Minor leaguers are working class guys.
Oh, sure. They've signed big bonuses and there's plenty of highs and hype and, let's be honest, they're playing baseball for a living. Not bad. Right?
For every guy who makes it to the majors there are plenty who never get closer than Double-A or Triple-A and, maybe, just maybe, get a taste of the majors when an everyday player gets injured or needs a rest. Opportunities might come. Might not.
The working class are the stars in Tony Okun's documentary 'Time In The Minors', now on DVD. The film focuses on Tony Schrager and John Drennen, their everyday lives, struggles, thoughts, and hopeful journey toward the bigs is presented without a smokescreen. And neither player appeared to need one.
Okun began working on the film in 2006, inspired by his love for the game and a desire to pull back the curtains on the minor league experience at it's most basic level.
"I'm a big baseball fan and my motivation and interest to take on the film was born out of my own curiousity and appreciation of the minor leagues," Okun said.
Schrager, a shortstop drafted by the Chicagor Cubs in 1998, with his Ivy League education and business-like manner are a contrast to Drennen's surfer look and way of speaking.
Okun liked the personality differences in both players.
"That was really just a lucky break. They are so different and it was what I wanted, which was two guys at totally different times in their careers," he said. "It worked out well for the film."
Okun interviewed family members of Schrager's (whose family he's known for many years) and Drennen's. Their point of view magnifies the struggles both players face. At one point Schrager's wife suggests that there's more than just personal goals driving Tony. And further illustrates the working class mentality.
"He wants to make it for himself, but he really wants to make it for everyone else. And that's a lot of pressure," she said.
Outfielder Drennen was a first round pick for the Indians in the 2005 MLB draft (a moment shown in the film) and received a $1 million signing bonus. His laid-back nature can be amusing, but it's what makes him all the more intriguing. That laid-back, down to earth nature is even clearer when his parents explain that, upon receiving his million dollar bonus all he wanted was to buy a new fishing pole.
"I always think I'm not doing enough," Drennen says, not long before he heads to his first spring training with the Indians.
Schrager's story takes some painful turns. His career is a prime example of opportunities he missed by a sliver of a chance. It is the unfair reality.
In the most poignant moment of the documentary the Dodgers call up a guy who'd been playing in the Mexican League when Omar Vizquel is injured. At that exact moment, Schrager was experiencing the worst slump of his career, hitting well below the Mendoza Line.
Drennen's opportunities in the organazation continued, while Schrager found himself needing to accept opportunities that were not first choice. After agreeing to play for the Long Island Ducks, he caught the eye of the Florida Marlins. Schrager, though not thrilled to accept a Double-A contract, went for it. He explains that he considers indy league baseball a '"springboard,'"a path many players take to get back in with a major league team.
Drennen experiences something of a minor leaguer rite of passage - a major league player making an appearance, giving a young guy the chance to get a little big league experience without being there. Drennen got to face Roger Clemens when Clemens was coming out of retirement and was assigned to the minor leagues.
A highlight of the documentary is seeing Drennen hit a right field homerun off of Clemens. Clemens, holding court in the post-game press conference, animatedly tells reporters he hopes Dressen "enjoys the room service."
Okun seeked out a high round pick while living in the San Diego area and came upon Drennen.
"I was interested in showing the other side and the perspective of a young, high round draft pick," Okun said. "
Okun admits to struggling to stay neutral and keep his baseball fandom out of the equation. He strived to make it a film every type of baseball fan could enjoy and appreciate.
"The goal was to keep things simple enough so as not to insult, or talk down to the true baseball fan, while also educating the audience on the process," he said.
Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska Okun saw a lot of minor league baseball with the Omaha Royals playing there.
"I remember my dad used to point out the guys that played in the majors or were prospects, so I used to pay particular attention to those players," said Okun.
His experience making the film was something of a education as well. He was surprised by both players tireless dedication and ability to keep a positive attitude.
"One that impressed me was, not once, during the entire time I was around the two guys did I ever hear Tony, or John complain about anything. Nothing at all!" Okun said.
Some things were cut that Okun would've liked to include. Teammates comments on Dressen's "quirky personality" and aspects that would have shown the business side of the minors was omitted, but he wanted to tell a more personal, serious story.
"I decided during the editing process to focus primarily on John and Tony and their process and tell their story."
You can purchase the DVD 'Time In The Minors" at the link below:
Official Film Page: