Greetings again from the darkness. Most kids raised in the United States are encouraged to pursue “the American Dream”, however they might define that. For many high school and college baseball players, that means training with an eye towards the major league draft held each year. Co-directors Sami Khan and Michael Gassert explore the fascinating difference for young baseball players in Cuba. With economic sanctions in place against Cuba since 1963, those young players hoping against all odds for a shot at “the show”, must leave their family behind and train in another country.
The film focuses on three players training in Costa Rica: Happy Oliveros, Victor Baro, and Carlos Gonzalez. Filming took place over a few years, and while we can appreciate the sacrifices and commitment these young men display, we only get a taste of their challenges. It’s Los Angeles-based Gus Dominguez, a Cuban-American agent, who finances their training and living expenses, with an agreement that he will take 20% of their signing bonus should an MLB team come calling. We also learn that Mr. Dominguez spent 5 years in prison for human smuggling – bringing folks in illegally from Cuba. Gus has been able to quickly rebuild his career since it’s built on the dreams and desperation of those with few choices.
We see some of the daily training, the try-outs, and the combine in front of MLB scouts. It goes to show the fine line between “enough” talent and “not enough”. These scouts wield great power and control over the young men who have sacrificed so much to get to this point. Shifting tone quickly once Happy gets cut, the film becomes even more in-line with modern day struggles and politics. Rather than return to Cuba, Happy embarks on a journey towards seeking asylum in the United States. Some of the footage of his trip is heart-stopping. While the mental side of his baseball pursuit was difficult, it paled in comparison to this.
At the time filming was completed, only 6 Cuban players had reached the big leagues. Hundreds had tried. Those childhood dreams are the same as every high school player out there … the Cubans just have significantly longer odds of success. We are left to decide if this process exploits these young players or instead offers them their only chance of reaching that childhood dream shared by so many. It’s an eye-opening film that manages to be both bleak and inspirational.
Debuts on PBS Television nationwide on October 3, 2022 and will stream for free on PBS.org until November 2, 2022.