Meet the Filmmaker: Tony Okun

by Greg in

Every year in June approximately 1500 new players out of high school and college are chosen from the amateur baseball draft and sent to play in the minor leagues. Trying to make it in the fiercely competitive world of professional baseball can make or break you.

TIME IN THE MINORS documents the lives and passionate dreams of two minor league players on their arduous journey to becoming Major League Baseball players.

John Drennen (19), a High School All-American from San Diego, California was selected in the first round of the 2005 amateur baseball draft by the Cleveland Indians and offered a one million dollar signing bonus. 2006 will mark John’s first full season in professional baseball.

Tony Schrager (28), a 1998 and 6th-round draft pick out of Omaha, Nebraska is an 8-year veteran of the minor leagues. The 2006 season may be Tony’s last shot to make it.

Through this film you can follow each player from pre-season and beyond through the ups and downs of a life in professional baseball, and the dream that keeps their hopes alive.


CB: Tony, what attracted you to this film?

Tony Okun: I'm a baseball fan myself, and I grew up in Omaha Nebraska watching the Triple-A Omaha Royals, which was my home team. I've wanted to do a film about minor league baseball for some time and in addition to my love of the game, I was curious myself about the process that the players have to go through to get to the big leagues and that's really what motivated me to take on the project.

CB: What is your background with the game? Did you play?

Tony Okun: I played some high school baseball (mostly watched from the bench) but the one thing I learned quickly after making the film is that I wouldn't go very far in the minor leagues. I didn't realize how much work they put in and how dedicated these kids have to be to make it, even at the lower levels of the minor leagues. Kids coming out of high school and college have to get used to playing with a wood bat, which is very different than using metal, and now playing every day instead of 2-3 times a week. In addition to that, every single player that is drafted into the minor leagues was the super star player on their team or in their region. Now all of these star players are coming together to compete on a professional level, so the competition is absolutely enormous.

CB: I hear players at this level say cynically they are "living the dream." What do they mean?

Tony Okun: During the season they have maybe one day off a month and, most days are at the field early working out, hitting in the cage, taking BP and that includes fielding practice in the afternoon and then playing the game at night. Then, getting up the next day and doing it all over again, day in and day out, it's really a grind. Not to mention the long bus rides averaging anywhere from 8-16 hours, staying in cheap motels in small towns with nothing to do but hang out and watch TV. I'm sure that playing baseball professionally seems like a dream job for most of us, as it did for me, but from an inside perspective it's really grueling and a LOT of hard work. I was also so impressed with both John and Tony in that you never ever heard them complain about anything, they don’t or didn’t blame anyone or anything, not once! They both worked VERY hard to get to where they are in the game and I have a great deal of admiration for them.

CB: What was your goal with this film?

Tony Okun: I set out to make a film that was more than a baseball film, but an intimate, human-interest story of struggle and perseverance. My biggest challenge in producing the film was to stay somewhat neutral, and to try and cater to the baseball fan and the non-baseball fan alike, and I think I was successful in doing so. The goal was to keep things simple enough so as to not insult, or talk down to the true baseball fan, while at the same time educating the audience on the process, and keeping things simplistic and easy to understand for the non-fan.

The wonderful thing about Baseball is that it can be so simple, you hit the ball, you catch the ball, you throw the ball, but at the same time it is full of statistics and numbers and percentages and can get complicated. I’ve heard from people on both sides from baseball fans and non-baseball fans and everyone has enjoyed the film.