For most NFL retirees, life after football is a more direct continuation of the sport — analysts, anchors and coaches all apply the knowledge obtained from their youthful days into a respective post-player genre.
However, for entrepreneurial artists and former NFL players Baron Batch and John Malecki, it’s much more intuitive. The arts activists opened Studio AM in August 2014. Since then, the studio has evolved into a showcase of culinary, carpentry and visual art forms in Homestead, minutes from Pittsburgh’s historic industrial hub, the Waterfront — an area which has transformed from steel to become an entertainment hotspot. Batch and Malecki have also invested their knowledge and experience from the gridiron into an equally influential sphere — Pittsburgh’s art scene.
“We’re now opened as a gallery on evenings. We do brunch service on weekends. We want as many people as possible to come and enjoy this,” Malecki said.
Malecki, known by friends as “The Builder,” fabricates and sells custom furniture pieces. His masterful creations showcase a meticulous craftsmanship, a perfection of a different kind of block.
“With football, you can work on your craft, but you only put your pads on for two hours a day, and that’s how you get better in those realms, on somebody else’s time,” he said. “Now, I can go in the shop and work on joinery for as long as I want.”
In woodworking, joinery refers to the process of combining pieces of wood to build a supportive structure in the overall project — like the four corners in the frame of a table. Collectively, wooden joints must also be strong, durable and flexible to prove effective — much like an offensive line in the scheme of run or pass protection.
A self-taught craftsman, Malecki also graduated with a business degree in marketing from Pitt in 2010. He attributes his recent success and opportunities to his fruitful football career, which provided him with the intangibles to succeed in both his craft and business.
“Anticipation is a skill I take from football and apply it to business and woodworking,” Malecki said. “I played offensive line and I worked very hard at studying coverage principles or linebacker depth.”
Malecki approaches business in the same way.
“You have to anticipate anything. You should have a well thought out approach to most of the positions you’re getting into,” he said.
Batch played running back at Texas Tech, and the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Around the studio, the entrepreneur is simply known as “The Artist.”
“[Football] is a great game, and it draws out the best attributes in a person, but at the same time, those are skills and attributes that you can apply elsewhere,” Batch posited.
The Artist combines his creative innovation and athletic determination to form a hue of expression and validation upon his canvas.
“I always try to outdo the last piece I did, but at the same time it’s all about being able to say something through my work rather than just making something,” Batch said.
In addition to his professional football pedigree, Batch attests to his consciousness and passion for his artistry.
“I was always artistic and could always express myself ,” Batch said. “But I knew at that point in my career that it was only a hobby, and then when I transitioned from football, I made it my full time thing. I have the best job in the world.”
Malecki and Batch insist their time in the NFL offered them an excellent opportunity to apply to the rest of their lives.
Batch wants to pursue other artistic fields, as an author and an actor. Malecki serves his Pittsburgh community through youth football camps and charities. He wants to establish himself as a network to offer others similar opportunities.
“I want to show kids that there is opportunity in sports, with sports and without sports,” Malecki said.