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Friday, July 13, 2012

Documentary Takes Viewers Behind the Curtain of Dominican Baseball

When I sat down to watch Ballplayer: Pelotero, a documentary which opens Friday in Houston and other select cities as well as on iTunes VOD, I knew virtually nothing about the process by which Dominican ballplayers are scouted and signed by Major League baseball teams. 75 minutes later, I am still by no means an expert on the subject, but I certainly have a greater understanding of the system which produces about 20 percent of all the professional baseball players in North America.

Ballplayer:Pelotero  documents the journey of two of the top 16-year old prospects in the Dominican Republic as they approach July 2, 2009, the day that they can first sign with a Major League team. The film makers introduce viewers to Jean Carlos Batista, currently with the Greeneville Astros and Miguel Sano, currently Minnesota’s top minor league prospect. Many aspects of their recruitment process are explored from parents with their hopes of escaping poverty resting on their 16-year old sons’ shoulders to investigations into allegations of age fraud. Interestingly for fans of the Astros’ farm system, a substantial portion of the narrative focuses on the relationship between Batista, whose father died at the age of 10, and Astin Jacobo, Jr. Jacobo serves as Batista’s trainer and surrogate father. During the documentary, Batista boards at Jacobo’s baseball academy along with numerous other young Dominican baseball hopefuls.

How does Major League Baseball fit into this picture? It is depicted as a monopoly in the business of getting quality merchandise out of the country while keeping the price of purchasing this merchandise as cost-effective as possible. One scene that aptly highlights this characterization occurs when Felix Francisco, the Astros’ Director of Latin American Operations, discusses the club’s negotiations with Batista. These negotiations have an intriguing plot twist, which gives fans of the Astros of the Future new information about Batista to consider.

Currently, approximately 70 players in the Astros’ system were born in the Dominican Republic. Ballplayer: Pelotero let me see the story of one of those young men, Batista. However, the documentary also gave me a new insight into the road those players traveled to become professional baseball players. If you are interested in learning more about the inner workings of baseball in the Dominican Republic, Ballplayer: Pelotero is definitely worth the investment.

NOTE: For the sake of full disclosure, I was able to view this film for no cost.

c2012 Mike Tauser

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