Archive for April 24th, 2009

Quad Cities River Bandits Star in “Sugar”

sugarI love a good formulaic feel-good baseball movie as much as the next guy. Especially when the premise is inventive, like it was in “Field of Dreams”. But when you get to the more Disney-esque types of films, I tend to lose interest – I feel like I’ve seen it before, as the plucky loser makes good.

Sounds like the latest baseball film, “Sugar”, is a more realistic look at how baseball winnows its talent pool. It’s the story of a Dominican pitcher who plays well enough to make it out of the Republic and onto a minor-league roster. In the Disney version, Miguel “Sugar” Santos would suffer a mid-career setback, turn things around, fall in love, and win his major league debut.

But this movie isn’t about beating the odds. It’s about real life. From the reviews I’ve read, Sugar finds out he’s good, but not great. So he tops out in the minors, and has to figure out what to do with his life after baseball dead-ends. It might sound depressing, but this film is made by the production team that created the fantastic film “Half Nelson“, which gave us a drug-addicted teacher and a disadvantaged student who make small but important differences in one another’s lives. If this story is treated with the same even-handed approach, it should be gripping.

The part that interested me from a Bus Leagues perspective was my attempt to find out what minor-league ballparks might have been used in the filming. I know from the movie’s press kit that it was shot in the Dominican, Arizona, Iowa, and the Bronx. The only info I could find was about the Iowa location:

Once the action in the film moves to the U.S., the filmmakers wanted to be just as accurate in their depiction of life among minor league players. To find the home for the Single-A team that marks the apex of Miguel’s career, they spent days driving around Iowa. They eventually decided on Davenport, a small city on the banks of the Mississippi.


“The city and the team really embraced us,” says Patricof. “We used the uniforms and the stadium of the real team.”

[Sugar Press Kit]

That team is the Quad Cities River Bandits (Cardinals). If you look at the movie’s poster, you see the distinctive bridge over the Mississippi that looms near the stadium. The River Bandits have a big movie premiere party going on this weekend, with the movie’s star throwing out the first pitch and signing autographs. The River Bandits’ stadium also has a marvelous name: Modern Woodmen Park. Not a bad name if your team brings big bats to the game every night. Or if you’re filming a baseball-themed porno. Which, come to think of it, you could totally also name “Sugar”.

Anyway, I’ll be looking forward to catching “Sugar” when it comes to my town. And I’ll have a special eye out for the baseball haven of Davenport, Iowa (they grow corn in the outfield!) during the minor-league scenes.

[Quad Cities River Bandits] [Sugar Film Site]

Now Pitching For The Texas Rangers…

Okay, imagine this situation: you’re a 22-year-old kid from Ohio, recently called up from the minor leagues by the Texas Rangers to pitch out of the bullpen.  You join the big club, sit out there for a couple days, wait patiently for the call…and when it comes, it’s just about the most pressure imaginable: bases loaded, two outs, down 6-3, and you’re in charge of stopping the bleeding.

That’s what it’s like to be Derek Holland.  The Rangers’ rookie made his debut in just that situation on Wednesday and performed admirably.  After entering in the bottom of the sixth and allowing an infield single to Adam Lind that made the score 7-3, Toronto, Holland settled down, retiring Scott Rolen on a popup to end the threat with minimal damage.  He went on to pitch two more scoreless innings, allowing two more hits (including another single to Lind) and giving Texas the chance to claw back and tie things up with a run in the eighth and three in the ninth.

Holland is expected to start for the pitching-poor Rangers at some point in the not-too-distant future.

“One of the last draft-and-follows signed before MLB changed their signing rules, Holland has always been blessed with exceptional command. What really excited scouts was the upticks in his velocity with each season. He was 89-91 in his season in JUCO, 90-92 in his professional debut in short-season Spokane and then up to 93-98 mid-summer last season, with movement. Holland pitched at three different levels, playing mostly in High-A last year and reached AA before season’s end.  In just 221.2 minor league innings, Holland racked up 245 punch-outs to just 64 walks before being called up to the Show. While he’s starting his career as a reliever, there’s no question the long-term plan is starting for Holland.”

I seem to remember reading the other day that the Rangers plan to make this a permanent promotion.  Hopefully he can successfully navigate the hitters paradise that is Arlington and make that a reality.