Photo by Peter Padua, via www.notexactlycooperstown.com
Jon Leonoudakis gets the Famous Chicken treatment when in San Diego interviewing said chicken, aka Ted Giannoulas, for the documentary.
Jon Leonoudakis is not exactly shy about explaining all the ways the Baseball Reliquary has been a life-changing experience.
The last few years creating the self-financed and emotionally driven documentary, “Not Exactly Cooperstown,” which has its world premiere Sunday open free to the public at the Pasadena Central Library (2 p.m., 285 E. Walnut Street, Pasadena), proves that point.
Once disillusioned by Major League Baseball’s labor impasse, the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and more fallout from the steroid scandal, Leonoudakis decided on a whim to attend the 2002 Shrine of the Eternals induction ceremony, sponsored by Reliquary and created by its founder and executive director, Terry Cannon.
If anything, it was a chance to meet one his childhood favorite players, Minnie Minoso.
But there was so much more than Minnie.
Ten years later, Leonoudakis wants to give back by spreading the word about this non-profit organization’s ability to live up to its billing as the “People’s Hall of Fame,” remaining a voice as a non-brick-and-mortar, anti-establishment love-in that just wants to celebrate why the sport continues to resonate on so many sensory levels.
The documentary doesn’t shy away from controversial exhibits that the Reliquary has sponsored. There was some fallout from a “Lasordapaloosa” gathering that included some unflattering material of former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda and did not endear itself to the Dodgers organization. But it gave Cannon a chance to explain the importance of the Reliquary not being affiliated with the MLB or any team, to give it an independent voice and stay true to its mission statement.
Where the documentary finds its sweet spot is in the narratives told by people like Shrine inductees Bill Lee - “There are things in this game that are beyond magic, and that’s what the Baseball Reliquary is all about,” says the former big-league pitcher.
In addition to Cannon explaining how he and his wife, Mary, have tried to steer this project over the years, it includes several emotional acceptance speeches, like one by the late Doc Ellis. More testimonials come from Ron Shelton, the acclaimed filmmaker, the late Greg Goossen, who came out of Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks and became a character during his MLB playing days in the ’60s and ’70s, and David Kipen, the former director of literature for the National Endowment of the Arts.
“Cooperstown is for statistics, and the Reliquary is for stories,” says Kipen. “Even though it doesn’t have a physical home, it’s like a floating crap game that materializes whenever two baseball fans meet to commune over the wafer that is baseball.”
Here’s how Leonoudakis, a 54-year-old life-long San Francisco Giants fan living in Northridge, explains how this film-making process affected him:
Jon Leonoudakis, left, with Baseball Reliquary executive director Terry Cannon, assembling a display at the Pasadena Central Library on baseball cards in 2010.
QUESTION: What would you like people to take away after seeing your documentary, whether they know nothing about the Baseball Reliquary or have been members since the start?
ANSWER: For those who don’t know, here’s this incredible Mother Lode that feeds the heart and soul of every form of baseball. People forget sometimes this is more than just Major League Baseball. You’ve got the Little League World Series going on now, all the semipro leagues, the Reliquary’s Latino Baseball Project – I’m a huge fan of the game but that’s a whole new thing I’ve discovered about how it touched other people’s lives and brought communities together. I want them to know about how the Reliquary is a reflection of American society, something the mainstream media may not always cover but it has so much meaning and credibility to our lives.
As for those who are already members, Terry has explored so many themes and taken the game down all these new paths.
A Major League Baseball game experience can be like going to the airport – all the rules there benefit the facilities and not so much the paying customer. Here’s a Hall of Fame where the people vote, and that’s huge. The phrase they use is that it’s by the fans, for the delight of the fans and a presentation of baseball history as filtered through the imagination of the fans. Those are exciting words.
Q: What were your impressions of the Reliquary and the Shrine of the Eternals when you first decided to check it out?
A: That first ceremony, I didn’t now a soul. I’m waiting in line, and there’s a guy wandering around in a 1919 Chicago White Sox outfit. “Wow, these must be some real wingnuts,” I had to be thinking. “What have I got myself into?” But it was awesome, like a religious revival. I had found my tribe. The more I got involved, my zeal for the game went completely through another stratosphere. I must have read more baseball books in the last five years than in my whole previous life. And I don’t see any of it ending. It’s been the greatest journey.
I’d like the first screening to be the same way – people celebrating, wearing their favorite uniforms. I hope we pack ‘em in.
Q: Coming up with your own money to do a documentary like this can hardly be an inexpensive venture. Was all the time and sweat put into it eventually worth it? Or is that something you find out as people see the film and give their feedback?
A: There’s a term called “psychic income,” which is all the good stuff you get from doing something meaningful. For me, the personal journey was one of the greatest things I’ve done in my life. Financially, we’ll see how it pans out. I just wanted to do a baseball documentary that hadn’t been done before, and with the Reliquary as the subject, that’s just the nature and direction you’re going to go anyway. I wanted this to be a personal experience, because it’s a personal investment. That is more vivid and has more meaning. So here’s a fan, disenfranchised, but gets dragged back into the game because of this group. I just happened to work cheap and was available to be that voice. So has this been worth it? Are you kidding me, yes, of course.