I guess you could say we've been keeping a bit of a secret here at Brewerfan.
OK, a big secret. While it may not be a secret to just about everyone within the
Brewer organization, it certainly will be news to both the casual and diehard
fan of the Brewers' minor league system, and now, after being asked to hold our
tongues for well over six months, we can share most (but not all) that we know
about this exciting news with you. This will also be welcome news for those in
the Brewer organization who have been patiently waiting for an update.
Last summer, we read a tiny blurb in the Helena Independent about Tom Mireles, a
32-year-old filmmaker based in Austin, Texas, dubbed by those we later spoke to
as "the camera guy", who was spending every waking moment with the Helena
Brewers. Piquing our interest, we placed a phone call or two, and eventually
got to speak with Tom, so as to learn what he was up to.
Tom spent the entire 2004 Pioneer League season with the Helena squad, in a
truly "all-access" manner. The how's and why's of his incredible effort to put
together his documentary, titled "On Deck", are detailed in our conversation
with him below.
Later in this article, we'll discuss when and what we'll be able to provide you
in even more detail about this project. As you can imagine, there have been
considerations we've given Tom in terms of not discussing too many conceptual,
technical, or financial specifics about his finished product just yet, thus our
delay in reporting to you all these months.
We will say this - Brewerfan staff had an opportunity to view a first-draft
trailer for "On Deck" shortly after post-production began several months ago.
Unfortunately, this particular early-cut trailer is no longer available for view
now, but we should have a new trailer available for you to download and view by
mid-to-late May. Regarding the initial trailer, our reactions were all the same
- "goosebumps", "chills", "shivers running down the spine" - those were among
the exact words we mentioned to each other.
On a personal note, I've had the opportunity to speak with several folks in the
Milwaukee Brewer organization (both on-field talent and front-office staff)
since Brewerfan's inception, and I can't think of any more enjoyable
conversations I've had than the many I've shared with Tom. Truly a class act,
Tom earned the trust and respect of all those associated with the 2004 Helena
Brewers in order to complete his project, and he displayed that same respect for
all those individuals in his chats with myself.
On to our official "Q&A":
Brewerfan.net (BF): Tom, please let us know about your background, and what
prompted you to take on this impressive project. In reality, the Helena Brewers
weren't the first organization you approached, was it? Just how cooperative was
the Milwaukee organization in getting "On Deck" off the ground?
Tom Mireles (TM): I spent about six years as a sports broadcaster. I first got
the idea that spending a summer with a rookie league squad would make a good
film having covered numerous minor league organizations. I was fascinated by the
degree of commitment from these players with the guarantee of reaching their
ultimate goal being pretty slim. I thought that it would be a fantastic story to
Yes, I approached numerous ball clubs about making this deal and got about a
month away from the beginning of the season after an organization had verbally
committed, but their general manager ended up shutting the project down. It was
a mad scramble, but I approached Milwaukee, and they were really good about
rushing and getting the clearance. They really understood the positive light a
story like this could shine on an organization. From day one, everybody from the
general manager in Helena to the roving instructors to the players really
welcomed me with open arms. They really befriended me. In fact, I still talk to
a lot of the players and the coaches on a regular basis.
BF: So please describe a typical day for you last summer, from morning to
bedtime. You pretty much were the entire "film crew", I imagine.
TM: A typical day was crazy. My schedule really changed, and it revolved around
the Brewers. I would get up, talk to my producers back home, review notes, and
arrive at the ballpark about four hours before game time to conduct interviews
and see what was going on regarding new players, releases, injuries, and so on.
There was always something new going on at the ballpark. I would shoot the
entire game, knowing I would only use a minute of that footage in the actual
final production of the film. Afterwards, I would stay around the ballpark for
about an hour, talking to the players, conducting post-game interviews. I would
often go and have dinner with them and then log footage until 2 or 3 am. Then my
day would start all over again.
BF: The concept of "On Deck" changed a bit in the course of development, I
believe. Please talk about the original plan and how an autumn review of two-
and-a-half months of filming changed the overview of the film.
TM: Originally, I wanted to do a film just on minor league baseball in general.
It was going to encompass three storylines - the players and the struggles they
encounter, the Helena Brewers, and what life is really like as a minor leaguer
in rookie ball. That was basically the initial plan. During filming, some
characters came to the surface that had such interesting stories about how they
have gotten to this point in their career. The characters had such diverse
backgrounds with so many stories to tell. So I really began to focus on three
players that would end up being my main characters. Even in post-production, we
went back to these players' hometowns and really followed their journey to what
led to their life as professional baseball players for the Milwaukee Brewers.
NOTE from BF: We will not be indicating who the three "main characters" are at
this time (although we know), but will wait for our staff "screening" of a copy
of the movie, at which time we will write up an official review for you. Our
review should take place in early June, considering the mid-June opening of
Helena's Pioneer League season, and the movie's debut in a Helena theater - see
BF: As you've re-visited the film's "main" characters for follow-up this off-
season, please talk about the relationships you've developed with each. It seems
they've put an awful lot of trust in you. I believe you've also kept in touch
with the coaching staff you met and even developed friendships with them.
