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Movie Review – Ballplayer: Pelotero

Movie Review – Ballplayer: Pelotero

After a long wait, Ballplayer: Peloterowas released on July 13, 2012.  Pelotero is the story of two Dominican kids as they prepare for the July 2nd international signing day.

The film follows Miguel Angel Sano, the most sought after player of the year in the Dominican in 2009, and Jean Carlos Batista.

The atmosphere in the Dominican for baseball is fierce. Players can spend a year or more away from home with trainers living and breathing nothing but baseball for 8-10 hours a day. The months leading up to the July signing day is a hectic schedule of tryout camp after tryout camp as the young kids put on a display for the Major League clubs.

The interesting thing is the age that MLB teams look to sign Latin players. In the USA, top prospects out of high school are typically 18 and are sometimes given millions in signing bonuses. However, an 18-year old Dominican prospect has lost serious value. The MLB clubs want to sign the kids at 16 and each year over that only hurts their value.

So what do players routinely do? They lie about their age in order to try and cash in on the millions offered by MLB. After being burned many times, MLB now has an investigation unit in the Dominican to research the identity and age of prospects.

This is what made Pelotero such an interesting film. It exposed the underbelly of the process.

Jean Carlos Batista

Jean Carlos left home to train with Astin Jacobo at the age of 13. For the next three years Astin helped mold him into a legit prospect as a switch hitting infielder.

When the 2009 signing day came, the offer on the table was $450,000 from the Houston Astros. Batista turned it down against the advisement of Astin. He asked for $600,000 but the Astros didn’t have the money and signed another player for $370,000.

Then the real problems came.

MLB investigated Batista and determined he had lied about his age. Unbeknownst to Astin, Batista was actually 17. Having lied about his age, MLB served him with a year suspension. After serving the suspension, Batista signed with the Astros for $200,000. He was initially hoping for $1.5 million.

The rift between Astin and Jean Carlos was huge after he lied about his age. Astin felt he was betrayed and lied to and even won a lawsuit against Batista for damages to his baseball academy due to his age fraud.

Migual Angel Sano

Sano was the big fish everyone wanted in 2009, but his asking price scared off a lot of teams. However, one team that was extremely interested was the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Pirates knew they couldn’t give Sano the money he was asking for. Then all of a sudden there were reports that Sano lied about his age. The family felt this was an underhanded trick to scare away other teams and bring down the price so the Pirates and their scout Rene Gayo could sign him.

Sano’s mother even went as far as hiding a camera in her house before a meeting with Gayo. In the meeting, he told the family that “Unfortunately, this is the country of lies”. He basically told them he was Sano’s only way to get a visa to the US which he needed to be signed.

The MLB investigation was a peculiar one. It lasted quite a while and although he was eventually cleared as far as his identity, they said his age was undetermined. This meant they could not prove or disprove he was 16 at the time. But the most peculiar thing is when during a meeting with the MLB investigator (who is only there to investigate right?) told the family that if he signed with Pittsburgh the investigation would be over and there would be no suspension.

Sano didn’t sign with Pittsburgh. Late in 2009, he finally came to terms with the Minnesota Twins and received a $3.15 million signing bonus, which was a lower than the initial $4.5 million they thought he could get.

Today Sano is one of the top prospects in all of baseball.

The film gives us a fantastic look into the world of the Dominican baseball pipeline. The work they put in at such an early age to get off the island and into the big leagues is astounding. They are worked and, in many cases, taken advantage of by many people along the way. One of the opening lines of the money says it best,

“It’s like when you go and harvest the land. You put the seed in the land, and then you put water in it, you clear it. You do all this and then, when it grows you sell it.”

Whatever they are doing is working. Twenty percent of the ballplayers in the minor and major leagues are Dominican. But are they doing more good or bad when most of the players that are put through the trials of baseball in the Dominican aren’t making it in baseball?

I’d definitely give the film a watch. It’s an interesting look at the process.

You can find the movie on iTunes and Amazon. It can also be found at several theaters across the country.

 

 

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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

About Eric Bynum
Eric Bynum is Managing Editor here at BaseballdeWorld. He spent three years as an ESL teacher in South Korea, and is now working on his master's degree in history with a focus on baseball and WWII. He has played and/or written about baseball for the past 30 years and is an avid Atlanta Braves fan.

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