(This review was originally published on July 6, 2012 at Reel Film News.)
In 2008 in the sunny climes of the Dominican Republic, two young men – Miguel Angel Sanó and Jean Carlos Batista – are being developed into star baseball players to be courted by Major League Baseball teams. These two have been playing baseball most of their lives in order to reach their ultimate goal: to sign a multimillion-dollar contract with the MLB in order to give their families a better life. Hopes and entire fortunes have been put into these two, and Pelotero tells the story of it all. For 77 minutes, we peek into the lives of these two players as they prepare themselves to be scouted.
The emphasis on the need for these two to do well is, in and of itself, the main character in Pelotero, as alive and breathing as the players themselves, their coaches Vasilio “Morena” Tejeda and Astín Jacobo Jr. (respectively), and their families. It’s not just the drive to succeed; it is success itself that looms large over everyone’s heads. The magic age to sign to the MLB out of the Dominican Republic is 16, with the players’ financial marketability dropping precipitously with each subsequent year. Pelotero follows these players through their workouts, their home lives, and their eventual courtship by various teams such as the Houston Astros, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Minnesota Twins. However, as easy as it sounds, there’s a whole undercurrent of shady dealings and bent facts that make a seemingly harmless deal more dangerous to both the player and the team that’s trying to sign them.
Directors Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, and Jonathan Paley, along with editors Mary Manhardt and Isaac Solotaroff bring you this inside look into how baseball players are made and shuffled around like chattel at a market. These five people are in charge of shaping our view of baseball operations in the Dominican Republic, from the good (Sanó’s agent buying the Sanó family a new house so Miguel can stay focused), the bad (when the possibility of fraud makes its way into the spotlight), to the ugly (one team’s signing tactics that ruin a player’s likelihood of ever getting a contract). Taking into account that this footage may be manipulated in any way to evoke emotional responses, Pelotero stands as a fairly gripping documentary as we respectively rise, fall, and sink with each victory, setback, and defeat these two players face.
Truth be told, Pelotero made me mad. Here, we have two young kids whose hopes and dreams hinge on success, and their talent is absolutely indisputable. However, with the Dominican Republic being notorious for players who have willingly falsified their personal records (birth certificates, hospital logbooks, report cards, etc.) to give the impression that they’re the desired age, extensive measures are taken against both of these players, and we are shown the nasty underbelly of the vetting process. When bureaucracy and red tape inhibit an honest person’s way forward, it’s enough to make you wonder what kind of empire the MLB truly is. Equal parts hopeful and angering, Pelotero seeks to expose the wrongs and injustices done by both the sought and the seeker. And when we see them exposed, America’s great pastime suddenly doesn’t seem so great anymore.