"If you get beat, you get beat. It's baseball. It's a failing game."
These words are uttered by Lancaster JetHawks reliever David Berner in The Farm, a nine-minute documentary by filmmaker Alex Jablonski and cinematographer Michael Totten (you can view the documentary at the bottom of this piece). Berner's words, resigned yet hopeful, encapsulate the film's overall message: Minor League Baseball is a pressure-filled world characterized by unrelenting daily toil and populated by a diverse cast of characters who are united in their desire to move on to something better.
The Farm was shot at Lancaster's Clear Channel Stadium and features intimate interviews with players such as Berner as well as hitting coach Darryl Robinson, play-by-play announcer Jeff Lasky and beat writer Jason Gonzalez.
According to Jablonski, the reason for choosing Minor League Baseball as a subject was twofold.
"Being baseball season, I wanted to take a look at a sport that I really loved," he said. "And we've been labeled as up-and-coming filmmakers, but with that comes a pressure to keep producing. So we wanted to deal with those issues -- pressure, ambition and desire. Who's similar? And the first thought was 'Minor League Baseball players.'"
The Farm is part of an ambitious, self-financed undertaking. As part of what they are calling the "Sparrow Songs" project, Jablonski and Totten are producing one short documentary a month for an entire year. The Farm is the 10th in the series, which has also included pieces on circus workers and chess-obsessed doughnut shop denizens.
"I want to interact with the world and see places I've never seen, and needing to make a documentary every month forces me to do that," said Jablonski.
The Farm possesses a meditative, somewhat brooding tone, characterized by the intimacy and honesty of the wide range of interviewees.
"Our films are not necessarily social-issue films -- they're not the kind of documentaries that are going to inspire you to get a pitchfork and attack a local official," said Jablonski. "They are essays about life and how it is being lived. One thing we kept hearing over and over again when it comes to life in the Minor Leagues is that it's a grind. We wanted to be true to that experience."
The "grind" is most dramatically personified with footage of JetHawks starter Leandro Cespedes suffering through a horrendous outing and then sitting grim-faced in the dugout trying to make sense of it all. It's a bit difficult to watch, but that's baseball -- "a failing game."
"It's inspiring that these guys are learning how to deal with pressure -- and failure -- at such a young age," said Jablonksi. "It's tough but uplifting, because there's always possibility."
JetHawks slugger Brian Pellegrini, one of the interviewees featured in The Farm, sums up that attitude thusly: "You know you've got another game the next day. It's a whole new day."
You can watch The Farm by clicking the play button on the player below.
Sparrow Songs - Episode 10 - The Farm from Sparrow Songs on Vimeo.