I love baseball movies.
Field of Dreams still makes me cry (don't laugh—I know you cry when Ray Kinsella has that catch with his dad). Bull Durham is that perfect Saturday afternoon dose of rivalry and sweetness. Then there are the historical dramas like Eight Men Out.
So, when the American Film Institute recently released its selections for this year's top films, and a baseball movie called Sugar was on the list, I went right to my computer and shot it to the top of my Netflix queue.
Sugar was reviewed by Matt Cullen back in August, but now that we're careening into 2010, I think it's worth another mention.
Sugar might just be the best baseball movie ever made. Maybe one of the best sports movies ever made.
I won't talk about its wonderful film qualities (of which there are many), the brilliant acting of a newcomer, or its subtly beautiful script. True, those things elevate Sugar to more than entertainment, but you can go to Rotten Tomatoes and read tons of those kinds of reviews.
All I want to say is this. Sugar is the best baseball movie ever made because it isn't about one player's big break. It isn't about the Shangri-La of the majors. It isn't about baseball being an immigrant's saving grace. It's about reality.
If you watch the special features on the Sugar DVD, you'll see interviews with Sammy Sosa, Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, and Robinson Cano, who attended the movie's premiere. You'll hear them say that the movie depicted almost to a T the lives of Dominican players who get called up to the minors in the States. And what you realize is that for the handful of supermen who make it, hundreds—thousands—never see anything more than a lonely stadium surrounded by cornfields in an Iowa town no one's ever heard of.
Sugar is the story of pitcher Miguel "Sugar" Santos, who signs at age 16 with a fictional major league team for $15,000 while he's at a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.
Can you imagine an American hotshot getting signed for $15,000? Of course you can't. That's only enough to build half a house for Sugar's mother in the Dominican.
The character of Sugar is played by first time actor, Algenis Perez Soto. Soto is a decent baseball player in real life, as are most of the actors in the movie. For people who know baseball, it will be apparent that Soto can play—but he's a shortstop not a pitcher, and he slings the ball like a shortstop. Somehow, though, this discrepancy lends even more credibility to Sugar's struggle. He's no other-worldly phenom, just a darn good pitcher who has one helluva spike curve.
The kid can pitch, and he does pretty well when he gets to the States, but we all know pretty well doesn't cut it in pro sports.
This is the story of one guy's baseball journey, sure, but the movie also sheds light on what it's like for an immigrant who barely speaks English to get thrown into small town, mostly Protestant, white American life.
It's about isolation and fear. It's about odds and sometimes not beating them. It's also about finding out who you are and what you're willing to put yourself through for the love of the game.
Not to mention how much you love the game—versus how much you love the idea of the game. It's about the choices we're all faced with in our lives.
Bottom line, go rent it if you haven't. It's one you won't soon forget.