A baseball team representing and playing in two different cities is unusual. But doing so in two different countries is unique. That’s the circumstance under which the Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos play in the Mexican League, splitting their home games between Laredo (Texas) and Nuevo Laredo (Tamaulipas, Mexico).
However, playing in Texas and Mexico becomes especially fraught with political conflict and danger during the 2019 season amid Donald Trump’s attempts to build a wall between the two countries and closing down the U.S.-Mexico border. Additionally, Mexican cartels smuggling drugs and people across the border has led to increased violence in the region.
That’s the setting of Showtime’s sports documentary, Bad Hombres, premiering Friday, Oct. 16. (The film takes its title from Trump’s infamous term for the types of people who come into the U.S. from Mexico.) As chronicled by filmmaker Andrew Glazer, Tecolotes players have much more to worry about working in two border cities than trying to make the Mexican League playoffs or perform well enough to be noticed by major-league scouts.
Glazer’s camera follows the players routinely crossing the border on foot between ballparks in Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, dealing with border agents and cartel lookouts. (Those lookouts get suspicious when they see cameras too.) Most players live in Mexico because it’s cheaper or they don’t have proper work visas and stay home when they’re not playing to avoid violence.
The documentary focuses on three Tecadores players through the 2019 season. Luis Martinez works as a substitute teacher, still young enough to pursue his baseball dreams with no family concerns. Rookie catcher Cristian Mejia, 19, is learning his way in professional baseball and being away from home. But the most compelling figure is veteran Luis Flores, a former draft pick by the Cubs trying to hang on in baseball while supporting a wife and three kids.
But Glazer also wants to tell a far bigger story than a minor-league baseball team playing in two border cities.
How does the push for a wall affect the communities on that border? The documentary follows activists trying to raise awareness and support for fighting the government’s efforts to build that barrier. A farmer shows how a wall on his land — with hilly terrain and a river — is an impossible endeavor. Parents separated from their children at the border and treated inhumanely while detained also tell their stories.
By taking such a wide view, Bad Hombres has difficulty finding focus and deciding which story it really wants to tell. The Tecolotes baseball team is an entry point to the larger issues of immigration, drug enforcement, and the politics surrounding them. Your feelings about the current administration’s policies will surely affect how you react to seeing news footage of President Trump and immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S.
Yet many viewers might prefer for the documentary to stick to following the Tecolotes’ season. The film tells us that the team is competing for a playoff spot, but there’s really no sense of the Mexican League competition nor the region’s perception of the club. Life in the minor leagues is really only hinted at, largely through Mejia sharing an apartment with several teammates and cooking cheap meals at home.
Flores, in particular, has a story that could make for an intriguing film on its own. He’s playing well and loves the ballplayer life, but has much more to think about with his family. Eventually, he’s presented with a dilemma that will affect his baseball career. It would’ve been interesting to get more viewpoints on that, though it’s understandable if Flores’s wife didn’t want to put her family’s business on camera.
This could have been a really compelling sports documentary about a minor-league baseball team playing amid unusual circumstances. But Bad Hombres has to address the larger issues that can’t be ignored.
Showtime’s recent sports docs have taken that approach, as seen in Outcry and Basketball County: In the Water, bringing attention to important stories and the communities affected by them. The network deserves credit for using sports as an entryway to exploring societal issues. But do they accomplish the objective of informing viewers as much as intended?
Bad Hombres premieres on Showtime Friday, Oct. 16 at 9 p.m. ET. The documentary can also be streamed by subscribers on the Showtime website and app or viewed on-demand.