Since I've been sick all week I've rented about nine movies, which is nine more than I did in the past three months or so before that. I stumbled into one called Sugar that I was shocked I didn't know about. Maybe most of you are familiar with it already, but since it missed me I figure it missed some of you too.
It's an excellent film about a 20-year-old Dominican pitcher, Miguel "Sugar" Santos, who gets called up from the Dominican academies to the spring training camp of a fictitious major league franchise, impresses the team's coaches, and skips the rookie leagues on his way to his team's Single-A franchise in Iowa. Called the Bridgetown Swing, it's a barely disguised version of the Quad Cities River Bandits, a real-life Cardinals affiliate--the Swing play their games in Quad Cities' ballpark.
There isn't much about the movie that doesn't feel real; the first half hour or so is set in the Dominican, and many of the coaches there are actual Dominican coaches (such as former Nats special assistant Jose Rijo, who ironically was fired around the time the movie came out, for skimming bonuses). The outstanding lead actor of the film, Argenis Perez Soto, was a hotel worker (and amateur baseball player) in San Pedro. Some of the actors obviously aren't great baseball players, but the in-game scenes mostly look about right. There were a few details that seemed strange (such as the idea that a team would allow a talented but raw pitcher to throw six-plus innings in his pro debut), but overall it really looks like the writers knew what they were doing.
The plot is complex, in a great way--this isn't a formulaic sports movie by any means. Most of it focuses on Soto's character's difficulties adjusting to life in Iowa. He lives with host parents who are sweet and love baseball, but aren't incredibly culturally sensitive and won't miss him much when he's gone. He struggles to order anything other than French toast in restaurants. Hoping to finish building a house in the Dominican for his mother, he puts tremendous pressure on himself, then comes apart when he starts to struggle. There's an interesting contrast in the film between Miguel and Brad Johnson, a black American player on Miguel's team who was recently drafted in the first round out of Stanford. If baseball doesn't work out, Brad muses that he'll probably rely on his Stanford history degree and teach. Miguel has no such backup plan.
Anyway, this is a great film if you haven't seen it--full of intriguing little tidbits for the minor league fans among you, but worth seeing even if you couldn't care less about the minors.