One of out every five professional baseball players in the U.S. comes from the Dominican Republic. Take a second with that stat. Here's another: Every big-league team runs a baseball academy on the island. Unless you follow baseball, you probably had little idea how important signing young Dominican players is to Major League Baseball. And unless you follow MLB, you probably can't imagine what a mess has been made of the whole process. Ballplayer: Pelotero, a documentary narrated by John Leguizamo, follows two of the country's hot prospects of 2009 — shortstops Jean Carlos Batista and Miguel Angel Sano — in the months leading up to July 2, "signing day," in which MLB allows kids who have reached sixteen years of age to sign contracts with teams. Clearly, the filmmakers picked the right boys, as their individual paths to their July 2 paydays, so assured at the start, each become mired in controversy as the months wear on. An unexpectedly gripping portrait of how MLB's sausage gets made, the film pits the frustration of the young players and their families, who see baseball as a way out of poverty, against the inflexibility of MLB, which battles age and identity fraud among players — and which declined to be interviewed for the film. Indeed, one family member calls MLB a "mafia." A rebuttal might have served the sport well.
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