Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pelotero: A Dominican Baseball Story

I really look forward to seeing this Doc when it is released. Here is an interview with the filmmakers taken from their website:

Jorge Arangure also interviewed us for his blog at on Latin American baseball. Since its Insider access only I've posted the text below. Forgive me Jorge.

Why did you guys make this movies?

Pelotero: While in recent years Dominican baseball has been marred by scandals of corruption, age falsification and steroids, at the heart of this story is a whole generation of kids doing whatever it takes to become a baseball player. The scandals get all the press, but they are only a fraction of what is going on down here, and they generally obscure the difficult path that the players must face. We wanted to tell a compelling story that would help baseball fans understand what it takes to be a professional ballplayer, while also being intimately personal and character-driven.

What were some of the difficulties you faced during filming?

P: Our story depends on having intimate, behind-the-scenes access. While we have this relationship with the players and trainers, the biggest difficulty we have faced is dealing with MLB teams. There has been so much negative press that some teams will see a camera and refuse us permission to shoot without even hearing what our project is about. Other teams have legal or managerial issues that they can't get around. Every team has a different attitude and sets their own rules for having a camera crew around. In any situation we are grateful for whatever level of access a team gives us.

What have you learned?

P: We've learned that baseball is bigger than statistics and standings. One of our character's trainers describes baseball as la batalla, or the battle. Even for those that win the genetic lottery, becoming a major league ballplayer is all about la batalla, both physically and mentally.

What are your opinions on the system for scouting and signing players in Latin America?

P: The Latin American system is very complex and largely misunderstood by baseball fans. Despite the problems it may have, the bottom line is that the system down here produces some of the best players in the world. On a personal level, it gives many kids a chance to succeed that they wouldn't otherwise get. In the United States, there is a well-defined pipeline for player development through high school and college. That simply does not exist here, and while baseball doesn't teach math and science, it does instill work ethic and teamwork, which is better than nothing.

What would you change about the system?

P: I would like to see teams setting up a better infrastructure to educate their players and help them assimilate. This will help their players develop better on the field as well as off. It also helps kids who don't make it find a way to support themselves and their families. Many teams have instituted English programs at their academies, but it is often a token rather than a genuine effort. Teams that have incorporated assimilation programs through their entire farm system, like the Tampa Bay Rays, have had a lot more success developing those players. Regarding the scandals, it is important to remember that the problems of age falsification originated because of American influence, not Dominican. MLB needs to work with independent trainers to exert more oversight. A lot of people have also talked about instituting a draft in place of the free-agent system. The problem is providing incentive for trainers in such a system. We saw what happened in Puerto Rico where the number of players coming out of the system plummeted because they took the business out of baseball. MLB has invested hundreds of millions in the DR because the system works. You don't fix what's not broken.

Any favorite anecdotes from the experience?

P: I mentioned before that it's easy to forget these kids are 16 sometimes. Then occasionally something happens that makes you remember. Last week we went to Miguel Angel Sano's 16th birthday party. It was a big to-do in the garage of his new house with lots of family, friends and a handful of gringo filmmakers. When you see all the boys standing on one side of the room and all the girls on the other side, and Miguel's mother storming around unsuccessfully trying to set up couples to dance, you remember that 16-year-olds are the same everywhere when it comes to some things.

What separates your movie from the others?

P: "Pelotero" is the only documentary that provides an intimate look into the lives of these players, as well as unprecedented access with all of the components of this complicated and lucrative system. We are following them over the course of six months on and off the field. We are with them at home, working out, with their girlfriends, and their trainers. Some of these kids, like this year's top prospect Miguel Angel Sano, have incredible potential. Imagine getting to know Hanley Ramirez when he was 16.


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