The movie Sugar came out on limited release in April of last year and it took me a year to get it via NetFlix, but all the hype was worth the wait – and I wasn’t disapointed. Sugar is the account of a teenage Dominican, signed at 16 and playing at a Major League Academy in the Dominican, getting the call at age 18 to play in the Low-A Midwest League in the United States with the Swing of the Quad Cities (now the Quad City River Bandits).
The movie begins with Sugar pitching at a Kansas City baseball academy in the Dominican (the names of the teams in the movie are not the same as the real Major League teams). The academy has dozens of players, signed the age of 16, competing on a daily basis and without much schooling then how to say common baseball phrases in English.
The main character is Miguel “Sugar” Santos who throws in the mid-90s and picks up a spike-curve from an unnamed white baseball executive visiting the academy. Soon after picking up the pitch, Sugar gets invited into spring training and makes the class low-A Swing.
The resulting fish-out-of-water story is as true to life as I’ve seen about minor league baseball. The theme that translates internationally, especially in baseball where signing at a young age is more common that any other sport, is what is life after baseball when it is all you know? And, how does the impending unknown of what I’m going to do with the rest of my life affect how I play the game?
The writer gives the viewer an alternate reality with a first-round draft pick out of Stanford with a history degree and $2 million in his pocket, but that is not the typical minor league story. The majority of minor league players do not have college degrees – baseball has the highest percentage of players drafted straight out of high school than any other sport. Even if players do attend college, many of them opt for junior college, where they are draft eligible as a freshman and sophomore, as opposed to waiting until they are a junior if they attend a four-year institution.
The story takes an awkward turn at the end, but anyone who loves the game of baseball and wants an inside look into what it is like for young players, specifically Dominican players, to make it in the minors, it is a must see.