A Steelers running back has stirred emotions across the Internet and on Twitter with comments he wrote that opened up old wounds, conflict that runs deeply, and the art of forgiveness.
Rashard Mendenhall tweeting about Osama bin Laden? Not this time.
Rookie running back Baron Batch, drafted by the Steelers in the seventh round Saturday from Texas Tech, detailed in his blog how a draft day reunion with the father who abandoned his mother and family long ago brought not a sense of closure but of a new beginning and the relationship he hopes to have with him.
Tempted at first to rub his accomplishments in his father's face, Batch instead turned the other cheek and took a different path. Instead of hanging out with friends during the draft or going to a party with his agent in anticipation, Batch drove 850 miles to spend the day with the father he did not know well.
"Everybody all over was asking, where are you going to be? Was I going home, hang out, have a cook out? I had no idea where I wanted to spend it," Batch said in an interview Tuesday from Lubbock, Texas.
"I was driving and kind of had this internal dialogue: Should I go and see my dad, should I not? I ended up going, and it worked out really, really well. I got to spend that time with him.
"It hasn't been a complete lack of relationship, just real distant. Me doing this is getting over that hump, me excluding him from the big moments in my life ... I was glad he got to experience that phone call from the Steelers."
Batch, who is raising money selling photos from his January trip to Haiti so children there can go to school, writes a weekly blog/column/diary that appears online and in two Texas newspapers. The latest he titled "860 miles to Forgiveness," and begins:
"860 miles is the distance from Lubbock to New Orleans. The void that separates my relationship with my father is much further than that. It can't be quantified in miles, feet, or inches. Perhaps it can be measured in lost time, anger, or tears? ... My father has missed just about every major accomplishment in my life. He only made it to 2 of my high school football games and never made it to any collegiate ones. He left my mother, my siblings, and I for another woman. He missed me grow as a man and has had little input, except for what not to be. I constantly told people that his lack of presence didn't bother me and that was a lie."
Batch writes that he, at first, hoped through the NFL draft to "find satisfaction in the fact that even though my dad had been absent for it all I had still found a way without him. Part of me wanted nothing more than to rub my success in my father's face ... I wanted him to feel abandoned like I had. I wanted him to hurt."
But then, he writes, came a voice within that said, "Go spend this time with your father."
"Forgiving my father would be an acknowledgement of his wrongdoings," Batch writes, "but if I was just like my father then it would be an acknowledgement of mine as well."
So, Batch found directions and began driving 860 miles to New Orleans and his father, Juan Batch, and let him know he was coming. When he arrived, they went fishing together, then returned to watch the draft. Batch details the anguish of waiting for his name to be called as the picks wound down to a precious few.
The phone call finally came from the Steelers. A shaky Batch answered it and was overjoyed. His father gave him a big hug and said, "Thank you for letting me be part of this day."
Batch wrote that it was "a good day, a very good day."
"I set out to find New Orleans and 860 miles later I found Forgiveness.
"It's a fresh start for me now. I feel new. I guess that it's only fitting that the same moment my father and I's relationship was renewed I was inducted into an entire new family as well; a family that is huge, a family that is loud and crazy just like my own, a family that is black and gold. I couldn't be more excited to be a Steeler and it's a long road ahead to make the team. I have my work cut out for me, but I am one step closer."
Batch, on the phone Tuesday, said that while his mother died when he was in the ninth grade: "I'm sure she's super proud of me. I can always say this: All my other moms are proud -- I've been adopted into so many families. They're proud and excited."
Batch knows that as a seventh-round draft pick and with the labor situation unsettled, he is a long way from making it in the pros. NFLDraftScout.com ranked him only 36th among the running back prospects. But the Steelers have room on their roster for another back, and they consider him a prospect on third downs because of his abilities to run, catch and block. He is 5-10, 207 pounds.
"I definitely want to make the roster, and that's going to be a lot of work, that's going to be goal No. 1," said Batch, who has graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in communications study. "I'm excited to get up there and work and get started on that goal.
"They can't guarantee me anything, I have to fight for my roster [spot] and they have guys who have been there and are more experienced. I want to help the team, whether on special teams or whatever they ask me to do."
Batch will hit the ground running and not just on the field. Shortly after he graduated in December, he left Jan. 2 for an eight-day trip to Haiti with the nonprofit Operation Hope. He has a keen interest in writing and photography and used those skills to document a medical mission's team from Lubbock in that country.
"I helped out and did relief work, but my specific job was to document the whole trip," Batch said.
Children in Haiti do not have free access to education, so Batch, through the nonprofit, is selling his photos at $150 apiece, the cost to send one child to school. His goal was to sell 15. He has sold nearly 100. The goal has been set higher, to 1,500.
"One hundred percent of the proceeds go to getting kids sponsored for school," Batch said. "One print gets one child sponsored. A lot of stuff we did was partnered with the same organization, called New Vision Ministries. They employ the teachers and kind of have their own schooling program. You can have a kid who is 17 and in the first grade because he can't read or write. Or a kid can be lucky enough to start young and go through school in the typical American way.
"It's hard to come up with $150 in Haiti to go to school; they need that money to survive, to buy food."
Baron Batch's blog is at http://baronbatch.blogspot.com/. Those who would like to buy his photos or make donations for the Haiti school fund can find details on the blog by scrolling down to the Diary 27 post about 2ndHandImages.