Becoming a fan of baseball documentarian Jon Leonoudakis is easy. With the Village of Cooperstown buttoning up on another tourism season,in early fall, there is one last annual event scheduled at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum that will attract a group of highly creative visitors. Leonoudakis is present, one of the last […]
Becoming a fan of baseball documentarian Jon Leonoudakis is easy.
With the Village of Cooperstown buttoning up on another tourism season,in early fall, there is one last annual event scheduled at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum that will attract a group of highly creative visitors. Leonoudakis is present, one of the last to make his way through the VIP doors adjacent to the the Hall's library. With a warm beverage one hand and backpack in the other, the Los Angeles-based filmmaker quietly makes his was into the Bullpen Theater.
Shortly after 9:30 AM, the first of 16 baseball-theme films scheduled for the day ranging from three minutes to just shy of 90, is playing. A Long Time Coming: A 1955 Baseball Story is leading off the 13th Annual Baseball Film Festival. With fifty-plus fans seated in a darken, cozy theater, Leonoudakis finds an empty seat up front.
This trip to Central New York for Leonoudakis has become routine. A flight from the west coast drops him off at Albany International Airport, where the purveyor of The Sweet Spot – A Treasury of Baseball Stories streaming TV channel available on Amazon Prime, Roku, and Vimeo on Demand, will catch a few hours of sleep before making the 70-mile drive in his rental to 25 Main Street in Cooperstown.
For the next three days, Leonoudakis will be in baseball filmmaking heaven. The final film to be viewed this evening is Shutout! The Battle American Women Wage to Play Baseball. This is Leonoudakis' baby. This is where his work shines; sharing the human side of baseball. Be it the “little guys” of the game, bat boys, photographers, umpires, and fans, Leonoudakis isn't about to allow their contributions to go unknown.
“I'm a child of the '60's,” says Leonoudakis, during a quick break in-between Long Time Coming, and The Great Potato Caper (8 mins.), a film about a former minor league catcher who used an actual spud, with the help of his teammates in game to pull off a hidden ball trick. “TV, comic books, and baseball cards were my friends. The cards told stories. They represented the melting pot of America.”
Growing up in San Francisco, loving the play of his Giants led by future hall of famers Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, and Orlando Cepada, Leonoudakis was destined to document his love of baseball history. Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television in Los Angeles is where Leonoudakis learned how to sharpen his ideas in a format for others to view.
Meeting Leonoudakis is refreshing. His passion and knowledge of baseball, and his commitment to social issues surrounding the game don't disappoint. He looks like a filmmaker, a young Francis Ford Coppola but with grey hair and no beard. Before the festival wraps up on Sunday, by mid-day, Leonoudakis will slip on his Giants' jersey and cap, grab his glove, and make his way to Doubleday Field in the village, to energize his enthusiasm that he first became familiar with as a 5-year-old when learning the game with his brothers.
Leonoudakis, being a super baseball fan and an even more accomplished filmmaker is as winning a combination for the game here and now, the same as an Alan Trammell to Lou Whitaker double-play combination of yesteryear. It's clear that he enjoys telling stories through the visual medium. For Leonoudakis, before making a name for himself in baseball, there was plenty of practice with other projects.
“I worked on films, TV commercials, music videos in the early '80's, and attractions for Walt Disney theme parks.”
In the rockumentary – The Wrecking Crew, released in 2014, about a core of studio musicians who played on some of the biggest hits of the '60's and '70's, Leonoudakis is one of four producers listed. Singer and co-founder of The Bangles Susanna Hoff is another producer who Leonoudakis collaborated with.
Leonoudakis says his work is in search of baseball subjects beyond championships. Topics surrounding the game that are what fans talk about – the heart and soul of the game. The sincerity in his eyes and voice, as Leonoudakis speaks of the seasons of The Sweet Spot, leave no doubt that he's the real deal.
” I was tired of seeing the same types of (baseball films) over and over again,” tells Leonoudakis.
As a filmmaker, Leonoudakis sees himself as a conduit between the game of baseball and the fans who support it. One of the reasons that he continues to succeed with his work, Leonoudakis isn't shy to hide the fact that he's a fan of the game. The baseball card collection he's been holding since his youth keeps Leonoudakis excited about his projects.
An episode of The Sweet Spot focuses on photographer Doug McWilliams. For more than two decades, McWilliams shot for Topps baseball cards. The firsthand story of who he shot, how the picture was chosen to appear on a card, and the cooperation given by his subjects makes exploring our national pastime fascinating, and necessary. Leonoudakis' work assures this story isn't ignored.
As Long Time Coming concludes, and the credits roll, Leonoudakis raises his voice as some of the audience begin to exit the theater for a short scheduled break. He suggests all pay attention to the names crawling on the screen of those who had responsibilities in the making of the film. Nearly all of those in motion come to a dead stop, and take the filmmaker up on his suggestion. A new respect for the behind-the-scenes “players” of the finished project is earned.
Leonoudakis' unofficial role as baseball's curator through visual arts is comforting. His vision, his understanding of the technology that allows him to tell baseball stories makes Leonoudakis' work “Must See TV”.
“What's more American than kids playing baseball,”? asks Leonoudakis.
Whatever stories surrounding the game that he captures. That's short answer. However, here's to hoping that The Sweet Spot continues to have an assortment of long answers.