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November 14, 2010

Minor Issues

Time in the Minors, with Tony Okun

by David Laurila

“Time in the Minors,” a documentary film by Tony Okun, follows two players, one a highly-touted first-round draft pick and the other a minor-league journeyman, as they chase their dream of making it to the major leagues. Okun, a filmmaker currently living in Idaho, talked about his recently released documentary.

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Okun on his film: “Time in the Minors is a story about the minor leagues through the eyes of two players, an eight-year veteran and a million-dollar rookie. The veteran is Tony Schrager, whose father is good friends with my father, so I had already been following his career when he agreed to participate as one of the principal subjects. I also wanted to get the perspective of a younger player, somebody who was a high draft pick, and that’s how I got John Drennen, and the Drennen family, on board. Johnny was a big prospect at the time.

“What I wanted to show was the process. I wanted to see what these guys go through; I wanted to take these two guys and get into their lives. I’m big on human-interest stories, and I think I was successful in creating what is not just a generic story -- although Tony and Johnny represent most guys who play in the minor leagues -- where you get to know them and see the game from their side. I wanted to create more than just a baseball film. I wanted a human-interest story about struggle, perseverance, and rising to the challenge.”

On struggle and perseverance: “One of the things that I admired most about Tony and John was that never, ever, would you hear either them complain about anything. These guys would get up, work out in the morning, take early work, then go out in the afternoon and take batting practice and infield, and then go play the game. And they’d do it day in and day out, maybe getting one day off a month. That was a big thing for me, trying to get in there and see what they do. As fans, a lot of times we look at over-inflated salaries in the major leagues, and it isn’t like that in the minor leagues, at least for most of the players.

“They do give some kids a lot of money right out of high school or college -- guys who haven’t played an inning of professional baseball -- and John Drennen was one of them. He was given a million dollars before he even stepped onto the field. But even he has to earn it; he has to go through a lot to make it. In fact, someone who saw the film -- and I think this was an interesting take on it -- thought that professional baseball was an antagonist in a sense. And it kind of is. To get to the major leagues, you have to get through the minor leagues. Minor league baseball is baseball, but it is what it is and either you can tough it out or you can’t. It doesn’t change for you; you have to adjust and change for it, and it’s tough whether you’re Tony Schrager or John Drennen. To the casual fan, it looks like a dream job, but the casual fan doesn’t see everything that goes into it.”

On the cast of characters: “One of the more interesting people in the film is Ken Revizza, the sports psychologist, because something I wanted to focus on was the mental side of the game. Revizza works a lot with major-league players, including the Tampa Bay Rays, because he is friends with Joe Maddon and worked with him in the minor leagues as well. He added a fantastic perspective, because he really lays it out for you. There is so much to the mental side of the game, yet it is such a simple game.

“Another great supporting character in the film is Brad Kelly, the scout who signed Tony in 1998. Cody Ross, who was a workout partner with Tony, is also in the film. There are others in there as well, but of the course the focus is on Tony and Johnny, who have very differently personalities. Tony is the Stanford graduate, an intellect who happens to play baseball, and Johnny is a man of few words and more of what you might call “just a ballplayer.” But they have one important thing in common, which is that they love to put the uniform on, despite everything they have go through in the minor leagues. I think that comes out in the film.”

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Editor’s note: Schrager has since retired from baseball. Drennen, who is in the Indians system, hit .300/.355/.434 this past season in Double-A.

For more information on the film, including a trailer, please see:

http://ohshowproductions.com/html/minors/index.php

Related Content:  Minor Leagues,  The Who

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