Sandlot baseball grows in Austin, attracting its own all-stars
It's the top of the first inning of a baseball game between Team Warstic and the Texas Playboys on a hot May afternoon in Eastern Travis County.
The count is two balls and two strikes. There's a runner on second. The batter is better known for his hits on the radio than on the baseball field: rock star Jack White.
That assumption changes when he lines a single over second base, scoring the runner. He would later add a home run.
To understand why a four-time Grammy winner is taking at-bats in Travis County, you have to understand why there’s a field there at all.
Jack Sanders kept trying to re-create something he’d seen many times in Hale County, Ala.
“The baseball that I saw on weekends in that county … in a town of 200 people, I would see 3-, 400 people at a baseball game on a dirt road in Hale County,” he said. “And there was catfish, beer and live music. And I just always thought that was fascinating. You know, just such a beautiful scene.”
After moving to Austin, Sanders would share stories about the Alabama sandlot games with friends. He tried to keep the idea going, renting fields around Austin, but it wasn’t quite the same.
“There's big signs that say no alcohol and no amplified music,” he said. It was not exactly his idea of fun. "So we had to find somewhere else.”
That's when Sanders had his own Field of Dreams moment.
“I had this 5-acre property where I ran a metal shop in a design studio,” he said. “I dreamed of finding a place big enough to have a [full-sized] baseball field, and then over a couple of years, we just realized that actually building a small baseball field would be more fun.”
Sanders and his baseball team, the Texas Playboys, took residence at The Longtime, a field and event center off of Webberville Road, and added a music stage and a bar. The Longtime’s sandlot reputation grew, along with the number of people who wanted to keep playing baseball for the fun and camaraderie.
Occasionally, a big star would show up.
“Many, many years ago when Warstic Bat Co. was just getting started, Ben [Jenkins], the owner, contacted me and said he liked what the Playboys were doing and wanted to know if we’d ever play them," Sanders said.
The Dallas company designs and makes baseball equipment. It also has select teams and helps promote the game at all levels — from kids moving into their prime, to grown kids well past it. Jenkins liked the vibe Sanders created with the sandlot games in Austin.
“For us old guys that played college and the really serious stuff to be able to come and play baseball for absolute fun is absolutely fun," said Jenkins, who played a year of minor league baseball. "Without the pressure of performing and all this kind of stuff."
He was looking for something to combine his interests in design and his love of the game.
Warstic started small, but as the company grew, Jenkins began looking for investors. Through a friend, he met Major League All-Star and then-Detroit Tiger Ian Kinsler, who was looking for an investment opportunity. Kinsler suggested they both talk to musician Jack White, a big Tigers fan.
White had a passion for baseball that was kept at bay by the demands of his day job — you know, touring the world and making music. The three clicked. White and Kinsler bought in and Warstic took off, offering bats, gloves and everything else baseball both direct-to-consumer and in major sporting goods stores. It opened its flagship store in Dallas last fall.
And the company gives White an outlet to play the game he loves — occasionally.
White used a day off from his tour here in late May to play at the Longtime; it was Warstic's first game since the pandemic.
“This allows Jack White to come out and play baseball which he stopped doing when he was 12, I think,” Jenkins said in May. "So for him, he says it's one of the best things of his life now. Keep in mind he played in arena last night for 10,000 people, but he loves this, well, probably more than I do.”
The Warstic baseball team has played only 16 times, but they’ve never lost. The team’s lineup changes due to availability. Today’s is made up of White, Jenkins, Warstic staff and White’s band.
Jenkins likens the Warstic team to the Harlem Globetrotters: there to entertain the crowd. Sanders and the home-team Texas Playboys know they’re playing the role of the Washington Generals — the team that always loses to them.
But the lopsided final score does not matter. Sanders says they never remember the losses, and everyone’s having a good time.
“I don't know if baseball is the backdrop, or if music’s the backdrop, or if the people are the backdrop, or — you know, it's all sort of happening at the same time,” Sanders said.
And when it comes to fun, a seven-nation army couldn’t hold them back.