Today we sit down with Eric Soussanin who is producing a documentary on baseball in Panama called ¡Indestructible!: Baseball on the Isthmus. The film looks at the history and uncertain future of the game in Panama along with those who are fighting to ressurect the sport from the grips of crisis.
I’d like to thank Eric for taking the time to answer some questions for us about both the film and the game in Panama.
First of all, why Panama?
I chose Panamá because, as an avid baseball fan, I had heard that the Panamanians had a pretty good tradition of producing quality major leaguers, but I realized that I knew little else about their baseball history. So much attention was and is being paid to DR and Venezuela (and rightfully so), but Panamá just appealed to me as this kind of “mysterious” baseball powerhouse.
What sort of reception did you get from players and fans when making the film?
A pretty good one. The fans were surprised to see someone making a doc about their baseball culture. The overall reaction was sort of “Really? A movie about our baseball?” From the players, it was more of a mixed bag. Some were very warm and shared their experience easily (like minor leaguer José Camarena, who is featured in the film), and some were a little more nervous about my intentions (Bruce Chen, for example). Panama is a small country, and once word got out that I was asking tougher questions (about the politics, for example), it was understandable that some would act this way.
As the sport has struggled in recent years there, what is the people’s feeling toward the current state of the game now?
The die hards still love the sport, and for the games toward the end of the national tournament, the stadiums are full. But the issue is with the younger people, who in the last 10 years have suddenly become crazy for soccer. With young and old, however, there is totally a sense of almost self-deprecation around baseball, like “Great! Our politicans have mucked up the sport again. Another black eye for Panamá.” This is why we made the documentary, because this needs to be fixed if baseball in Panama is ever going to rise again.
What is the feeling of where the sport might be heading in the future?
Though there is a kind of cynicism surrounding baseball, there is also currently a new sense of hope for the future of the game. The work of former major leaguers like Omar Moreno and Olmedo Saenz has sparked a sort of ‘baseball revolution” there, which has woken people up to begin fixing baseball. Also, a budding relationship with MLB is reason for hope.
Was there any one thing that stood out to you when doing your research or making the film?
I love the different cultures within Panama that give the country it’s unique flavor. For example, you may have noticed that many of the Panamanian players did not/do not posses common Hispanic surnames (see: Carew, Oglivie, Kelly, Robinson, Stennett, Lee, Lewis). That’s because there is a huge West-Indian polulation that came to Panamá during the contruction of both the Panamá Railroad and the Panamá Canal, mostly from Jamaica and Barbados. You still see the massive cultural imprint of this migration, all the way down to the food, music and surnames.
How will the upcoming World Baseball Classic Qualifier being hosting in Panama City help the sport there?
It will provide a spotlight, however brief, on a nation that’s played baseball for more than 160 years, and deserves to be known on the world stage. Let’s hope Panama can get a win after going winless through the first two WBCs.
What are the former players doing to help the game out there?
Obviously, each of the current/former Major Leaguers contributes in their own way. Carew, Kelly, Mendoza, Rivera, Lee, Chen, Sanguillen, and the others have all given their time and resources to help the Panamanian game, and that should be recognized. However, the two undisputed leaders in terms of former major leaguers helping the cause are Omar Moreno and Olmedo Saenz. Moreno opened a free baseball academy back in the early-mid 2000s, and that was a huge deal at the time. He was the first to be very vocal against the politics that were suffocating the game, and he began garnering a lot of support. So much so, that in 2009, he was appointed by the President to run Panama’s ministry of sports (Pandeportes). In the years since, Olmedo Saenz has really become a ferocious spokesperson for cleaning up the game. He also runs a free baseball academy, and was instrumental in bringing professional baseball back to Panama. As far as non-Panamanians, Candy Maldonado and Elias Sosa both have been important figures in helping Omar and Olmedo’s cause.
What is need most in Panama to help the sport get back on the right path?
The fans (and tourists, for that matter) need to support the newly formed professional league (PROBEIS). Also, the politicians need to be distanced from baseball, and all sports there, so as to stop the in-fighting, and allow the resources to flow all the way down to the youngest players.
What can our readers do to help the film?
First and foremost, they can support our Kickstarter campaign, which only has a mere 13 days to go!!! This film likely will be delayed if funding is not secured. They can also write to organizations like MLB network, and let them know that they want to see these kind of films aired. Additionally, they can reach out via social media to Omar Moreno and Olmedo Saenz, and let them know that world is watching them and routing on their cause. And lastly, visit Panama and take in a game! It’s really a great experience. Just watch out when they toss their beers : )
The film has less than 2 weeks left to secure the needed financing in order to finish the project. Take a look at the trailer and what Eric has been doing. If you can contribute even a few dollars, please visit their Kickstarterpage to help out. For a mere $10 you could get a copy of the film when it is complete.
Thanks again to Eric for taking the time to answer some questions for us. We hope the project is completed. We are very excited from what we have seen and can’t wait to see the finished film.