It’s not often that a seventh-round pick generates a lot of interest on draft day, but the Steelers selection of Baron Batch last month proved to be a rather large exception. Almost immediately Steelers fans (us included) found themselves intrigued by his journey to the NFL and marveled at how easily accessible he was through his personal blog (an enjoyable read) and Twitter account.
He seems to be a fascinating person off the field and a quality prospect on it. On Saturday he was kind enough to spend about 20 minutes on the phone with me to talk about his charity (2ndhandimages), his communication with fans and what the Steelers can expect from him on and off the field. His first look at the city of Pittsburgh was also pretty interesting, though not entirely uncommon: he expected it to be a smoke-filled steel town.
Me: I can’t remember who it was off the top of my head, but a couple of weeks ago one of the Steelers mentioned on Twitter that football is what he does, and it’s not who he is. I think sometimes we lose sight of that and forget that football players, regardless of how good they are or how successful they are, are still regular people and that what they do on the field is just a small part of who they are. Based on what I’ve read about you, and read from you, that seems to be an accurate way to describe you: there’s a lot more to you than just football.
Baron Batch: I agree with that. Football is what we do and it’s not who we are just like anybody else that has their job. I think sometimes it gets overlooked for us that it is a job, just like someone goes and works at a bank, that’s their job, and they have a life outside of that, or a teacher, or whatever somebody does. For me, football is my job, I take it seriously, and I love what I do, but it’s not really who I am or what I am. For me it’s almost kind of a platform to share the other parts of me, the off the field stuff, through my blog, through 2ndhandimages and all the other stuff I do.
Me: You suffered a pretty significant ankle injury in college that kind of snowballed on you and led to some other problems, and from what I understand, almost ended your career. Did that change your perspective on football and where it all fits?
Batch: My injury had a lot do with it. Just understanding how quickly football can be over and can be taken away from you. Most people, when you go into your profession, you have more control over when that’s over, unless you get fired or something like that. In football so much is out of your control, like injuries and having it just yanked out from under you and having to suddenly do something else. It’s kind of a crazy profession. You can’t really control how long you do it. When I got hurt and went through the whole injury thing it kind of opened my eyes that this isn’t everything and I can’t make it everything.
Me: You’ve started your own charity, 2ndhandimages. Can you tell us a little bit about what you guys do and how it all came to be?
Batch: 2ndhandimages is a non-profit charity that I created. We just had our first event this past week and it went really well. It came from me joining one of my passions, which is photography, with something else that I love to do, traveling, and helping people that are less fortunate. It came about right after my last college football game when I was invited to photograph a group of medical missionary students in Haiti. While I was there I felt guilty for being there and just taking pictures, and then coming back and not really changing anything that I saw. I had the idea that I could use the images to raise awareness and allow people to see what’s going on, and by simply buying a print to support that cause directly. We do that with various causes and places, and it just allows people, through a creative way, to buy a print they can hang on their wall and be proud to say that by buying that piece of art they support that cause and contributed to fixing it.
When we had our first event we did a silent auction gallery type of deal, and the images will eventually be up online. Right now we’re still getting all of the kinks worked out of the website and making sure it’s up and ready to go before we release all of that, but it will be on the website: 2ndhandimages.com
Once that is up people will be able to get on there, click on whichever project and cause they would like to support.
Me: After you were drafted one of the first things I found was your personal blog, and my initial reaction was, hey, this is pretty good and enjoyable. Is writing something you’ve always had an interest in?
Batch: Not really. I was kind of nudged into doing it. My friend Garrett, a couple of years ago, kind of urged me to start a blog because it might be cool to interact with fans and allow them to see a different part of me, so I started it and just kind of played around with it, just as a hobby. Right before this past year at Texas Tech I approached the newspaper from back home in Midland and in Lubbock about being able to post my blog and be printed in the paper, and they jumped at it and thought it was a cool idea. That’s when I started getting serious about writing and doing it on a consistent weekly basis. Since then it’s kind of taken off and turned into something I never imagined that it would.
It’s been really cool to get the positive feedback that I get from it, and how it helps people in different areas just by being transparent with with what I struggle with and what I’m going through at the time. It kind of shows people I’m just like them. I’m just a regular person.
