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Jim O’Brien: Homestead’s Charlie Batch hopes to stick with Steelers for another season

August 30, 2012
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Jim O’Brien: Homestead’s Charlie Batch hopes to stick with Steelers for another season

Pittsburgh sports author and Valley Mirror columnist Jim O’Brien

This Thursday may be a make or break night for Homestead’s Charlie Batch.

         Once again, he and Byron Leftwich are looking to stick with the Steelers as backup quarterbacks to starter Ben Roethlisberger.

         There’s a new kid on the block with a strong arm named Jerrod Johnson who has impressed the coaches, but Leftwich and Batch are hopeful of holding him off the way they did with Dennis Dixon in recent seasons.

         Dixon is gone now.  Johnson and Batch are expected to see action tonight in the final tune-up game before the regular season starts.  Roethlisberger will be on the sideline when the Steelers take on the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field, resting up for the real stuff.

         He and the Steelers will be opposing Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, the team that Tim Tebow led to an upset of the Steelers in the opening round of last season’s AFC playoffs, when the regular season begins.  The Steelers are still smarting from that unexpected setback.  The game in Denver will be on national TV.

         Batch is 37 years old and in his 14th season in the National Football League, his 10th with the hometown Steelers.  He has been the perfect backup for, at first, Tommy Maddox and more recently for Ben Roethlisberger.

         Batch would have liked to have been the starting quarterback, of course.  That’s the competitor in him.  But he never stirs the pot or creates any kind of controversy.  He has been content in his role with the Steelers, where he also has the opportunity to serve his neighborhood community in a meaningful way.

         He has been honored by NFL and local agencies for the way he has helped improve recreational facilities, be it football fields or baseball fields, and be a role model for young men and kids in the Homestead-Munhall area.  He has raised money through a golf outing he hosts to help Mercy Hospital provide health care for homeless people.  He has his own foundation to raise money to enrich the lives of local kids.

         Leftwich, at age 32, showed in the Steelers’ last game that he can still throw deep and accurately.  He and Batch both have been injury-prone in their pro careers, so it has been an insurance policy for the Steelers to keep both of them, hoping at least one of them is healthy when Big Ben needs a breather or someone in relief if he is hurting from a hard tackle or sack.

         The daily newspaper reports have indicated that Leftwich and Batch are believed to have an edge on Johnson in sticking with the Steelers.  The team will try to keep Johnson on the practice team to continue his development, hoping no one claims him on waivers.

         Some day, sooner than later, the Steelers will need to nurture a quarterback to replace Roethlisberger in the lineup.  Big Ben is 30 and thought to have another five or six strong seasons in him.  But he has taken more than his share of hits because of the way he prefers to play the game, biding for more time to find an open receiver or for something positive to develop, and because the Steelers have often had a make-shift offensive line.

         The Steelers selected David DeCastro from Stanford and Mike Adams from Ohio State, two big offensive linemen, with their first two draft picks this year, but DeCastro went down early in the exhibition victory over the Buffalo Bills last Saturday night and will miss most of his rookie season.  The Steelers were counting on DeCastro as a starter.  Ramon Foster is the fill-in and he must step up and show he can do the job at guard.

         That’s just another reason I never get too worked up about the draft stories and all the analysis about how the new players are going to help the team.  You just never know.

         The Steelers have a lot of injured players to start the season – never a good sign – and they may have held on to at least one of them, Casey Hampton, too long after they did some house-cleaning at the completion of last season.

         They got rid of a lot of veteran players and leaders.  Batch has been a positive force in the locker room.  The players like him and respect him.  He is good for the team.  To date, he has been a model citizen.

         The team’s general manager Kevin Colbert has always been a big fan of Batch.  Colbert was working in player personnel with the Detroit Lions when they drafted Batch out of Eastern Michigan University on the second round of the 1998 draft.

         Batch was a starter for the Lions for most of four seasons, but was released when Matt Millen was brought in from the TV booth where he’d been an analyst to manage the affairs of the Lions.  Millen made personnel changes, and he gave up on Batch, who had been nagged by injuries throughout his time with the Lions.  Millen, a Penn State product, was a disaster as the Lions’ GM.

         Batch and Leftwich have missed considerable time since they have been with the Steelers for one injury or another that sidelined them.

         Batch has been a survivor, going back to his early days in Homestead.  He is the son of Lynne Settles, a former school teacher, and they experienced challenging times.  She raised Charlie and his sister, Danly Lynn, mostly on her own.

         Danly Lynn, at age 16, was shot and killed in a gangland crossfire while walking down the street with school friends.  Danielle was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  That memory still haunts Charlie’s family.

         “The things that happened in our family inspired me to work harder,” Batch once told me.  “It was just the two of us for a long time.  We always shared everything and I’m glad we can share this.  You can’t take anything for granted.  You are never guaranteed tomorrow so you better make the most of today.”

         Batch has been a goodwill ambassador for the Steelers.  He has lent himself to many good causes in the community.  He has become an entrepreneur and everything has not worked out well.  He’s had some financial setbacks in his efforts to rehab buildings and homes in his old neighborhood.

         Some things have worked out well, while others have been big disappointments.  But Batch keeps moving on. 

         He earned a degree in criminal justice, not business, at Eastern Michigan University, and maybe he’s always had an interest in helping steer kids in the right direction, as coaches and teachers and his mother had done for him.

         At this stage of his life, I don’t think he’d want to play elsewhere in the National Football League.  He realizes his days are numbered in the NFL.  But he feels good, everything is still functioning fine, and he’d like to play at least one more season with the Steelers.

         Colbert was with the Steelers when the Lions released Batch and he signed him to a one-year contract for 2002 as a backup quarterback.  Batch has been here ever since.  He signed another one-year contract this past April.

         He’s made good money in his pro career.  He’s lived in a nice home in the North Hills – in the Gray Oaks development in Franklin Park — but he has never forgotten where he came from.  One of the first things he did when he signed with the Lions was to buy his mother a new home.

         “This was always the dream,” said Batch.  “When you grow up in Homestead and you dream of playing in the National Football League, it’s playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

          “When I was in high school, I was a big fan of Dan Marino.  He had come from Pittsburgh.  Just being able to watch him and knowing he came from a nearby neighborhood was an inspiration for me. 

         “I’m happy just to be here.  Considering my family’s history, you just don’t let the outside world confuse you.  A lot of things can make you go down the wrong road.  You are never guaranteed tomorrow and that is the attitude I take, and I am going out there living every day to the fullest.

         “In your mind, you know what you have to do. I only know one way to compete, or to prepare, and that’s as a starter.  You always want to compete to be the guy.

         “Charlie Batch has always been in sports, always competing.  As a kid, I loved the Steelers.  So this is great to be with them.

         “I try to help out at Steel Valley High School, my alma mater.  I grew up in the Steel Valley.  That’s where the Steelers got their name in the first place, right?”

         I will be rooting for Charlie Batch to be with the Steelers come next week, and the start of another season.  I like what he is about, and I think a lot of people will be rooting for him to stay.

          Pittsburgh author and Valley Mirror columnist Jim O’Brien has written “The Chief” and “Steeler Stuff” among his 20 books on the Pittsburgh sports scene.  His website is www.jimobriensportsauthor.com and his e-mail address is jimmyo64@gmail.com

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