Baseball, the Movies, and Poverty in the Dominican Republic

04/06/09 - Life in the impoverished Dominican Republic can be very hard. For decades, that Caribbean nation has supplied American baseball with some of its biggest stars—players whose skills swiftly lifted them and their families out of poverty. Sammy Sosa, Big Papi (David Ortiz), Robinson Cano, and Manny Ramirez are just a few U.S. baseball greats born in the Dominican Republic.

But the road from a poor community in the Dominican Republic to success in U.S. baseball is not as easy as it looks. The struggle to adjust to life in America, on and off the baseball diamond, is the subject of "Sugar," a new film that opened on April 3 in New York and Los Angeles. The movie tells the story of a young Dominican pitcher nicknamed "Sugar." Brought to a minor-league team in Iowa, he must learn English, face a new level of competition, and adapt to life inside the home of his religious, baseball-crazed host family.

The lead role is played by non-actor Algenis Perez Soto, a twenty-year-old Dominican baseball player who missed the initial audition for the role because of a baseball game. The movie's young American directors went to the field to find him and invited him to audition. Perez Soto told a New York Times reporter that he had always wanted to come to the United States, but thought he’d come to play baseball, not to act in a movie.

The film was directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Sammy Sosa, other big-name Dominican-born baseball stars, and even the president of the Dominican Republic attended the movie’s opening night at the Dominican Republic Global Film Festival in November.

SOS Children's Villages Saves Dominican Children

A child dreams of playing for the New York Yankees at an SOS Children's Village
An SOS Child dreams of playing for the New York Yankees

Many children in the Dominican Republic dream of being plucked from poverty and thrust into baseball stardom in the United States. For most poor children, especially those who have been abandoned, that dream will never come true.

SOS Children's Villages has been in the Dominican Republic since 1981 to help the children for whom athletic fame is not an option. SOS, the world's largest charity devoted to providing loving homes for orphaned and abandoned children, operates three Children's Villages in the country. Two are in the capital of Santo Domingo, where an SOS kindergarten is also open to children from the neighborhood. In addition, an SOS school and an SOS medical center help meet local educational and medical needs. An SOS youth facility in Santo Domingo looks after youth until they become independent.

If you would like to help a Dominican child secure a warm home and a bright future, consider sponsoring a child.