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The new baseball film "Sugar" nails it.
Baseball has been very good to the American cinema. Or perhaps visa versa (if we can only forgive — and forget — William Bendix as Babe Ruth).
The game has worked well as comedy (“Bull Durham,” “Major League”) musical comedy (“Damn Yankees”), drama (“Eight Men Out,” Bang the Drum Slowly”) and myth (“The Natural,” “Field of Dreams”).
But all of those films were mired in what are now outdated notions of the game as the American pastime, as a central piece of our cultural fabric. Film hasn’t yet caught up with the new American game of baseball — internationalized and, above all, Hispanicized.
A fine start, though, is the new movie “Sugar” — a bittersweet look at the familiar baseball dream through Dominican eyes. The Dominican Republic has, in recent years, been Major League baseball’s mother lode. And to the young Dominicans, of course, America is the mother lode. Boys on the island dream of getting out and — just like Pedro Martinez or Albert Pujols or “Big Papi” David Ortiz — making it to the bigs and to its cathedral, Yankee Stadium. Or if not all the way, at least far enough along baseball’s highway to afford a new home for mom.
Making it to the majors is decidedly an against-the-odds proposition and “Sugar” does a superb job of casting the dream — and ultimately dashing it — against hard reality. “Sugar” is the nickname of the fictional Miguel Santos, a talented 20-year-old pitcher, though still a marginal prospect for the “Kansas City Knights.” He is good enough, with the addition of a spike curve he learned in K.C.’s baseball mill on the island, to earn his coveted ticket to the United States — an invite to minor-league spring training camp in Arizona. (Algenis Perez Soto, the acting rookie who delivers a pitch-perfect portrayal of “Sugar,” played baseball on the island, but never earned that shot.)