Artist Jack Sanders
Artist Jack Sanders is the creator of Austin, Texas-based Design Build Adventure, his singular vision for a collaborative design, architecture, art, community, and baseball camp and working studio. So intertwined are each of these elements that it’s hard to see where one ends and another begins, which is exactly as he intends. We first got to know Jack when he brought his baseball team, the Texas Playboys, to Florence, Alabama, known as a barnstorming, where they pick a place they want to visit and challenge an existing baseball team, or in our case, to build a team. Naturally, Jack and Billy became fast friends.
“Jack and I share a love for baseball, among many other things,” Billy says. “About five years ago, the Texas Playboys challenged us to get a baseball team together in Alabama - they wanted to make a road trip to Muscle Shoals and play us. Little did I know that the experience of reliving your childhood on the baseball field could actually happen as an adult. It's some of the most fun I've ever had as a grown up. If not for Jack, these wonderful sandlot baseball experiences would not have happened. So many friendships and good times have come from all of this. Jack is a passionate ambassador for baseball, Austin, and a true modern renaissance man.”
After many brainstormings, Jack realized he could fit a baseball field into the existing Design Build Adventure space and return the hospitality so many teams had shown the Playboys. On Tuesday, March 14, Billy’s team, the Alabama Slammers, travel to Austin to take on the Playboys on their home turf. If you’re local or in town for South by Southwest, join us for an afternoon of great food, music, fellowship, and baseball.
In anticipation of this rematch (the Playboys have been to Florence twice including Shindig No. 8), The Journal talked with Jack about the Long Time, why he built it and the community-driven philosophy behind his mission.
Tell us about the Long Time. How did it come together? What’s the philosophy behind it?
I've had a concept like this in my mind for quite a while in different variations. I built a sandlot ball field as my thesis project at the Rural Studio at Auburn. It pretty much infected the way I look at all my design, art and architecture work. Sandlot baseball became a developing design manifesto that I've been thinking about for 15, 20 years now, and the Playboys were a product of that thinking.
The Long Time has a number of meanings. One, that it might take me a long time to build it, but it's also about history and learning about methods and materials that are very specific to this place, very much influenced by my time in Alabama at the Rural Studio and around folk artists.
What really struck me about the place in Alabama, in Newbern, [where he first played sandlot baseball] was how much bang they were getting with a chicken wire backstop. How much community pride and activity and pastime, and all this stuff was happening on this one piece of property that had a simple backstop made out of chicken wire. Suddenly the backstop became a different thing to me, that it wasn't all about what's on the field, but it's about the environment that I can create on the backside of the backstop and make it feel inclusive and safe, fun, and interesting.
I built the entire complex with friends and teammates, with 100% salvaged material. Everything is reclaimed, including the screws. I have a big bucket of screws that is 20 years of throwing random hardware in it. That's what I pulled it from. I'm making my own eye bolts by welding washers to old lag bolts, and I'm going around town picking up pallets and sections of chain link from different people. The chicken coop is our backstop.
Everything I design and build, I try to make as versatile as I can. I need them to do two or three things. I can't rely on it being just a baseball park, but if I can do the baseball park and the camp and function as an art studio, and occasionally have a wedding or an event out here too, a kickball party...I think baseball or kickball weddings would be pretty cool too.
The next wedding trend.
Totally. I've already been hashtagging it.
You were talking about putting thought into the back side of the backstop, giving it more purpose. Can you elaborate?
I'd been thinking about what type of baseball is out there. There are people watching kids play baseball and then there's Major League baseball. There's a lot of time spent on the kids in Little League. A lot of money and resources and energy spent on the Major League, but as far as what's in the middle of that, it's very limited, especially around men's and women's adult baseball. Where I think the big mistake has been, is that the people who are doing it think it's all about what's happening on the field, and as a result, there's nobody at those games. It's basically a tribute to some sort of macho ideal, some sort of competitive macho baseball thing that is not exciting to me anymore.
With music, food, some shade and interesting programming, you can make that experience enjoyable for a whole crowd of people. I think a lot of people are attracted to the romantic Americana part of baseball, but they don't find that at a Major League baseball experience. I kinda see this as the slow food of sports. It's local, organic, seasonal. If we serve a $9 hot dog, it's because it's a $9 organic, locally sourced hot dog, not because it's a $9 Ballpark Frank with a $9 Bud Light.
I think about our food, our clothes, our music, and I think there's this draw to local and smaller, locally sourced. Part of my practice is applying those things to my art and to baseball and to this facility I'm building, and my design and architecture work too. They're all about the same things. Porches and fires, outdoor showers and campfire circles.
Is live music is an important part of the Long Time experience?
For sure. Music's always been a big part of our team and organization, and we have several professional musicians on the team. Los Dos, that's the Playboys’ house band, sit in the bleachers playing mariachi-style. They play continuously throughout the game, but we try to take two or three moments, like where there's typically the national anthem, and let somebody do something there. Usually, it's the national anthem. Then we try to take a moment in between innings, the third or fourth, and in also what's typically the seventh inning stretch, and insert live music and really try to honor the songwriter or the performer. That’s the Austin part of it.
How many of these sandlot teams were already in existence when you started the Texas Playboys?
There's a long tradition and history of this type of stuff all over the country and throughout baseball playing countries. There was clearly a series of teams throughout Alabama, several teams like this, but they were all kinda hanging on by a thread in the same way that a juke joint in Mississippi's having a tough time. It's really hard to maintain these baseball leagues.
When the Playboys got started, we contacted most of these places and told them we were coming, a tradition we call barnstorming, and then those teams just stuck together. Houston, New Orleans, the Slammers, the Flood, all of those are teams that basically organized to play us, and they stayed together to keep doing it.
Changing the subject to fashion…How does Billy Reid fit your personal style?
I think a lot of the things I was talking about, architecture and baseball and art, are on one hand, paying tribute to the people that did this stuff before us. Then also, it's got an edge that feels new. I like things that are well made and that can put up with the beating that I'm gonna put on them. I like something that you expect to have for a lifetime, and so you wear it hard and make it work for you.
I have a Billy Reid Quail Jacket that I wore for many years, and then I left it on the trunk of a car. A day later, while walking my dog, I found it in the middle of the road. Had tire marks and all the buttons were broken, but I still can wear it. I've left one of the buttons broken to remember that.
When did you first become aware of your personal sense of style?
I definitely would need to credit my wife, Ann Tucker, with this question. She’s an architect and interior designer. She's got incredible style and gives me the confidence and pushes me to be a little bolder. But she totally gets that I'm a uniform person and wears the same thing, the same dirty pants, the same dirty shirt and the same boots and hat every day. That's my personal style, the same western shirt and work pants and Red Wing boots and Stetson hat every day. Wearing them and beating them up, but then when it's time to get dressed up, we gotta go for it. My Billy Reid suits are a big part of that part.