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Review of ‘Sugar’

Baseball can be a wildly frustrating game. There are the can’t-miss first-round draftees whose careers never rise above Double-A. Then there are the late-round draftees like Albert Pujols who come out of nowhere, unexpected, to carve out Hall of Fame careers.

In the documentary-style movie, Sugar, the viewer follows the brief baseball career of Miguel “Sugar” Santos, a talented right-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic. Santos has a great fastball and is learning a strange new pitch that looks like the offspring of a knuckleball and a curveball.

Sugar (named that way, he says, because he’s “sweet with the ladies”; teammates insist it’s because of his love for desserts) is signed by the fictional Major League Baseball team, the Kansas City Knights, and is invited to their training camp. He pitches well enough at camp to go to Single A instead of the Rookie A league.

We watch as Sugar struggles with the culture, the language, ordering in a restaurant (they know how to say “French toast” but when they ask for eggs and the waitress says “Scrambled? Over easy? Sunny-side up?” they stick with French toast until the waitress prepares examples of each to help bridge the language barrier gap) and dealing with the pressure of playing professional baseball.

Sugar is assigned to a team in Iowa, where he stays with a family with a pretty daughter (he has a girlfriend back home) and, after initial success, starts to become frustrated with the professional game. The fans are merciless when he struggles and while his host family offers him tips on pitching, it doesn’t seem to work as well as he’d like. The movie’s pacing is extremely clipped, presumably to squeeze in as many details about his life as possible, including when, in desperation, he takes mysterious white pills to help his pitching performance and when he tries to sneak past his landlord when his rent’s past due.

At the end, after some bad struggles that make him think getting cut is imminent, Sugar leaves the team and heads to New York where at the end he embarks in a job as a carpenter (as was his father). He also starts playing baseball with a sort of semi-pro team and rediscovers his passion for the game. Whether this means he’ll return to pro baseball is left up to the viewer to decide.

What I liked: The movie’s documentary-style format. It gives you a very realistic look into a ballplayer’s life as he struggles to be successful, hopes to be promoted and worries about guys from lower leagues trying to take his place. There was some profanity and a very brief, mostly non-explicit love scene.

What I didn’t like: Sugar is so shy due to the language barrier that in some ways he comes across as dull. But he’s still very likable since he sends money home regularly to help out his mother and family.

Overall, I liked Sugar and think it’s a pretty good movie to check out for anyone who wants to see a few weeks in the life of a professional baseball player.

Richard Zowie prefers to tell movie fans what he liked and disliked about a film and then to let them decide for themselves whether or not to watch it. Post comments here or e-mail him at fromatozowie@gmail.com.

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