Steelers running back Baron Batch writes and paints in his spare time. His hours in front of the keyboard and easel are a refuge from the consuming world of a being pro athlete.
Batch's latest painting is of a solitary, shadowy figure standing amidst a heavy rainstorm. The piece, finished last week, is about Batch's struggle to regain top form after a major knee injury ended his rookie season in August.
"Even though it's raining, it doesn't mean you have to stay in the house," said Batch, whose art work and popular blog can be found at baronbatch.com. "When I was thinking about it, I was thinking about going through these OTAs and this whole process. It's like I have to be out there whether the knee is hurting or not. It's saying, 'It will be all right.' My painting and my writing are mini-therapy for me."
In his blog, Batch wrote a long entry about his first day back on the field after getting cleared by team doctors. He wrote openly about the frustrations and fears in coming back after he tore the ACL in his left knee.
It's a weird feeling to all of a sudden just be told that you're ok to go compete with some of the best athletes in the world, and especially unsettling when you have been out of action for 9 months. But just like with other things in my life this was no different. Sometimes you just have to dive in.
Dive in with both feet, aware of the dagger like rocks that may or may not rest at the bottom of the lake, aware that you might not succeed and failure is a real possibility.
I wish I could tell you that I took my own advice on this.
Batch said feeding his creative side helps him deal with the pressures of being a pro athlete.
"That's always been something that's helped me," Batch said. "Football is an awesome game, but, at times, it can get frustrating. If you make it everything, it will really mess with you. To get away from it for a little bit and do something else and be able to come back and regroup each day is important for me. That's something I've always done."
On the field, Steelers coaches are counting on Batch to return to the form he showed in college at Texas Tech. The Steelers chose him with their seventh-round selection in the 2011 draft after he compiled 3,612 yards from scrimmage (2,501 rushing and 1,111 receiving) in the Red Raiders' spread offense.
The Steelers need an all-purpose back after they decided not to re-sign veteran Mewelde Moore, who filled that role the past four seasons.
"I've always said this: I'm a football player first before a running back," Batch said. "If I have to play special teams, I'll do that. I think that's something I can really contribute to with my skill set. With the offense, it will be whatever they feel comfortable letting me do and whatever I earn. Whatever happens, I'll be confident with what I'm doing."
Batch has come a long way since that OTA in May. He gradually has become more comfortable planting on his surgically repaired knee. There are still bad days, but he is confident that he will be strong enough mentally and physically to perform well at training camp and earn the coaches' trust.
"I have my days when I have frustrating times," he said. "I don't expect that to go away immediately. I couldn't do anything for six or seven months on my knee. I can't expect it to come back in a month. These OTAs and minicamps are crucial as far as getting confidence back in my knee.
"The most frustrating thing is, knowing you can do something and your body not doing it. That was a process I had to work through. I'm still working through it. I'm feeling a little better each week. I'm night and day from when we started three or four weeks ago. I think I'll be rolling well going into camp."
Batch has experience coming back after major injuries. He missed his freshman season at Texas Tech because of a fractured ankle, but came back to have three fine seasons. Now he hopes to do the same thing with the Steelers. Last year, Batch was a camp darling, showing off his quickness and running ability in Latrobe before the Aug. 10 knee injury. He'll have to do it again to earn a job on the 53-man roster this summer.
"It's crazy," he said. "It seemed like a long year. But I've been through other injuries before. A year goes by pretty quick. Training camp is creeping up. It's about that time. It just seems like yesterday when I was leaving Texas to come up here for the first time. I'm excited to get out there again and have an opportunity."
See more of Baron Batch's work on his blog baronbatch.comSteelers
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published June 16, 2012 4:00 AM