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Bobby Valentine introduces controversial baseball film in Brookline

Posted by Steve Silva, Staff  July 12, 2012 08:31 AM

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Bobby Valentine has been no stranger to controversy in his first season as Red Sox manager. And the trend continued during the All-Star break with the opening of Ballplayer: Pelotero, a controversial new documentary executive produced by the Red Sox skipper.

Valentine was at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline Wednesday night to introduce the film at an advance screening of the documentary that is focused on 16-year-old baseball players, or peloteros, in the Dominican Republic vying for a handful of professional baseball contracts.

"That little island, half that little island, come some of the most fabulous baseball players to ever walk the earth including some who are with us right here at Fenway Park," Valentine said on why he enjoys the film so much. "Probably the one you know the most is David Ortiz, the one you know the least is a young No. 77 [Pedro Ciriaco] ... who happens to be from San Pedro de Macoris, where you will see the streets that he rode his bicycle on, where you will see the parks that he learned to play baseball in, where you will see the academy where he ran around trying to get the opportunity to be at Fenway Park where he is right now, five years later."

The film sheds light on some of the most pressing issues surrounding the export of Dominican baseball players to the US, including age and identity fraud and exploitation, and looks at instances of coercion and other improprieties in the process. As the Globe reported Tuesday, one scene depicts a Pittsburgh Pirates scout pressuring a 16-year-old and his family to sign immediately, under the threat of an investigation into his age.

At its core, however, Ballplayer: Pelotero is a story about two gifted prospects, shortstops Miguel Angel Sanó and Jean Carlos Batista, doing their best to navigate a flawed system with the hopes, fears, and burdens of their entire families riding on their success or failure.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has complained to the Red Sox about concerns MLB has with the documentary.

The league is displeased with the film’s allegations of corruption and coercion in the signing process for young prospects from the Dominican Republic. MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said in an e-mail to the Globe that the league “had a conversation with the Red Sox about the inaccuracies and misrepresentations that were in the documentary,” but did not elaborate on what they were.

''I expressed our concerns to Red Sox ownership and that was it. What they did from there is up to them,'' Selig said Tuesday. ''There were a lot of things that were inaccurate.''

MLB says many of the issues with the recruiting of Dominican amateur players have been rectified since 2009, the period covered by the film.

''It doesn't really reflect what's happened in recent years in the Dominican,'' said Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of economics and league affairs, in a statement.

''There are not a lot of headlines that are going to come out of this, but that somebody has a problem with something that Bobby Valentine did, probably a pretty big headline that would come out of it,'' players' union head Michael Weiner said. ''More seriously, I don't think it's Bobby's involvement. When you expose the kinds of practices ... it's not an easy thing for MLB to see, and I know that it's not a complimentary treatment of some of the facets of the way MLB has handled it down there.''

The film's co-directors, Jon Paley, Ross Finkel and Trevor Martin, issued a statement defending their work.

''It is frustrating to hear commissioner Selig state that our film is inaccurate,'' they said. ''We stand by what we documented in 'Ballplayer: Pelotero' and would welcome the opportunity to showcase the documentary to Mr. Selig so he can specifically address what he feels is inaccurate.''

Valentine was originally scheduled to take part in Q&A with the audience immediately following the screening, but that appearance was cancelled on Wednesday. The Sox manager introduced the film, but left before the Q&A session.

Before Valentine exited the stage at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, he did address Red Sox fans in the audience with the rally cry: "And let's go Sox, second half!"

Baseball: Pelotero opens at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline for a full run on Friday.

For more background on the film, check out the Globe story: Valentine film delivers heat.

Material from The Associated Press and The Boston Globe was used in this report.

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