*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sugar is the nickname for an aspiring Dominican ballplayer, Miguel Santos, played by newcomer Algeniz Perez Soto. We first meet Miguel in his hometown in the Dominican Republic, where he is sort of a legend due to his prowess as a star pitcher for the local baseball club. Everyone in the town looks up to these ballplayers with the expectation that they're all going to make it in professional baseball in the United States and bring home the bacon. Sugar is no exception and believes he's got what it takes to become a star professional baseball player. One is immediately impressed with the camaraderie amongst the aspiring ballplayers--they all seem to enjoy gently ribbing one another as to their ball playing abilities and obsession in making it to the big leagues.
Miguel is good enough to be invited to spring training with the Kansas City Knights (a fictional name for the real life Kansas City Royals). The film's scenarists do an excellent job of depicting the culture shock when Sugar first arrives in the United States. First and foremost is the language barrier and Sugar must depend on his friend, Jorge, who he knows from back in DR, to translate for the Spanish speaking players (the players follow Jorge's lead when he orders French toast at a restaurant; later, a kindly waitress teaches Miguel the difference between 'scrambled' eggs and 'sunny side up'). Miguel does well enough to be promoted to Single A minor league team in a small town in Iowa.
Miguel is placed with the Higgins family who have a history of taking in Dominican players in their home during their stint with this particular minor league baseball team. The Higgins are religious and Sugar ends up attending the Higgins' daughter's church youth group as well as actual church services. The father is the only family member who knows any Spanish at all but his skills are limited. I found it annoying that the rest of the family members (particularly the daughter) kept speaking English to Miguel knowing full well that he didn't know what she was saying. There was no attempt on the daughter's part (nor Miguel's) to break out a Spanish-English dictionary and at least try to communicate with the aid of at least a dictionary. Eventually, Miguel does pick up enough English to get by but it's made clear that until he learns enough of the language, he remains alienated during his sojourn in Iowa. Due to the culture clash, Miguel almost gets into big trouble when a group of locals at a bar start to pick a fight after Miguel is seen dancing with one of the local hotties.
Miguel's friend, Jorge, is eventually cut from the team after his skills diminish due to the aggravation an old leg injury. Then Miguel sustains a knee injury and is sidelined for a few weeks. When he returns, his pitching skills also have diminished and he resorts to taking pills (steroids?) to enhance his performance. While successful for a couple of innings, by the midpoint of the game, Miguel beans an opposing batter and a fight ensues between both teams. While the fight is going on, Miguel appears to be in a complete daze, obviously unable to handle the drugs he's just put into his system. The manager then relegates Miguel to the bullpen, which only serves to intensify his depression.
Some internet posters find it unbelievable that Miguel would so easily give up his baseball career after deciding to leave the team and take off to New York City. Not every aspiring ballplayer will have the same reaction. In Miguel's case, he not only realized that he wasn't good enough to make it in the big leagues, he was also put off by the way the team wasn't willing to be patient with his friend Jorge who, according to Miguel, "had worked so hard". Miguel also correctly assessed the situation that he would be cut from the team and didn't want to endure the humiliation of being told he was no longer wanted by them.
The film's denouement highlights Miguel's travails in NYC where he struggles to find a job and tries to figure out what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Eventually, he takes a job as a busboy and becomes friends with the owner of a carpenter shop, who takes him in when he runs out of money which he was using to pay for a room at a flea bag hotel. Miguel's friend allows him to work at the shop for free where he builds a table which he plans to send to his mother back in DR. The final scene shows Miguel playing sandlot baseball with other Dominican ballplayers who gave up their dream of playing professional baseball. No longer feeling pressure to succeed in a 'career', Miguel now seems more content in his new life and can enjoy playing baseball simply for the fun of it.
It's refreshing to see a film about an ordinary Hispanic guy who's not a criminal. There's been a tendency to focus more on the criminal behavior in the movies today involving Hispanic culture. Although 'Sugar' lacks a discernible antagonist, the focus is really on Miguel's internal arc, as he comes to grips with the fact that he really isn't cut out to be a ballplayer. The introverted Miguel isn't really much of a complex character and hence 'Sugar' will not be remembered for big dramatic scenes. But in its own quiet way, 'Sugar' ably reminds us that an aspiring ballplayer's 'Field of Dreams' does not always end up inside a major league ballpark.
As a Dominican, I personally didn't like the way they speak Spanish because it is not the way we commonly speak.
If you want a real baseball story, without the bells and whistles, then this is for you.