Friday, June 5, 2009

Sugar (Rhoades)

“Sugar” Dreams of The Major Leagues

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

  My wife’s cousin Chad Curtis played major league baseball with the Yankees. After making big bucks, he retired at an early age. Lucky stiff.

Making the majors is every ballplayer’s dream.

That’s the theme of “Sugar” – the baseball film that’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Miguel “Sugar” Santos (Algenis Perez Soto) is a young Dominican with a “million dollar arm” that throws 95. If he can make it to the States to play in the minors, that could be a stepping stone to the major leagues. Rookie ball, Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A –  “all that before you even set foot in the majors,” the coaches explain.

Making it to the majors would be the answer to all his single-minded dreams. Money for his impoverished family. A Cadillac that he’ll “drive across the ocean” to see his girlfriend.

But the coaches tell him to be like a racehorse, focus on nothing but himself.

So when he’s invited to Spring training in Phoenix, he seems well on his way.

But a Kansas City Knights coach puts it in proper perspective: “Remember, that until you reach the top there’s all these guys above you hustling to keep you down here and guys below you pushing to take your job. We got 75 pitchers in this camp for less than 50 positions come April 3rd. You do the math. You’re gonna work hard.”

And Sugar does.

But it’s a strange country and a strange culture.

When the 20-year-old ballplayer is welcomed into an Iowa home, he begins to question whether he has the makings of a major leaguer. Maybe there’s a life for him somewhere else, New York maybe. Almost in the shadow of Yankee Stadium.

Casting the movie was a challenge. Algenis Perez Soto was Number 452 out of 600 guys interviewed. A genuine Dominican ballplayer, he was actually a shortstop who had to be trained to pitch for his role in “Sugar.”

Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck helmed this sleeper sports story. They are best known for “Half Nelson,” a drama about a drug-addled teacher starring Ryan Gosling.

“Y’ know, I’ve been a baseball fan for a long time,” says Fleck. “And I felt like I knew a fair amount about the game. But I did not realize that every major league baseball team has one of these private academies in the Dominican Republic where it’s a huge industry, where hundreds of players live in these academies. And they train, and they’re taught a little bit of English. And hundreds come to the United States for Spring training every year, and get sent off into various parts of the farm system in minor league baseball in little small towns. And it was really fascinating to know this existed… I just became really curious about these guys who go through this process every year, who you never hear about, who don’t become Sammy Sousa or Pedro Martinez or the superstars that baseball fans are familiar with.”

In the movie, Sugar has to rethink his dreams. In real-life, Chad Curtis took his baseball money and bought a horse ranch.

[from Solares Hill]

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