TM: Yes, I think the friendships I made over the summer will last a lifetime.
Going and seeing their families, visiting their high schools, I really gained a
new respect for each of my main characters. In fact, like I said before, we keep
in contact about once a month. No matter what happens with the success of the
film, I am truly lucky that I got the chance to meet and hang out with such a
great group of guys -- players and coaches.
BF: Were there other players and sub-plots that you found interesting, yet
couldn't squeeze into 100 minutes of finished product? What surprised you the
most about the whole Rookie League experience you had? Among the tidbits of
information that Brewerfan provided you during development was this -- since
December 2002 through this winter, the Brewers had released 65 players before
they even got a chance to play above rookie ball in Helena. These players were
either drafted, signed as free agents (both U.S. and foreign-born, including
Europe, Africa, and of course, the Latin American countries). They played in the
Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues, for the Arizona Rookie Brewers, the
Ogden Raptors, or the Helena Brewers.
TM: There were a lot of interesting characters. For example, some of the Latin
American players... due to the language barrier, it was really hard to dig deeper.
I was fascinated with the talent of Alcides Escobar and his story of being
seventeen and playing ball. However, I just couldn't seem to make the connection
to tell his story which would have been really fascinating to hear.
What really surprised me was how little a chance these players have at this
level due to the little room for advancement and extreme competition. Even
though they were amazing in high school or had a successful college career, it
is obvious that some of them do not have a good chance of furthering their
career. In some cases, it appears that organizations do not truly regard them as
prospects, but in the players' minds, they believe they will make it.
Another glaring thing I learned about rookie ball was just how much sacrifice
goes into it. From travel to lifting weights to conditioning to physically
playing the game to instructions... these players, for a period of three months,
eat, sleep, and live baseball. I wasn't surprised on just how little make it
through this level of baseball. The competition of professional baseball, even
at the earliest levels, is overwhelming. You're taking some of the best players
out of their high schools and colleges... you clump them all together... and they
struggle. The one thing that I saw that separated good players from average
players was mental. Could they handle that next level of professional baseball,
mentally? I think the Milwaukee Brewers do a fantastic job, from what I saw, at
preparing and instructing these kids for a life in professional baseball, giving
them the best instructors and learning tools to make them successful. However,
that showed to the average fan, given that, a majority of them won't make it
very far professionally. Seeing someone make it to the big leagues, makes it
that much more impressive.
BF: Please tell us just a bit about the funding of "On Deck" that allows it to
be released into distribution of some sort. There's the development team of your
production company, but then the film needs to be "backed" by another entity,
correct, like an investment? Yet you retain all creative control?
TM: Our production company funded the entire project of "On Deck". We did hold
discussions with potential investors, but our current situation remains - the
company owns 50% and I own 50%. I wanted to tell this story from my perspective,
so we were reluctant to give up any creative control. When you bring in third
parties for investing, they will want to make sure the film will sell at all
costs. I wanted to prevent exploiting any players or the Milwaukee organization.
Currently, we have some limited release theaters that are willing to show "On
Deck". Ultimately, the goal is to sell the film to a cable operator and release
it on DVD.
BF: OK, so how can Brewer Nation get to see this film and what are your dreams
for its distribution? It's our understanding that it will be aired at film
festivals in your local Austin, Texas, as well as perhaps Montreal. Any plans
for a big Helena debut? Is the ultimate goal an airing on an HBO or Showtime-
type of outlet, with DVD distribution available at that point?
TM: Initially, the plans were to premiere it at an Austin film festival.
However, due to time constraints, we changed the initial release to June. We
still plan on showing it in some film festivals, but most likely, in only the
most prestigious ones which would be early fall 2005. We have locked down a
theatrical release in Helena for June 15 running concurrently with the opening
of the Helena Brewers 2005 season. We have talked with other cities in the
Pioneer League, and they seem willing to have a limited release showing as well.
From initial focus groups' reviewings, we feel confident that Showtime or HBO
would be a perfect media outlet for "On Deck". We also have plans to partner
with a distribution company out of Los Angeles to make available the purchase of
a DVD, which should be available sometime in mid-summer.
BF: Thanks so much, Tom. Fans should know that Brewerfan.net will keep everyone
aware of how they can get their copies of the film. It's sure to be a must for
our readers. We look forward to helping you promote the film as best we can
among all our contacts within baseball, especially if we like the finished
product (as if there's any doubt!).
TM: I would like to thank everybody in the Milwaukee Brewers organization for
the cooperation, information, and support to make this film. I realize a
documentary about yourself or your organization can sometimes seem difficult,
and I am extremely grateful for everyone's participation and involvement. I know
I may be a little biased, but I think the future looks extremely bright for the
Milwaukee Brewers. They have a lot of talent coming through the pipeline. I
would officially have to say that I am now a lifelong Brewers fan.
Brewerfan.net Director of Research Jim Goulart is coordinator of the Daily Link
Reports within the Minor League Fan Forum. He's currently accepting donations
for bus fare to Montana, to be on the red carpet in June.