Baseball players' road to college

Recruit: The Baseball Factory's mission is to find scholarships for high school baseball players - to colleges that meet the athletes' needs.

Howard At Play

March 04, 2001|By M.K. Livengood | M.K. Livengood,SUN STAFF

There's a factory tucked away in Columbia where hard work is the rule, and young minds are filled with advancement and dreams of one day making it big.

It's what comes off the production line at The Baseball Factory that is different. Founded in 1994 by Steve Scalfani, a 1989 Atholton High graduate, The Baseball Factory is a recruiting service whose mission is to find scholarships for baseball players to colleges that match the athletes - academically, socially and athletically.

"Our service is completely different than anything out there," said Scalfani, who estimates that his company has generated $50 million in scholarships for 4,000 athletes since opening. "A lot of people do bits and pieces of what we do. But we are full service. Everything you want in baseball is under one roof."

For a one-time, $400 fee to BATS (Baseball and Academic Targeting Service), the athlete comes to a "showcase camp," where he or she is videotaped performing drills such as hitting, throwing and fielding.

The player gets five copies of the videotape. Copies of the video are sent to up to 50 colleges. The player's name is entered on an Internet database available to college coaches nationwide. Also, a representative will provide year-round counseling and a parent-player Web page is set up.

The business is a product of Scalfani's college experience. Being 5 foot 8 and inconsistent at the plate didn't command much attention. So, he marketed himself by videotaping his play and sending the tape to colleges. When a Villanova scout was in the area recruiting another player, he convinced him to attend his game. He caught the scout's eye.

But, after one year at Villanova, he decided he didn't like being there and transferred to the University of Pennsylvania. After his 1993 graduation, Scalfani sat by the phone on Major League Baseball's amateur draft day and waited for a call. And waited..

He wasn't drafted, and while pondering his future, he found a way to combine two passions - business and baseball.

Scalfani used his frustrations to formulate his business mission: to consider all aspects of college life, not just baseball, when determining if a school is right for a player. He didn't examine Villanova, he says, so enamored was he that a Division I school showed interest in him.

At Penn, he met Rob Naddelman, an all-Ivy League infielder who joined the company in 1995 as president. Scalfani, the company chief executive, credits Naddelman with being instrumental in expanding the business.

While BATS is still the core of the business, player development programs have mushroomed, as evidenced by the 21 states in which The Baseball Factory has held events.

Scalfani estimates that about 85 percent of the 1,000 to 1,200 high school senior athletes a year in the program find a baseball home with a scholarship.

"Everyone gets caught up in just the best kids, but that wasn't me," said Scalfani. "If I place a kid in a Division III school, D2 [Division II], or junior college, and he's extended his baseball career, and he's having fun, maybe getting some money, then that's fine. Not everyone needs to set the world on fire. "

Because pro scouts write the player evaluations, and two respected groups (National Amateur Baseball Federation and National High School Baseball Coaches Association) endorse The Baseball Factory, college coaches listen.

Chris Becraft, a 2000 River Hill graduate on scholarship at UMBC, didn't mind toiling in this factory.

"They are real fair in what they say," said Becraft. "They give you an honest opinion of your tools and ability and see where you stand as far as being able to play in college or not. Coaches take that honesty into account."

The outfielder estimates that his participation generated 10 to 15 calls from interested schools. The video was a major plus, he said.

"They were the only one that had the video and evaluation process," he said. "They did that for a reasonable price; other [services] were ridiculous price-wise. And the guys who run it are just so passionate about baseball."

Special memories as lasting as videotape are also created. One weekend a year, an All-American team - chosen from the clinics nationwide - descends upon Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., for an all-star game attended by pro and college scouts.

"The All-American ceremony is about to start, and I see one kid all by himself, way out in the field," remembered Scalfani. "I walked over to see what was wrong, and he's just standing there, taking it all in, looking around, soaking it up. ... It almost brought tears to my eyes."

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