hard-hitting sports doc examines the darker side of the recruitment of young baseball players in the Dominican Republic for the major leagues.

The documentary follows young baseball players in the Dominican Republic who aspire to the major leagues.

A documentary about aspiring young baseball players in the Dominican Republic hardly seems to hold the promise of compelling drama. But the filmmakers behind Ballplayer: Pelotero -- Jonathan Paley, Ross Finkel and Trevor Martin--had either the savvy or luck to latch onto their two principals subjects, shortstops Jean Carlos Batista and Miguel , whose stories provide enough intrigue to fuel a fictional feature.

First, some background of which you may be unaware. Dominicans represent a staggering 20% of the professional baseball players in the United States, which accounts for the tremendous presence that Major League Baseball has in that tiny island country. Naturally, there’s tremendous competition among the young hopefuls, most of who come from impoverished backgrounds.

Adding to the frenzy is the fact that there is a particular “signing day,” July 2, when players who have reached the age of sixteen are allowed to sign contracts with MLB teams and possibly ascent to the major leauges. After that, their potential bonuses—which years ago were miniscule but have now reached multi-million dollar proportions—decrease exponentially.

The potential for chicanery is rife, with players frequently lying about their ages, falsifying their identities, and rampantly taking steroids and other illegal substances. In this case, what starts out as an inspirational tale of two young hopefuls quickly becomes a backstage drama in which both of their potentially budding baseball careers become mired in controversy.

 Narrated by John Leguizamo, the film follows a traditional fly-on-the-wall approach in its portraits of the eager young players and their families. Although there are numerous interviews with various people both directly involved with or peripheral to the action, the most compelling figure on display is a particularly articulate coach who proves all too determined to have his protégé succeed. The fact that he works strictly on commission is certainly no small element of his zeal.

Tellingly, representatives from the MLB declined to be interviewed for the film, although Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine does serve as its executive producer.   

Opens July 13 (Strand Releasing)
Production: Makuhari Media
Directors: Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, Jon Paley
Producers: Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, Jon Paley, Isaac Solotaroff
Editors: Mary Manhardt, Isaac Solotaroff
Not rated, 73 min.