MARIETTA - Two Marietta College alums are teaming up to tell the world what they consider one of the best-kept secrets in sports - the story of the Pioneer baseball team's decades of dominance.
"You leave that community and everybody's like 'What ... are you talking about' or they think you're talking about Marietta, Ga.," said Mike Eisenberg, who helped the Pioneers to their fourth national championship in 2006 and played professionally. "I would love to change that landscape and let Marietta College be part of the zeitgeist."
Eisenberg, who graduated in 2009 then attended film school and now lives in Chicago, is co-directing a documentary entitled "The 'Etta Express" with Gary Caruso, a sports journalist, author and former MC baseball assistant coach. The film will follow the current team through their preparations for and play during the 2013 season while looking at the history of the program.
Photo by Evan Bevins
Tyler Packanik, left, and Dominic Tremaglio, right, both freshmen hoping to make the Marietta College baseball team in the upcoming season, play Thursday in a BSN Fall League game at Don Schaly Stadium.
"Hopefully the footage we capture in this upcoming season can accent that and show ... it's still going on today," said Eisenberg, who has a production company with Kailey Brackett, who will be producing the documentary.
Filming began this week, with the production's "embedded cameraman," an MC student intern, shooting footage at the baseball team's first meeting of the school year.
"He'd be the fly on the wall that we all want to be," Eisenberg said.
The 'Etta Express Project
Money is being raised for the production of the film at kickstarter.com.
Incentives for contributing include having one's name included in the credits for a donation of $25 or more up to a producer's credit and an "MVP experience" at a Pittsburgh Pirates game with Marietta College and Pirates great Kent Tekulve for those who contribute at least $10,000.
Caruso and Eisenberg have yet to meet in person, communicating by phone and email so far. They first made contact when Caruso interviewed Eisenberg for his book, "Marietta College Baseball: The Story Of The 'Etta Express," published this spring. That helped move the idea of a film, something both men had been considering, closer to reality.
"There were so many great stories in (the book), and it really made me think, 'These people love talking about Marietta College baseball,'" Eisenberg said. "And the best kind of documentaries are the ones where people tell really engaging stories."
The Pioneer baseball team has won six NCAA Division III national championships, including two titles in the last two years. According to Caruso, that puts them in a class with only four other schools - Southern Cal, Texas and LSU in Division I and Florida Southern in Division II.
Caruso argues it's harder to win in Division III since there are more than 100 more schools than Division II and more than 150 more than Division I. Factor in that Division III awards no athletic scholarships and Marietta's considerably cooler climate than the other schools with half a dozen titles and Caruso finds the accomplishments of the 'Etta Express all the more impressive.
"They have to do it more creatively too ... because they can't do it with money," he said.
Caruso credits the culture established by legendary coach Don Schaly and continued by his successor, current Pioneers' skipper Brian Brewer, with setting Marietta apart from other teams.
That includes being one of the best, if not the best, conditioned teams in the country, he said. Players run Euclid Hill and other steep spots around town, something Brewer said is as much about tradition and mental toughness as it is physical exertion.
The discipline extends off the field as well, with Caruso noting players are required to make their beds and take out the trash before checking out of a hotel on a road trip.
"What they do is so extreme in terms of their dedication and hard work that we think people are going to be amazed," he said.
Caruso and Eisenberg have started an online Kickstarter campaign to raise $150,000 to do everything from licensing archival footage and producing original music to entering film festivals and selling the film to networks and other outlets. Depending on the level of donation made through the site, contributors can get their name in the credits, receive autographed MC baseball memorabilia and participate in special events.
"That was a way to get it out there, to show people what we're doing ... to make it a community project," Caruso said.
As of Thursday, the project had 19 backers pledging $13,195. Under the rules of Kickstarter, they have until 6:34 p.m. Sept. 21 - a month after the initial posting - to reach the goal and collect the pledges.
Caruso's optimistic it will happen, but failure in this avenue won't mean the end of the project.
"We have plan B and plan C and plan D. We will make this film, and it will be released," he said.
Caruso said he thinks the movie would be a good fit for ESPN or HBO, and said such exposure could shine the spotlight on the college and the surrounding community.
Brewer said the movie could both celebrate past successes and help the program in the future by raising the program's profile and helping in recruiting.
The prospect of having a cameraman at many activities this year doesn't bother Brewer.
"It really won't change much," he said. "We're still going to be who we are and do what we do."
The coach said he hopes the finished film conveys to people that the program's past success doesn't guarantee the same in the future.
"I think people sometimes assume that we win just because we've always won," he said. "It's an annual thing."
Jeff Schaly, the college's sports information director and son of Don Schaly, said his father would be excited about the project, but not because of any praise it might bring him.
"He didn't care and didn't want personal praise and accolades; they actually kind of drove him crazy," Jeff Schaly said. "I'm positive that he's in Heaven looking down on this project saying it's great for the (Marietta College baseball) fraternity."
Caruso and Eisenberg both noted the film won't be only about success on the baseball field. They'll also be checking in with some former players to see how their experience in the baseball program has benefited them outside the sport.
Eisenberg can attest to that personally.
"The thing that Marietta really taught me is the ability to look around and ask myself if I'm working harder than everybody else," he said. "Baseball at Marietta College was a 24-hour thing, and making this documentary will be a 24-hour thing if we want to do it right."