After focusing on cockfighting in Cockfight, Tiller Russell & Loren Mendell have now turned their cameras to Alex Sosa and Rafael “Pepey” Rodriguez, good friends who live in the Dominican Republic. Sosa, 18, and Pepey, 16, are both very good baseball pitchers with their eyes on a major prize: To play in the big leagues in the States.
For Alex, it’s a chance to not only take part in the sport he loves, but to help his family, as they dwell in poverty. His unemployed father coaches him in pitching and has a background in baseball dating from 1970 when he signed to play in Houston, but found himself back in the Dominican Republic in 1980, raising a family.
Pepey’s parents struggle to run a small store and right off the bat, the money that the contracts shed for both boys means a changed life for both families in so many ways. All the practice that the boys go through leads to the one most important thing that can either begin or set back a chain of events that can change their lives: the try-outs.
With this, Russell & Mendell, along with editor A.J. Dickerson, exhibit a great skill in putting together these crucial pieces to the documentary. Teams such as the Padres and the Dodgers come to look at the boys’ skills and it’s really something to sit there after learning about the duo and wonder who’s going to make it. Are they skilled enough for ANY of the teams? Is there a possibility of them seeing a contract in the near future? It’s really suspenseful many times over to watch these boys try out and watch the scouts watching them and deciding on what to do. There truly is a lot on the line for both of them. At times, the outcome of a try-out proves grim for either Alex or Pepey.
Later on in the film, a contract does arrive for Alex, but his father tells him to refuse it because it’s not enough money in terms of how much Alex actually deserves for his skill. The usual reflex would be to sign right away and get what you can get, but no go here. The rest of the journey is really something to watch. At one point, you’ll see the “fish out of water” plot point in movies, turned very real and not used for comedic effect. And anyway, it’s not “fish out of water”, but the discovery of a new place and the wonder about how such a place can exist. By that, I mean the U.S., and that does happen to one of the boys.
In a perfect world, a documentary like this as well as so many others would have replaced the deluge of “reality TV” on the networks. Documentaries do provide a closer “reality” rather than seeing someone eat God-knows-what in “Fear Factor” or being chased by someone for such a long time and then be dumped by them in “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette”. There’s something a bit ironic to what I just said, though. On the website for “Change Up”, under “About the Filmmakers”, it mentions that “Change Up” is the most recent film from Angry Young Ranch and “the first episode of Prospects, a reality-sports series about young athletes.” Yes! Russell & Mendell have it down perfectly. THAT’S reality and not the distorted crap that claims to be “reality TV”. I can’t wait to see what these guys come up with next!