Sugar Offers an Alternative Take on the American Dream

By Bradford William Davis


Sports movies, at their best, question what it truly means to “make it.” The original Rocky famously recalibrates its protagonist’s goals by allowing him to [40-year-old spoiler alert] lose the biggest fight of his life. Sugar takes a similar tack on the baseball diamond. It’s less about documenting the final out of the World Series or the glory of hitting a game-winning home run than the inherent joy that should come from pursuing what matters. As you watch Sugar depict a young athlete’s journey to the big leagues, you may find yourself reevaluating your own definition of success.

Year: 2008

Runtime: 1 hour, 54 minutes

Who You’ll Recognize: Andre Holland (The Knick, Moonlight) as a Stanford-educated minor leaguer. Early ‘90s baseball fans might spot Reds All-Star Jose Rijo.

Awards: The American Film Institute selected Sugar as its Movie of the Year. It was also nominated for an ESPY.

Why you should watch: If you like baseball, Sugar’s an easy sell. The film follows talented Dominican teen Miguel “Sugar” Santos (Algenis Perez Soto) from his humble, baseball-obsessed, island roots to signing a professional Major League Baseball contract that places him in rural Iowa.

In stark contrast to Field of Dreams, Rookie of the Year, and other popular sports films that take significant liberties with its source material, Sugar is infused with realism. One example: most of Santos’ dialogue is in Spanish — completely logical given his recent migration to the States. Another: telling a story about a Dominican ballplayer instead of a white guy. (According to an MLB-produced study from 2013, 28 percent of its athletes are foreign-born.) While the film is heartfelt and hopeful, Sugar’s optimism isn’t cheapened by cliche. Instead, it’s earned by a love for its characters and respect for their dreams.

Why now: If you’re watching Spring Training, there’s a great chance that you’ll watch a young Dominican player winding up. If you love the sport but would like to learn more about what your favorite players overcame and sacrificed to get to the Show, Sugar will fill you in on the road many Latin stars took to big league glory. Furthermore, Sugar’s grounded approach is applicable to a number of immigrant experiences. The movie doesn’t skim past the intense feelings of isolation, homesickness, and culture shock.

Dugout Wisdom: “Life gives you lots of opportunities. Baseball only gives you one.” –– Frank