HERE'S THE PITCH....
Hello, Mr. Steinbrenner, it's Jesse Barfield. First let me say, Welcome back! I'm just calling to ask....
Yes, yes, I know I only played 30 games for the team this season. Yes, indeed, I am a free agent now. But that's not what I'm calling about....
You mean the little accident? The wrist is a lot better now, thank you. It was just a little slip in the sauna. Arthroscopic surgery. Rehab. I'm better now....
So what have I been doing with all my time on the disabled list? Funny you should ask. I was wondering if you would be interested in purchasing some office furniture. Maybe something for the clubhouse....
Yes, I'm serious. Here, let me just read you a little bit about my executive desk from one of my brochures: "Make a statement about your winning style with unique office furniture created by one of baseball's premier players. This and other striking, custom-crafted wood designs with remarkably detailed miniature playing fields...."
Excuse me? No, this isn't a joke. Hello? Hello? Mr. Steinbrenner?
In truth, Barfield's pitch never made it to the Boss. He struck out with the clubhouse manager. "I play for the New York Yankees, and they don't have any of my furniture in Yankee Stadium," says Barfield, his Yankee pride a bit wounded. "I'm not going to beg. The Yankees are just so traditional."
That can't be said of the furniture in the showroom of Sports Designs by Jesse Barfield, in Houston. Barfield does indeed make desks with ballparks carved deep into them—they resemble tiny, glass-topped bowl stadiums. He also offers lamps with bats as their bases; a coffee table shaped like a football, with a gridiron inlay; and an end table that features a basketball court. "Sure, I could have opened a restaurant or a sports bar like other players," says Barfield, "but I wanted to do something unique."
Barfield's furniture may not win any design awards, but it looks just fine in the study of a Cy Young Award winner. Doug Drabek of the Pittsburgh Pirates bought a $3,250 ash desk, complete with a model of Three Rivers Stadium. "It's certainly a conversation piece," says Drabek. "It's even got real dirt. It was great doing business with him. He came over to the house and measured everything, and then he came back to check that his customer was satisfied."
Barfield first realized that his talents extended beyond the baseball field when as a high school junior in Joliet, Ill., he received an honorable mention in a state drafting contest. The next year he won first place. After graduation he had planned to study architectural drawing at Bradley University, in Peoria, Ill., but he was lured by a different sort of draft when the Toronto Blue Jays took him in the ninth round in 1977.
Despite an injury-plagued career, Barfield has done more with a piece of wood than have most batters; in 1986 he won the American League home run title, with 40. He never stopped drawing, though, keeping a sketch pad in his duffel bag. One day in 1988, on a road trip from Toronto to Kansas City, he had a vision: an end table with baseball bats as legs. He continued designing; now 21 of his ideas are patented, and Barfield plans to expand his line to golf, soccer and hockey.
A self-described perfectionist, Barfield pays particular attention to details such as the pitcher's rubber on the mound, the cones in the end zone and the net on the hoop. Equipped with a shovel and a bucket, he drives 20 miles from his home in Houston to a farm in Tomball to get the "best red clay in the state of Texas" for his infields.
With the help of a staff of three—his wife, Marla; his sister-in-law, Marshallè Travis; and a local carpenter, David Pena—Sports Designs by Jesse Barfield has grown largely through word of mouth. In Houston the Astros display his furniture in their clubhouse, and he is negotiating deals with the Blue Jays, the New York Knicks and the Baltimore Orioles.
"It's not just for athletes," Barfield says, sounding a bit like one of his brochures. "My furniture is great for collectors and in game rooms and sports bars. Right now it's a start-up company, but I think we can make it to the big leagues."
Maybe even to Yankee Stadium. Knock on wood.
Barfield's custom-made creations include a desk with a ballpark carved into it.