Appellate Judge James A. Stewart's on the Road to Zanzibar, thanks to those old Texaco maps.
"This place is a ballplayer mine. You find enough gold and silver in this mine, and all you want to do is produce more and more."—Gilberto Reyes
The Dominican Republic gave birth to a lot of major league stars: people like Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, and Alfonso Soriano, to name a few. More, in fact, than anywhere else beyond the shores of the United States. While there's no number given, Road to the Major Leagues (Rumbo a Las Grandes Ligas in Spanish, the language of this documentary) implies that baseball is a major league player in the Dominican economy.
The reason for baseball's importance in Dominica becomes evident in the first few minutes of Road to the Major Leagues. As David Ortiz reflects on his modest upbringing and how he looked up to the Dominican baseball stars he watched, a young player shows the same pride in Ortiz. The youngster plays "vitilla," a baseball-like game with bottle caps, as he introduces audiences to his life and his dream of one day becoming a baseball star. Baseball gives him hope that he can help his family and escape poverty, but it's also clear that he loves the game and it gives him drive.
The Dominican baseball players emerge, for the most part, as hard-working, religious ("God willing" and its variations are heard throughout), and passionate players. The documentary does acknowledge the flip side, showing one player whose dreams were broken running a "loaning" business, but it's mostly upbeat as it captures the long hours of practice, tryouts, and training on film.
The visuals show a poor country, giving glimpses of neat, timeworn little homes as young players talk about baseball. If anything, you might find Road a little too focused, since everything is shown in the context of the game; it's obvious that director Jared Goodman is a baseball junkie. It's put together well, with the natural sounds of bats hitting balls—and a tire, in a practice session—and runners on dirt blending naturally with the music and comments of players.
With the exception of a TV interview with director Goodman, every extra left me wondering, "Why isn't this in the movie?" At only 53 minutes, Road to the Major Leagues hardly feels bloated. The one that especially should have been in there is the 12-minute "Quisqueya," which recreates the atmosphere at Quisqueya Stadium as the 2006 Dominican Winter League season starts. Like the movie, it tackles opening day from all angles, showing us the rosin makers, the players in the locker room, the fans, the vendors, even the mascot. It reveals baseball as a passion and celebration in the Dominican Republic, even for those who will never score an MLB tryout. The extras add about 23 minutes, and you should definitely check them out.
If you're a fan of David Ortiz or Vladimir Guerrero, you've got to see this; they're the MLB players who get the most screen time. The all-angles look at the shaping of players may be aimed squarely at baseball fans, but it's fascinating even if, like I do, you prefer football.
Road to the Major Leagues is a trim, gem-filled documentary, guilty of leaving audiences wanting more and more.
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