A Wheel in MotionJuly 24, 2011
Mad as HellAugust 3, 2011
I wanted to share with you a recommendation for a terrific little film I just watched this past weekend on DVD. It’s called Sugar, but it’s not about dessert. The lead character is a young Dominican baseball player who goes by the nickname of Sugar—because he loves sweets, because he’s got a sweet curveball, or because the ladies are sweet on him; it all depends on which character’s explanation you believe.
The movie follows Miguel “Sugar” Santos, starting at a training camp in the Dominican Republic and shifting to the US after he gets called up by the Kansas City Royals—first, to KC’s rookie league operation in Arizona, and then to their single-A team in Iowa. It’s the story of an immigrant and his struggles to juggle a new language, a foreign culture, and the drive to be successful en los Estados (in the States)—a phrase that’s repeated like an incantation by his friends and family back home.
There’s a lot riding on that pitching arm: his pride, the pressure of being the economic savior for his family back in the D.R., and his own hopes of someday pitching for the Yankees. Algenis Pérez Soto, the lead actor, is not only a convincing pitcher but also has wonderfully expressive features, and his melancholy gaze makes you ache for the adjustments he’s forced to make in the strange new environment he finds himself in.
If you’re a baseball aficionado, you’ll really enjoy that aspect of the film. The game scenes are exciting and believable, and I will never look at a struggling pitcher coming off the mound in the same way again. It was also fascinating to watch the young Dominican players being drilled in English, forced to repeat specialized phrases like “I got it!”, “Fly ball”, and “I have to work on my mechanics” over and over, but never taught the most basic words they’ll need off the field.
But at its core, Sugar is not a baseball movie; it’s a story about the big dreams we have when we’re heading out on our own for the first time, and the many ways that we’re forced to adapt those dreams to the realities of life. The results are not always bad, but they’re almost always different from what we originally sought or expected.