These words are spoken by professional baseball veteran Tony Schrager in Time in the Minors, a documentary chronicling the ups and downs of the Minor League life. Schrager's words serve as a succinct summation of the film's primary lesson, which is expressed in varying forms throughout. As sports psychologist Kenneth Ravizza observes at one point, "You don't play against the opponent, you play against the game."
Time in the Minors, produced and directed by independent filmmaker Tony Okun, came out on DVD earlier this month. Released through Landmark Media distribution as well as Okun's own Oh! Show productions, the film is available in both an 85-minute theatrical cut as well as a 60-minute broadcast version.
"I'm a baseball fan, and my goal was simply to be neutral when it came to portraying the [Minor League] experience," said Okun, who is based out of Boise, Idaho. "I wanted to cater to the fan and the non-fan, showing how complicated the game can be and yet so simple."
Okun does this through interviews and game footage, as he tells the stories of a pair of Minor Leaguers. On one end of the spectrum is Schrager, a sixth-round Draft pick of the Cubs in 1998. An Ivy League-educated Midwesterner, Schrager finds himself contemplating retirement as he bounces from organization to organization at the Triple-A level. His story is contrasted with what Okun calls the "million-dollar perspective" of John Drennen, the Cleveland Indians' first-round selection in 2005.
These players seem worlds apart, at least initially. Schrager is an overachieving veteran, married and approaching 30, with a reserved demeanor that masks a strong competitive streak. The teenaged Drennen, meanwhile, possesses a greater natural athleticism and speaks in the spaced-out cadence of a sun-bleached surfer ("I wasn't, like, living up to my potential and stuff," he declares at one point).
But what unites the two is the challenge of dealing with "the grind" of professional baseball's unforgiving everyday schedule. Schrager plays through injuries in the hope of being recognized as a viable Major League candidate, but the stars never quite seem to align. He bounces from organization to organization, at one point resorting to the independent leagues, but his various hot streaks never quite seem to coincide with openings at the Major League level.
Drennen, portrayed at a far earlier stage in his journey, struggles with the adjustment to professional baseball and the pressure of performing as a closely watched first-round Draft pick. (He is still competing in the Indians' Minor League system, having suited up for Double-A Akron in 2010).
"One of the things that stood out to me is just how much work it takes [to succeed]," said Okun. "These guys get up, work out, go to the ballpark for early work, take infield, take BP, play the game and then do it all over again the next day. I can't imagine having that kind of discipline at that age.
"And the thing about both of those guys is that you never hear them complain about anything or anybody," he continued. "They don't point fingers or blame anyone but themselves."
And in portraying the difficult experiences of Schrager and Drennen, Okun couldn't help but draw similarities to his own struggles as an independently financed filmmaker.
"It's been quite a process getting the film out there. At one point my hard drive crashed, and I lost count of the rejections before I found a distributor," he said. "It's a difficult journey, but I've loved every minute of it."
Click below to watch the trailer.