The baseball academy where Miguel Santos has been training as a pitcher since he was signed at age 16 is a breeding ground for major league talent. Living at the facility during the week, players go through rigorous daily training, while scouts observe and grade their abilities. Sugar’s uncommon ability on the mound is apparent, but there are thousands of teenagers across the island just like Miguel, all of whom hope for the opportunity to advance to the United States minor league system – just the first step of many on an arduous journey to the big leagues.
Miguel spends his weekends at home, passing from the landscaped gardens and manicured fields on one side of the guarded academy gate to the underdeveloped, more chaotic world beyond. In his small village outside San Pedro de Macorís, Miguel enjoys a kind of celebrity status. His neighbors gather to welcome him back for the weekend; the children ask him for extra baseballs or an old glove. To his family, who lost their father years before, Miguel is their hope and shining star. With the small bonus he earned when he signed with the academy some time ago, he has started to build his family a new house – one that has a bigger kitchen for his mom and a separate room for his grandmother.
Towards the end of their winter season, Miguel is called up to spring training in the United States – the next small step on his way to achieving his family’s dream of a big league contract. Family and friends come out of the woodwork to celebrate, and Miguel is on his way.
Miguel travels with several other Dominican rookies to the team’s spring training facility in Arizona. It’s his first time on a plane, his first time in a hotel room, his first time in a foreign land where a foreign language is spoken, his first time away from home. Miguel experiences a lot of firsts before he even sets foot on the enormous, immaculate spring training complex. Miguel quickly finds that he’s not the only superstar at spring training; there are hundreds of highly talented prospects all trying to land spots on one of the team’s minor league affiliates, including Brad Johnson, the highly touted 2nd baseman, who landed a million-dollar contract out of Stanford. Despite this new level of competition, Miguel proves himself exceptional on the mound even here, and lands a spot with the Single-A affiliate in Bridgetown, Iowa – the Swing. Brad Johnson and Jorge Ramirez, an old friend from the academy who was called up a couple years before, but has been slowed down by a lingering leg injury, are among the other players placed on the Swing.
In Bridgetown, Miguel is assigned to a host family, the Higgins, an aging Christian couple who live in an isolated farmhouse. The Higgins are devout Swing fans, and every year they house a new young player from the team. They try to treat Miguel like part of the family, inviting him to dinners, bringing him to church, and even encouraging a tenuous friendship between Miguel and their teenage granddaughter Anne. Jorge, the more veteran player and the only other Dominican on the team, also tries to help Miguel learn the ropes. However, despite the Higgins’ welcoming efforts and Jorge’s guidance, the challenge of Miguel’s acceptance into the community is exposed in small ways every day, from his struggle to communicate in English to an incident of casual bigotry at a local bar.
Miguel’s domination on the mound masks his underlying sense of isolation, until he injures himself during a routine play at first. While on the disabled list, Jorge – his one familiar connection to home in this strange new place – is cut from the team, having never fully regained his ability following off-season knee surgery. The new vulnerability of Miguel’s injury, coupled with the loneliness of losing his closest friend, force Miguel to begin examining the world around him and his place within it. Pressure mounts when Salvador, a young pitching phenom who used to play with Miguel, is brought up from the Dominican Republic to join the team. Miguel’s play falters, and the increased isolation begins to take its toll on him. As his dream begins to fall apart, Miguel decides to leave baseball to follow another kind of American dream. His odyssey finally brings him to New York City, where he struggles to find community and make a new home for himself, like so many before him.
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