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, Marshallé 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.