ESPN 30 for 30: Brothers in Exile (2014)

Directed by Mario Diaz

The biggest new recently in the baseball world was actually quite political in its origins. When America reopened diplomatic relations with Cuba, a baseball hotbed for decades, this made the signing of big time talent from the shores of Cuba into the America Major League Baseball a much easier affair than it ever used to be. Previously, players like Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu had to defect from their native country in order to play in America, severing all ties with Cuba and leaving behind what they couldn’t take with them, including families. Not to say Puig and Abreu had it easy, but even before their defection and rise to stardom in the Majors, there was a pair of brothers that went through quite a bit in the 90s to live out their baseball dreams.

Ok, they are actually half-brothers, but Orlando and Livan Hernandez have a story built on courage, family, and dreaming of a better life for themselves and their families. Growing up separately, the Hernandez’s became two of the best talents on the island of Cuba. Orlando, the eldest, was the best pitcher for the best team, and as such had the opportunity to travel with the national team and play all over the world, but his family is what prevented him from ever defecting. Not wanting to leave them behind with an unknown fate and possible discipline from the government, Orlando instead kept playing. Livan, on the other hand, had less holding him back, so while on a national team trip, Livan defecting, leaving his brother behind. Livan quickly found success with the Florida Marlins, winning the World Series and World Series MVP in his first season in the majors.

But the saga of struggle didn’t end there, and perhaps the most thrilling part of the Hernandez tale comes when Orlando, inspired by his brother’s success, risks everything to flee to America as well. We have all heard the amazing stories of Cuban families climbing aboard a raft to make the short, but treacherous, journey to America; the story of Elian Gonzalez comes to mind. Orlando’s becomes even more harrowing when he and his raft mates were washed up on a small island in the Caribbean, stranded for days without food or water before being picked up by the US Coast Guard. His story by himself is incredible enough, but couple it with that of his brother, and add a dash of sports success, and the Hernandez brothers have themselves one of the most remarkable stories in baseball in recent memory.

And it is this story that director Mario Diaz focuses his time on during the runtime of this installment. Would it have been nice for Diaz to spend a little more time going into a little more depth on the political climate at the time between Cuba and the US, proving other relevant examples of tremendous talents trapped in Cuba? Would it have been nice for Diaz to show the more political side of the story, about the social circumstances of families like the Hernandez’s, the pressures of the government and possible consequences of defection? Absolutely I would have loved to have seen that. However, Diaz chooses instead to focus on the perhaps more compelling human drama of the story, providing just enough in the way of political drama to understand its impact on the decisions these two men had to make.

I think had Diaz had a different platform, he could have made a better, more complete film. But given the restrictions of the 30 for 30 format, I am glad that he chose the human drama over the political. Not only are Orlando and Livan more charismatic and entertaining to spend time with than some political talking head, but they’re more relatable for the sports fan audience of such a series. Baseball fans are familiar with their story of success in the Majors, and correlating that to the hard work and determination it took to find a better life for themselves make the story, and the film inspiring to watch.

*** – Good

 

Written by

Adam Kuhn is a film critic and blogger at Corndog Chats. He started Corndog Chats in 2009 at the behest of his friends, and is very glad he did. Since then, he has been a contributor to The News Record and Bearcast Media, the student newspaper and radio station of the University of Cincinnati respectively, and most recently a member of the Columbus Film Critics Association.

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