By 2008, more than 25 percent of major league baseball players were born in Latin America. At 19, Miguel "Sugar" Santos, a serious kid from the Dominican Republic, signs with Kansas City. He flies to Phoenix for tryouts and is sent to the Class A team "The Swing" in the fictional town of Bridgetown, Iowa, where he lives with a farm family. Thus begins his odyssey: leaving his mom and girlfriend; living in an alien culture; learning English; overcoming jitters; working hard; achieving early success; navigating friendships, occasional racism, and a woman's mixed signals; dealing with an injury; trying performance-enhancing drugs; and, searching for his place in the world. Will he make it to the Majors; will he play in New York? Written by
A Black Baseball flick in the backwoods of Hungary is almost an event in itself.
SUGAR, American, 2008, directed by Ryan Fleck/Anna Boden, USA; Viewed at CINEFEST, Miskolc, 2013.
Dominican baseball star Miguel "Sugar" Santos is recruited to play in the U.S. minor- leagues but there's a lot more to this than baseball.
This film treats Immigration, race relations, and, yes, baseball ~ after a fashion, with an xlnt non-professional black cast. These are Notes to an American friend on the most exotic film of the week seen with a surprisingly lengthy Q&A with the director that went on until near Midnight.
The title is "SUGAR", the name of the hero, and this American indie qualifies as 'exotic' here on three grounds; (1) the subject is American baseball -- more exotic in Hungary than soccer or rugby is in the States, (2) not only baseball, but Minor League, Bush league baseball, and (3) the whole business seen through the eyes of black Spanish speaking players from the Dominican Republic!
You'll probably never get to see it because it was released in 2008 as an HBO/American Film Showcase production and has not had any public circulation to speak of, but i'm just telling you about it because it was so off-the-wall weird -- especially turning up in a place called "Meesh-colts" in the Hungarian outback!
The whole first half hour takes place in the Dominican Republic, which shares half of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (Columbus landed there) with Haiti, the poorest country in the world -- and the language spoken was a dialect of Spanish so thick I had to read the Hungarian subtitles to follow it.
The main guy Miguel "Sugar" Santos is a young talented pitcher who is spotted by an American baseball scout and picked up by one of the low level Kansas City farm teams. From there it segues to a small baseball town in Iowa where Sugar is assigned to a very proper church going Grace-before-dinner religious white family who are baseball fans -- to live with them and learn English. They have a squeaky clean blonde daughter who will start making him forget his true black love back home, and it goes on from there to something very different from the success stories we are conditioned to expect from sports minded films of this kind.
No time for details here but I can tell you that it ends up in Porto Rican New York with numerous unexpected twists and turns. Basically a Spanish language film inhabited mostly by black non-actors, which gives it a kind of semi-documentary authenticity you would never get with somebody like Denzil Washington in the lead.
A real one-of-a-kinder that raised many questions from an intelligent Hungarian gathering - - far more than I thought it would. But no bull -- a black baseball flick in the backwoods of Hungary is almost an event in itself. I wouldn't say that I loved this film but it was certainly worth sitting through and sticking around afterward merely for its uniqueness if nothing else. A great baseball film it was not, but as a problematic Caribbean immigration film it works on multiple levels. And as a Black film all it needed would be a couple of songs by Lena Horne to make it an instant classic.
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