Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Documentary, 'Ballplayer: Pelotero' looks at baseball training camps in the Dominican Republic

1/23/13, "Take a rare look inside baseball in the Dominican Republic," Tallahassee.com, Mark Hinson

"The Dominican Republic is not a wealthy nation. It share its island space in the Caribbean with its neighbor, Haiti, one of the poorest countries on Earth.

Over the years, the Dominican Republic has been exploited by everyone from Christopher Columbus to the United States. Now, here in the 21st century, it appears it is Major League Baseball’s turn to screw over the Dominican Republic.

The revealing documentary “Ballplayer: Pelotero” takes an intimate look inside the baseball training camps in the island nation. The camps, which are run by well-monied teams from the United States, are where future baseball stars are churned out like race horses in Kentucky. The horses are probably treated with more respect, though.

Ballplayer,” which is being shown this weekend by the Tallahassee Film Society, follows two top recruits.

Miguel Angel Sano is a cocky, talented athlete who is practically guaranteed to be snatched up by an American team as soon as he turns 16. He has been groomed in the camp system since he was 12.
The handsome, more serious, fatherless Juan Carlos Batista has to work a little harder but his fluid swing is hard to deny and makes scouts take notice. Sano and Batista are champing at the bit to sign up for seven-figure deals and save their families from poverty.

The age 16 is important, though, at least to Major League Baseball. The pro teams are sticklers when it comes to that age being precise once signing day arrives on July 2 (which is called the Dominican Christmas). The pressure has caused some prospects in the past to fudge or fib about their ages. Older players, who are 18 or 19, try to pass for 16, and so forth.Sano and Batista, just as they are about to sign, get snared by the age regulation.

Sano is put through a battery of medical tests (blood, bone, DNA, you name it) to prove his age is really 16. Batista is also caught up in the age game after his father, who has been dead for nearly a decade, apparently wrote down the wrong birthday date on school records by mistake.

Why do Major League Baseball teams care so much about the birthday rule? Quick answer: By casting suspicion on a young prospect, they can negotiate for a lower signing price on the contract.

The Dominican players are hired for much, much less than their American counterparts. In other words, they are second-class players.

Major League Baseball declined to take part in “Ballplayer: Pelotero,” so the viewer never gets to hear its side of the story. That’s a gaping hole in the documentary.

Still, “Ballplayer” is a rare trip inside a world that most casual sports fan don’t even know exists."

"Miguel Angel Sano, who lives in poverty in the Dominican Republic, is a shoo-in prospect to sign with a Major League team in 'Ballplayer: Pelotero.' If he can prove he really is 16. / Strand Releasing"

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