I have watched a lot of documentaries on baseball. My favorite ones deal with what minor leaguers do in order to reach the major leagues, and Time in the Minors delivers.
Time in the Minors is a film by Tony Okun that follows two minor league players in their quest to reach the major leagues through the 2006 season. The best part of this film is that it follows two players in different times of their career. The first was a 6th round pick out of one of the best college baseball programs in the country in Stanford named Tony Schrager. By this time, Schrager had been in the minor leagues for 8 years and had reached the AAA level, but had not reached the majors. The other player followed is a high school player drafted in the 1st round by the Cleveland Indians in John Drennen. With a million dollar bonus, Drennen heades to low A ball as he starts his professional career.
With each player you get to see different aspects of minor league life, the breaks you need to advance through the levels, and the hard work that has to go in everyday.
Minor League Life
Whether you are a 1st round pick that got a million dollar signing bonus or a 6th round pick who only got an $87,500 bonus, life in the minors is going to be similar. No matter where you get drafted, you aren’t going to make a living playing single A baseball. Pay is just not that much. In 1998, rookie league players got paid $850 a month. By 2005, rookie league players were only up to $1175 a month in pay. Then take in the fact that you only get paid during the baseball season, you aren’t talking about enough to make a living through the year. Plus they do not get paid during spring training. This is something that is often overlooked in different documentaries covering minor league baseball, so I was glad to see it addressed in Time in the Minors.
It’s a difficult time for the players, but also for their loved ones. At one point, Tony Schrager and his wife talk about some of the things they went through. I was glad this was included in the film because its the little things like this that are too often overlooked. At one point in the year, Tony was playing with Carolina but was promoted to AAA Albuquerque. He had to jump on a plane and get to the Salt Lake City where Albuquerque was on the road and leave everything behind. So his wife was given the task of driving from their home in Arizona to North Carolina, pack up everything, and drive it back to Arizona. This isn’t they type of thing that you hear about often if at all. But it gives you more insight of the difficult things a minor leaguer, and his family, can be put through.
Being a professional baseball player isn’t always glamorous. Most people see the Major Leaguers and see the glamor that goes along with it, but life in the minors isn’t so glamorous. Between the long bus rides, low pay, old ballparks, cramped dressing areas, and sometimes living with a lot of teammates or with a host family, life in the minors takes a tough willed player to keep going.
Catching Some Breaks
Every year, 1500 players are drafted into the minor leagues. That means a lot of players are going to lose their jobs to newer younger players. You don’t make it to the big leagues without talent, and you might not make it without catching some breaks. But in the grand scheme of things, those breaks can go against you.
That is what happened to Tony Schrager in 2005. Schrager worked hard and made his way through the minor league system. Having made it to AAA with
the Dodgers organization, he was invited to spring training and told he was one of 35 guys they thought could help them in the big leagues that year. Tony got sent down to AAA to start the season but felt this was his year to be called up. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I don’t want to giveaway everything that happens, but as someone who dreamed of playing major league baseball as a kid, it’s a little hard to watch as Tony get past over after many solid years in the minors.
It just goes to show that the breaks don’t always go your way. Less than 10% of the players that play minor league baseball will make it to the major leagues. Sometimes it takes more than simply talent to make the big leagues.
Work Hard Everyday
Perhaps the greatest part of this documentary is the inside look at just how hard you have to work everyday in the minor leagues.
When a player reaches the minor leagues, playing everyday might be the most difficult thing for him to overcome. John Drennen went from high school to the pros and you got to see his struggles which was an interesting inside look at a top prospect. Injuries, the daily grind, and simply learning how to prepare to play everyday are things that get shown in the movie. Drennen’s manager Lee May Jr. talks about the challenges that players go through. Learning how to pace themselves is key to becoming a better player. Drennen is a player who goes hard all the time, but learning how to pace himself to make it through that daily grind was one thing that he talked about.
Too many people think that being a professional player is just sleeping late, showing up to play a game, and partying all night. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The ones that work hard everyday are the ones that have a better chance to continue the climb through the minors. The documentary does a great job conveying that each time a player moves up they have to prove themselves again.
The documentary also shows the mental side of the game, which is one thing that is so attractive about the film. This might be the part of the game that separates the cream of the crop from the everyone else. Tony Schrager talks about have a bad day in the baseball business and the possibility of losing a job. That is not something that is apt to happen in the rest of the business world. If you have a bad day at the office chances are you will come back the next day without fear of losing your job. That’s not the case with a minor league player. On a whim a player can have a job one day and not the other.
Filmmaker Tony Okun talks with some big whigs from the baseball world which was a nice added touch. Getting to hear the insight of people like Indians Director of Player Development (now the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays) or advanced scout for the Chicago Cubs Brad Kelley was very interesting. These are the people making the decisions on who to sign, who to cut, or who to promote/demote in their systems. But one of the people in the film that I really enjoyed listening to was Kenneth Ravizza, PhD. He is a Professor of Sport Psychology from Cal State Fullerton University. He was able to talk about the challenges that players face playing everyday and some of the things that they must overcome in order to continue to advance through the minors. It was very interesting to hear from a professional point of view.
I think the quote from the beginning of the movie sums up a lot of things dealing with minor league life.
Every day is an opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.” Bob Feller – Hall of Fame pitcher, Cleveland Indians (1936-1956)
This is by far one of my favorite documentaries on minor league baseball. The contrasts from a player working to make the majors in his 8th season to a young kid straight out of high school makes for a great film. I would highly recommend to anyone who is a baseball fan to check out this film. It’s a great look at what it takes to make it to the big leagues. Life isn’t always sun and fun in the minors, but those that are mentally tough, willing to learn, and work hard have the upper hand to make it to the show.
You can purchase the film Time in the Minors here and you won’t be sorry you did.
Check out the trailer on YouTube -