On September 1, the critically acclaimed “Sugar” will be released on DVD and Blu-ray. The film depicts life in minor league baseball from a Dominican perspective. For years fans have cheered and jeered the likes of Vladimir Guererro, Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz and countless others as they are showcased on the ESPN highlight reels. We see the glory, but the journey is what no one wants to bring to the forefront.
The film stars an unknown sandlot player from the Dominican named Miguel Santos, a.k.a. “Sugar,” played by Algenis Perez Soto. “Sugar” learns the game of baseball in his early teens from one of the Major League academies in his country, and chronicles his time there upon his arrival to a small minor league team in rural Iowa.
“I didn’t know every Major League team had such an extensive academy down in the Dominican Republic,” said Ryan Fleck, who, with his partner, Anna Boden, co-wrote and co-directed the film. “This industry is so huge down there, and I thought if I, as a fan, didn’t know, then I thought other fans didn’t know, either, and not just baseball fans, but people interested in a very unique immigrant experience. And I thought this would be a pretty exciting story to tell.”
Currently 10% of players in the MLB hail from the Dominican with even a greater portion situated in the minors. Baseball in the Dominican, which is extremely popular, is seen as the quickest way for a man to lift his family out of poverty. With numerous academies located in the country, hundreds of players are given that chance, but only a handful are ever successful. In the film, “Miguel” has difficulty adjusting to the culture and lifestyle while in the minor league system and the constant pressure to succeed, from not only the organization but also the burden of keeping his family’s hopes and dreams alive. Boden and Fleck commented on the pressures that many players face, “So many of them come over here every year, they don’t know the language, they are away from their families for the first time. They are struggling with the cultural differences and trying to play baseball at a much higher level, and I just wanted to explore what that journey was like.”
Soto, the films star has also seen his life drastically change since becoming a part of the feature film, “They were looking for guys who could play baseball and who also had the characteristics to act,” recalls Soto. “I was playing baseball with some of my friends in Santo Domingo and they invited a few of us to go to the auditions. Anna Boden asked me if I wanted to be an actor and I said, ‘yes,’ because I thought [that was] what she wanted to hear. But in reality, I had never thought about acting.”
According to Fleck, they were not just going to hire anybody to act in the movie, it was imperative to have someone in the starring role that had the kind of athletic ability that was believable to its viewers, “We got really lucky. We weren’t going to make the movie unless we found somebody with that kind of ability. He needed to play baseball and [Algenis] wasn’t a pitcher, but he had a pretty good coach in [former Major League pitcher] Jose Rijo, who worked with him on the mound and taught him a few tricks, how to throw a curveball, how to throw a slider. But he has that great presence, has that great face, those ‘Miles Davis’ eyes, and he really communicates a lot without saying too much.”
The film has since received high praise from top critics; real life athletes who have lived what was being portrayed on screen, “It was the opening of the Dominican Republic Film Festival,” recalls Boden. “Sammy Sosa, Martinez, Ortiz and Robinson Cano were all there. We got to talk to those guys afterward, and they said, ‘You got it right.’ And it all came together for me at that moment to hear them say that, from guys who lived through that experience.”
Extras on the DVD include the following;
• Making Sugar: Run the Bases. A look at how Fleck and Boden put the film together.
• Play Béisbol! The Dominican Dream: chronicles the deep passion Dominicans have for the game and for the lucky and talented few, a way to the Majors, featuring interviews with Ortiz and Martinez.
• Deleted scenes from the film.
• Casting Sugar: Interview with Soto about how he was cast as the lead in this film.
Devon Teeple is an author for the Business of Sports Network, which includes the Biz of Baseball, the Biz of Football, the Biz of Basketball and the Biz of Hockey. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Devon is a former student within Sports Management Worldwide’s Baseball General Manager Class. Devon is the founder of The GM’s Perspective and is a intern with The Football Outsiders and contributor with the Plymouth River Eels.
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