Me: Along with your blog you’re also very active on Twitter, which has really changed the way players and fans interact with each other. Since you’re out there doing it I’m assuming you enjoy it, and there’s a lot of positives to that. But I’m guessing there can be some negative to it as well.
Batch: I think it’s something that’s important. For me, I see the business aspect of it. From a purely business standpoint it’s good to do if you do it correctly and if you interact and say the right things, it’s a really good tool to use. And also having the fans feel like they personally know you and are connected to you. When they’re cheering for you, even though they’ve never met you, they feel like they know you, and I want that. I want people to feel like that if they see me they can come up to me and say, hey, you’re a regular guy just like me and I just wanted to say what’s up.
I don’t ever want people to feel like I’m above them or anything like that. I think social media is a good way to do that. Whether you like it or not, being an NFL player, you’re in the spotlight and people put you on a pedestal, and if you treat it like that, by acting a certain way and you cut that off from people to see, it’ll come out. Things you don’t want people to know will eventually come out, and it’ll really suck when that happens, and you see that a lot with high profile athletes. Things you might think you can keep hidden forever will come out. For me, I’d rather just be open and let people know that I struggle just like they do, I screw up just like they do. First of all it keeps me humble. It keeps me grounded and it keeps me accountable to people, but also you’re gonna struggle and you have to go out there and try to get better everyday.
Me: I think that’s part of what has drawn fans to you. Did you expect to get welcomed by Steeler fans the way you’ve been? It’s been pretty incredible from what I’ve seen.
No, not really. I think a lot of people that didn’t know who I was, when they googled me the first thing that came up was my blog, so if you read anything I’ve written there you feel like, and people tell me this all the time, you feel like you might know me already because it’s so personal. So when people searched me and found that they instantly felt connected and felt like they know me, and they do. I felt it was really cool. The warm welcome I’m still getting from all the Steeler fans, I didn’t expect it being a 7th round draft pick, very late in the draft, not a high profile guy, just a guy that works hard and hopefully can make the team and somehow be able to help out. I’ve had a lot of fans tell me I’m their favorite player already, and for me that is just so humbling because I haven’t even done anything yet.
Me: I’m sure that, because of the lockout, you’re still kind of in the dark about what sort of role the Steelers might be looking at for you, but based on what I know about the team and what running backs they have coming back I’m guessing more of a third-down role. A guy that can catch the ball out of the backfield and pick up the blitz. I would imagine that, coming from the wide open offense you played in at Texas Tech, those would be areas you might excel at. I mean, if you’re going to play running back in that system you better be able to catch, and you be better be able to pick up the blitz.
Batch: Yeah, absolutely. Our offense at Texas Tech, every down was like a third down as far as a translation to the NFL. We spread it out so you have to be aware of the blitz every play, every game and from anywhere on the field, so you have to be able to pass protect. You also have to be able to get out of the backfield, get into your routes and make some plays in space, and I think that’s going to be able to help me at the next level. Just being able to be feel comfortable after doing that for four years at Texas Tech.
Me: That’s been a pretty successful program in recent years, which game stands out for you? If I had to guess I’d imagine the game against Texas when MIchael Crabtree scored the winning touchdown on the last play would be up there.
It’s funny, everybody would assume that is the game, but it’s not the case for me. For me, my most memorable game, it was the first game I came back from after my ankle injury, against Eastern Washington, and was able to play after being away from football for a year. I didn’t start, I didn’t play a ton, I had to work my way into the rotation throughout the year, but just being able to get back out there and play in a game, and getting the feeling of getting something back I never thought I’d get back, that was very special.
Me: Let’s wrap it up with this: Have you ever been to Pittsburgh, and what, if anything, do you know about the city?
Batch: I came up on a visit before the draft. I can’t say that I got to see much because it all happened within 24 hours so it was pretty jam packed, but it definitely wasn’t what I expected. I expected what they show on TV before the game with the coal stacks and steel mills everywhere, and it was nothing like that. It was a really cool place from what I saw. I don’t know a ton about it, fans have been filling me in on a lot of stuff over the past few weeks, places I have to go and look at it, good places to eat, but I’m excited to get there and meet the people and see the city and allow people to see I’m just like them, and if they want to e-mail, I’ll read it, so I’m really excited about getting up there and getting my new career started.
Baron Batch links you should check out: