To be an artist was the first dream of Baron Batch, former football player for Texas Tech and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Football was always second.
The two opposites logically went hand-in-hand to Batch, he said.
“That was the first thing I wanted to be when I was younger — to be an artist,” Batch said. “I remember one of my teachers in elementary school asking, ‘What do you want to do? What do you want to be?’ and I said, ‘I want to be an artist.’ She told me to pick something realistic, so I said I wanted to be a football player.”
Since that day, Batch said he has worked hard to ensure he achieved both of his dreams.
The now 26-year-old from Midland chose to play for Tech over other universities like Duke and Northwestern, according to Batch’s Tech Athletics biography, before moving on to the NFL to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“That was the goal, and everything I did was to make that happen,” Batch said. “When I got to the NFL, my only goals were to pay off a car and pay off a house. The way I saw it, if I did those two things, that would be a 30-year head start on life since it takes most people that long to do it. I did that, got done and now I’m an artist.”
Since retiring from the Steelers in 2013, Batch said he has focused on his art and work at Studio A.M., a Pittsburgh advertising agency.
Batch visits Lubbock a couple of times a year whenever his work gives him room to breathe, he said, and he wants to show Lubbock he is no longer just a football player.
“Up in Pittsburgh, I’m definitely known as an artist and it’s sort of blown up with the things that we’re doing and some of the companies we’re working with,” Batch said. “I haven’t been back here very much, so here I’m still football player Baron, which is fine, it’s such a big part of what I did, but I think it’s to the point where I want to really be able to make that transition and start doing some of the things I do in Pittsburgh down here.”
Such a transition is going to take time, he said.
It is interesting to come back to West Texas, especially to Lubbock, because something different is always happening, Batch said, but this gives him the opportunity to forge a change in how the region views him.
“I never want to be forgotten for what I did here,” he said, “but for me to be able to make the impact that I want to on Lubbock, I have to make that transition. The people here have to help let me do that, and let me scoot away from what I used to do.”
Early on in his professional football career, Batch said he realized people loved him for the Steelers logo on his jersey.
He remained conscious of that, he said, which motivated him to continue doing something people would appreciate and follow once he left the NFL.
“When I played sports, I was valuable by association,” he said. “People cheered for me because I was a running back for Texas Tech or the Pittsburgh Steelers. They supported me, but they supported me because they supported the Steelers. Now, when I give people art, they’re literally taking a piece of who I am and saying that they like who I am.”
Football, or the absence of it, impacted his art.
Batch tore his ACL in 2011, which he said gave him the time to paint.
“I never got to develop who I really was while I was a football player because there are so many stereotypes that come with being an athlete,” he said. “I think a lot of guys and women in sports, too, are very creative, but it takes so much time to focus on a sport. It’s a full-time job.”
Once he stepped away from sports and into his art, Batch learned how he wanted to live his life, he said, and how he wanted people to perceive him.
Through art, Batch figured out who he was, he said, but he is the same person at his core.
“When I was playing football, I was never really in control of my life. I just wasn’t,” he said. “It was dictated on a hierarchy of power, and I was not at the top. If I was getting cut from the team, I was getting cut from the team and I had no control over that. I could control how hard I worked, but that was about it.”
This past year was the first time in Batch’s life when he felt like he was in the driver’s seat of his life, he said.
He is more competitive now than he was when he played at both the collegiate and professional levels because of the control he has over his life, he said.
“There’s no way around hours of work that you put in,” Batch said. “I think a lot of people try to cheat that, but if someone’s working, it’s going to pay off. They’re maximizing more opportunities. My mentality the last couple years has been to outwork everyone in my field — to just be seen more, do more, be out there more, and it’s paid off. It’s still paying off.”
He wants his art to be lasting, positive pieces of work people will want to buy because it means something to them, Batch said, and because it is a piece of him.
Shelby Jones, a senior sports management major from Big Spring and intern for Batch, said Batch’s ability to take a simple idea and turn it into something creative has led to his success.
“He has a different outlook on things,” Jones said. “You see his art and automatically think, ‘Oh, that’s Baron.’ It’s just positive and so different from everything that you see out there today.”
Batch welcomes new ideas, Jones said, and his art appeals to younger people because of its contemporary style.
An influx of young, working professionals into Pittsburgh allows Batch to help establish its cultural identity, he said.
“Pittsburgh is such a good dynamic right now,” Batch said. “Pittsburgh doesn’t have an established culture to it. Pittsburgh never became identifiable like a New York, L.A. or Chicago based off the culture. I’m on the ground floor now of helping build that culture because there are so many young people.”
Lubbock has a cultural consistency that Pittsburgh lacks, he said.
Sean Beauford, curator of Studio A.M., said he puts together art events, which helps unite the Pittsburgh culture.
“We’re making art accessible,” he said. “Pittsburgh is a place where there isn’t a lot of public art. It mostly resides in galleries and museums, but in those places, there isn’t a lot of local art.”
The pair wants to make art available in the city, Beauford said, because they want people to see what is going on in the world of art.
Batch is rarely inspired, he said, and wants those who view his art to take a step further.
“I want them to be challenged,” Batch said. “I think when you’re challenged, that eats at you at the back of your mind. It works way different from if they’re inspired. Inspiration is one of the last things that should happen. It’s just a process of figuring it out.”