Baseball may call itself “The National Pastime” in the United States, but most people would agree that football is more popular. However, it is undeniably true in the Dominican Republic. People play baseball there 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. The children play almost from the day they are born. There is even an Academy for young Dominicans who qualify to train them for playing in the Major Leagues.
This is the fictional story of Miguel “Sugar” Santos (Algenis Perez Soto), a talented pitcher who lives in the heart of baseball land in the Dominican Republic, San Pedro De Macorís, attends the Academy, gets invited to spring training with the Kansas City Knights in Phoenix, Arizona, and is assigned to one of their farm teams in Bridgetown, Iowa.
This is the story of how a young man who doesn’t speak the language tries to deal with a completely different culture. It shows how the Academy teaches them rudimentary English to help them get by once they get to the States. They chant things like “I got it” over and over, even though they don’t speak any English.
All the players in the movie were cast because they were baseball players, not actors, except Richard Bull and Ann Whitney, who play Earl and Helen Higgins, the farm couple with whom Sugar lives while in Bridgetown, and Johnny Marx, who is Sugar’s manager in the minor leagues. The producers interviewed over 600 baseball players to cast the movie. Soto, who plays the lead, was the 452nd person interviewed. He had never been on an airplane and never out of the Dominican Republic when he accepted the part. Perhaps fittingly, he missed his plane connection in Florida when flying up to start the film. He wanted to be in the Academy, but didn’t make it. Still, he was playing baseball in the Dominican Republic, even though he had no chance of playing in the majors. He has no ambition to be an actor.
That’s too bad because he is a very good actor and a good looking guy. He could have a career.
Writer-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have made a touching and realistic film. It’s not a Horatio Alger story. In fact, it shows that when these Dominicans finally get to play in the U.S., it’s no bed of roses. Often, because they are away from home for the first time, they find it hard to play at the level at which they played back home. As a result, the dream doesn’t match the reality and they often find they don’t enjoy playing baseball as much as they did when they were at the Academy.
The quality of the baseball is very good, which is to be expected since the players were cast for their baseball abilities and not for their acting. Even so, the acting is quite good.
This is not really a baseball story, and the scenes of games are a relatively small part of the film. What it is, is an interesting tale of a young man devoted to his family back home, trying to come to grips with surviving in a completely different culture.