Quick, what do Jesus Alou, Cesar Geronimo, Cesar Cedeno, Joaquin Andujar, Rafael Landestoy, Julio Solano, Fernando Martinez, Moises Alou, Jimmy Paredes, Wandy Rodriguez and Fernando Abad all have in common?
If you answered that they all play or once played for the Houston Astros, give yourself a gold star. But if you want one of those fancy new orange stars with a white H emblazoned on it, the answer I'm looking for is that they're among the many Houston players who hail from the Dominican Republic.
The process by which they got to the big leagues has evolved over the years, but for a look at more recent practice, I heartily recommend that you spend an hour watching the documentary film "Ballplayer: Pelotero," which is available via iTunes, Netflix, Amazon, Google Play, and possibly other venues.
Baseball fans might know more about the Dominican Repubic than folks from many other demographics. The film estimates that 20 percent of all current major and minor leaguers have their roots in the Dominican Republic, and longtime Astros fans in particular know their team was a pioneer in mining for talent there.
The Dominican Republic is an impoverished nation that shares island space with Haiti, and lies in a Caribbean cluster with Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. Baseball fans probably know that prospects from the Dominican Republic have undergone increased scrutiny in recent years because of discrepancies about their age and possible use of PEDs. Several prominent major leaguers, including one-time Astro Wandy Rodriguez, have been identified as being older than than once believed.
In the Dominican Republic, baseball is seen by many as their one opportunity to get off the island and help their families with newfound riches, and the temptation to gain any advantage is perhaps understandable. Similarly, baseball clubs are also seeking every advantage as they try to leverage the best available talent for the fewest dollars.
The professional-quality film follows two Dominican prospects, Miguel Angel Sano and Jean Carlos Batista, along with their Dominican coaches and professional scouts from several teams, as they all struggle to navigate the high-stakes landscape in the days leading up to the July 2, 2010 signing date.
The Houston Astros figure prominently in this film, but to say more would be a spoiler.
Viewers get a chance to watch scenes from the Dominican Republic that you might never see, and understand a little more about the human side of the game, which goes far beyond the numbers.
"Ballplayer: Pelotero" is certainly captivating. When I suggested to my wife that she watch it with me, she replied, predictably, that she "didn't want to watch a baseball movie," but would graciously watch 5 minutes before going to bed. One hour and 17 minutes later, she was asking me to rewind to some scenes so she could watch them again, and asking probing questions about the process of scouting in the Dominican Republic.
It's January, and now is a good time to cozy up to the hot stove and watch a little baseball. "Ballplayer: Pelotero" doesn't strike out.