Artists in the Outfield
How Jack Sanders brings makers and communities together at his field of dreams
by Hannah J. Phillips
Photographs by Toni Toscano
Take a 20-minute ride down Webberville Road in Southeast Austin and you’ll find yourself on the dirt road at Dunlap Drive, where Jack Sanders’ studio, Design Build Adventure (DBA), serves as home plate for sandlot baseball team the Texas Playboys. Here at The Long Time, home field for the Playboys, beneath tall Texas pecans and ancient oaks, families lounge on picnic blankets in the shade while two teams in vintage baseball uniforms take the field.
Someone pauses the classic record blasting from the stereo, and a hush falls on the crowd. Players remove their caps, standing in the Texas sun while a jazz trumpet oozes out the national anthem. This is not the competitive pop-ballad vocal performance at a Major League event; the instrumental is slow and soulful, and the crowd drinks in every note. Before the stereo starts back up, the sizzling sound of grilling hot dogs completes the sensory overload of American nostalgia — and the game begins.
The crack of a wooden bat sends a baseball soaring across center field, where pallets and haystacks mark a makeshift boundary like Iowa corn in the outfield from “Field of Dreams.” You can almost hear James Earl Jones whispering in the trees overhead.
Manning the floodgate of these magic waters is Sanders, whose sandlot dreams first took root during his architectural studies at Auburn University’s Rural Studio. Established by Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee, the Rural Studio program drives design students out of the classroom and into rural communities, providing an immersive educational experience while supporting local residents.
Mockbee instilled his ethos, “Everyone, rich or poor, deserves a shelter for the soul,” in his teaching at Auburn. In turn, Sanders harnessed this philosophy for his senior thesis project, creating a new backstop for a sandlot team in nearby Newbern, Alabama. In a recent YETI documentary on The Long Time and its origins, Sanders says the experience flipped the traditional model of architectural solutions from “what knowledge do I have to share with this community?” to “what can I learn from them?”
“You can’t teach architecture by just teaching people how to draft,” he says. “You have to show them that there’s a human element to this.”
DBA still prioritizes that human element, collaborating with clients to celebrate the “people, materials, climate, music, food and art unique to each adventure.” After moving DBA out to Dunlap Road in 2012, Sanders and his team transformed it into The Long Time in 2016, a unique space for creative workshops, events and a sandlot baseball league.
Naming his team for Bob Wills’ band, the Texas Playboys, Sanders slowly collected artists, designers, chefs and others from Austin’s creative community. Today, there are more than 40 people on the active roster, with anywhere from 15 to 22 showing up to play on game day.
“Anyone can play,” says Coach Howard “Hardboot” Carey, one of the original members of the team. “It’s not so much about talent as it is about finding the ‘right fit.’”
For the Playboys it’s less about keeping score and more about the game itself. The score could be 11-5 and players will still slide eagerly into home plate; the umpire still calls strikes with deep-throated gusto. Meanwhile, the crowd cheers while enjoying food from Scholz Garten, local beer and Tito’s cocktails — heck, the team indulges, too.
“It’s not about who wins,” Carey says, gesturing to the music and the food and the trees as both teams high-five their fans and families. “It’s about all this — it’s about a happening.”