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Movie Review: Road to the Big Leagues

Movie Review: Road to the Big Leagues

Besides the United States, more big leaguers come from the Dominican Republic than any other country. For many in the poor country, baseball is their life and their only way off the island. This movie is a look inside the the world of baseball in the Dominican Republic.

Kids here learn baseball from an early age. They will play anywhere they can find a stick and something to swing at. In the movie, the game of choice was “vitilla” which was a form of stick ball, except there was no ball. Instead, they used the plastic cap from a water bottle. A “safe” hit was one where the fielder could not pick up the cap before it stopped moving, whereas an “out” was when they could pick it up as it still moved.

The kids would play anywhere they could. Many had practically nothing but lived with the dreams of making the big leagues. A glove or jersey was a prized possession, and a chance to play ball is all they wanted.

The film followed a few players for a while. One was Juan Cabrera. He was a 17-year-old kid who dreamed big. He followed the circuit of tryout camps hoping to get signed. And even though he showed some talent, it took him some time before he was finally signed.

Many of the major leaguers return home during the off-season to live and workout where they grew up. They showed two of these stars as they worked out with kids from their neighborhoods. The first was David Ortiz. He is from Santo Domingo, and he would return home during the winter months to work out. The man who trained him when he was 15 was training Cabrera, so we got to see what Ortiz thought of the young talented player. It was an interesting look at the hunger displayed by someone who is trying to make it, and at the same time the hunger and drive of someone who had made it but wanted to stay at the top of his game.

The movie also showed a bit of the ugly side of baseball in the Dominican as well. There are many players who try to use fake documents to show they are younger than they really are in order to get signed. One of those players was showcased in this film.

The player in question was the cousin of a major league star and was talented in his own right. However, he was caught lying about his age (saying he was 21 instead of 24) after he had signed a contract with the Red Sox. If someone is caught, they are immediately released and banned from the game. So here was this young kid who tried to cheat the system. He was out of baseball, had no job, and was hustling to make it day to day. It’s a sad reality, but one that does exist.

The film also showed life inside the academies of the Dominican. When players are signed, they are assigned to that teams academy. There they are trained as ballplayers. They eat, sleep, and drink baseball. But they also learn another important aspect for many of them, English. Here the players will compete with one another to improve enough to be assigned to a minor league team in the United States. From there they will begin their journey to the big leagues.

There are a lot of success stories from these academies, and this is why they run them. In the film, one of the big prospects at the Mets academy was Carlos Gomez who is now a major leaguer having played 2010 with the Milwaukee Brewers. There are countless stories of kids coming from poor backgrounds to the majors, and this is what motivates and drives these young kids. They see the success stories, and they want to fulfill that dream.

The academies are realistic though. They know not everyone is going to make it, but they are hopeful that they are around the average which is about 5 players in 100 reaching the majors. That’s not a great percentage, but its enough to keep the kids playing hard and the teams looking for more talent.

It’s a never ending cycle it seems but there is a lot of talent to be found. Players coming out of the Dominican Republic are some of the best in the majors. They are aggressive (the other MLB player highlighted might be the most aggressive in Vladimir Guerrero), and as the old saying goes, you can’t walk off the island.

I really enjoyed this movie, and would recommend it to any baseball fan out there. It is only 52 minutes long, so it is not a huge time commitment. I was able to stream it on Netflix, so check that out if you have it. Or you can pick it up on Amazon Road to the Big Leagues (Rumbo A Las Grandes Ligas).

I am going to give it a rating of 3 gloves.  It’s a good film to see, but it just doesn’t go into a whole lot of depth an any one subject which is really the only complaint I have.

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2 Responses to “Movie Review: Road to the Big Leagues”

  1. Juan Cabrera one of the players featured in the video was released from by St Louis Cardnials in 2010 after posting a minor league line of 207/242/260.

  2. john frias says:

    I don’t know much about baseball, but I always thought he would make it to the MLB. Do players have any chance to come back to the league after they are released?

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