Jerry was my best friend throughout junior high school. My memory of him is as a happy-go-lucky dude who liked to joke around a lot. I wish I could remember when and how we met; it was probably in either fifth or sixth grade. I just know we bonded pretty quickly on a lot of things - especially baseball.
In Flushing there's a Modell's Sporting Goods on Main Street. It's one of the last remnants of my childhood still standing in the neighborhood - and I've lost plenty. Downstairs, there used to be a giant bin filled with baseball gloves. Whenever Jerry and I went in there, we'd scour the bin, looking for gloves with the autographs of players we liked. As a left-hander, I always had a harder search than he did, because lefty gloves were few and far between - plus, it had to be a glove with a comfortable fit. I was very picky about that sort of thing.
We'd go to Flushing Meadow to play catch, sometimes with his younger brothers. We had few opportunities to play an actual game outside of school - there were never enough of us to form a team - but we made do. Any dreams we had of playing for the Mets one day were only that. We weren't athletes; our interests ultimately lay elsewhere. It was okay.
Jerry was also Dominican, like the protagonist of Sugar. When Jerry was twelve or thirteen, I think, his family moved down there for a short time. I still have the letters he sent me. Sometimes Dominicans get hassled by other Latinos for whatever reason. That always annoys me because it's like they're insulting Jerry. I haven't known any other Dominicans since him - at least, none that made half the impression he did...
...and certainly no aspiring ballplayers. Sugar reminded me of the films of John Sayles: immersive in foreign cultures in a low-key, unobtrusive manner. Co-writers/co-directors Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck present Sugar's struggle to reach the big leagues simply, from a distinctly Latino perspective. This isn't The Natural or even Bull Durham; for all of Sugar's ability to throw a fastball, one always feels he's facing very long odds and a trip to The Show is anything but certain.
Do I wish I had tried to become an athlete? Eh, not really. I might wonder about it once in a blue moon, but I tend to think the chance of long-term injury doesn't make a few fleeting moments of glory worth the struggle - not that I thought that way as a kid, and neither did Jerry. Dreams don't work that way. Sugar is about one young man's pursuit of his dream. I can relate to it because while he doesn't end up a star pitcher, not everyone can be. He still finds a way to do what he loves, though, and that may be more important than glory in the end. I think Jerry would agree.