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Rumbo a Las Grandes Ligas
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by Jay Seaver

"Field of big dreams."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL OF BOSTON: I think the Dominican Republic exports more sugar than it does baseball players, although you might guess otherwise by looking at a typical Major League roster: That small country on a Caribbean island is probably the best represented relative to its population, and there's good reason: The entire country is crazy for the game, and the lack of many better opportunities available serves as a powerful motivator.

Rather than follow one would-be ballplayer as he makes his way through the system, director Jared Goodman takes cross-section: There's a twelve-year-old who hones his skills playing vidilla (a game that involves hitting a bottle cap with a broomstick) during the hours when he can't play in an organized league and idolizes Red Sox star David Ortiz, a seventeen-year-old who after failing a tryout for the San Diego Padres dedicates himself to improving himself for the scouts' next trip through a month later, the young men in the New York Mets' Dominican baseball academy, and, of course, major leaguers Ortiz and Vladimir Guerrero. There's also a cautionary tale of a player who became persona non grata with professional baseball after discrepancies were found in his birth records.

Juan Cabrera, the teenager initially rejected by the Padres, will likely make the strongest impression on the audience as the film follows him over a couple of months. His story follows the traditional narrative arc structure the closest, with initial hardship, efforts made to overcome it, and a conclusion of sorts. He's a likable kid, lacking the cockiness of many of the other participants, and otherwise very focused. When Ortiz says that Cabrera reminds him of a young Alex Rodriguez, he doesn't let it go to his head but uses it as a reason to work harder. Even if we don't know if he'll succeed by the end of the movie - Rumbo was shot in early 2006, and even if signed, he'll probably spend a few years working his way up the ladder - we've got a stake in it.

A couple of throw-away lines during his story raise some flags, though - when Cabrera's agent mentions going to the doctor so he can get stronger, the first place many will jump in today's climate is that he's getting a prescription for performance-enhancing drugs. Also, although we see a guy who lost his dream because he apparently faked his birth certificate and a member of the Mets' staff describes the process of reaching the big leagues as climbing a triangle with room for many more people stopping at the lower levels than the top, the way that the film moves from step to step without showing attrition gives the impression that the path is much smoother than the reality. I'm not sure that's exactly a weakness, though - Rumbo is a rather short film (at 54 minutes, it wouldn't qualify for the Documentary Feature Oscar), and if the goal is just to show the path the likes of Ortiz and Guerrero followed, it accomplishes that. There are many angles Goodman could have explored, but that would be another movie.

The movie he makes is decent enough, though - he has a knack for finding charismatic subjects and letting that charm shine through. He opts to present the entire film in Spanish, even the captions, despite Ortiz and likely some of the other people who make appearances being articulate in English. This may just be because he intends it for the Latin market, but even if not it does help keep the audience immersed in the environment.

"Rumbo a las Grandes Ligas" is kind of slight, both in length and subject matter. Baseball fans will probably enjoy it, although even they might want to follow it up with something a little meatier.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16131&reviewer=371
originally posted: 05/02/07 06:49:50
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Independent Film Festival of Boston For more in the 2007 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.

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Directed by
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