The Dominicans in Ballplayer: Pelotero compete on an unequal playing field

The Dominicans in Ballplayer: Pelotero compete on an unequal playing field

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: 42 has us thinking about our national pastime.  

Ballplayer: Pelotero (2011) 
“The gringos may have invented baseball,” cracks a young prospect from the Dominican Republic in the documentary Ballplayer: Pelotero. “We’re just playing it better.” The influx of talent from the poor island nation has been so extraordinary that major-league baseball has opened a second office there, and is currently considering an international draft to provide a more structured way to bring players into the league. Ballplayer: Pelotero doesn’t spend much time evoking baseball culture in the Dominican Republic, focusing instead on the dirty, exploitative business of scouting in a locale where kids have no money and no leverage. Directors Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, and Jonathan Paley focus on Miguel Angel Sano and Jean Carlos Batista, two gifted shortstops approaching the July 2 “International signing day” with the expectation of seven-figure signing bonuses. Both have trainers, managers, and scouts monitoring them closely, but their best interests aren’t always taken to heart. 

The major sticking point is this: Dominican players (and recruits generally) are of greatest value when they’re 16 years old, during their first year of eligibility. If they’re signed any year following, the bonuses drop precipitously. This has opened up terrible abuses in the system, as older players (and their reps) have lied about their age and manipulated the records. But the abuse cuts both ways: If age rumors are floated about, as they are with both Sano and Batista, the MLB investigation diminishes the players’ value, especially if it extends past that July 2nd deadline. Ballplayer: Pelotero doesn’t put too fine a point on the social injustice of a system that protects and benefits American-born players over their Dominican counterparts, because it’s just a fact. Instead, it simply trails Sano, Batista, and their handlers as their dreams of big-league glory are dimmed (if not entirely squashed) by disillusionment. There are two different ballgames happening, and they’re only masters of one. 

Availability: Currently streaming for Netflix and Hulu subscribers, and available for digital rental/purchase and DVD from Strand.