Columbia's Factory Athletics celebrates 20 years of building better athletes

  • Baseball player Cuinn Mullins, a rising senior at Wilde Lake High School; Steve Sclafani, chief executive officer of Factory Athletics; volleyball player Ravyn Richardson, a 2014 Mount Hebron High School graduate; and softball player Jordan Cargile, a 2014 Eastern Technical High School graduate.
Baseball player Cuinn Mullins, a rising senior at Wilde Lake… (Photo by Brian Krista )
June 10, 2014|By Pete Pichaske

As an all-county baseball player at Columbia’s Atholton High School and a two-year starter at the University of Pennsylvania, Steve Sclafani had hopes of being drafted by a Major League team after college.

That didn’t happen, so he returned to Howard County and took a marketing job with the Patuxent Publishing Co. But Sclafani wasn’t quite ready to quit the game he’d loved since elementary school. So in 1994, a year after graduating from Penn with a communications degree, he started the Baseball Factory, a business aimed at helping high school baseball players — like himself a few years earlier — make it as college players.

Twenty years later, it’s safe to call his idea a winner. Now known as Factory Athletics, the company has helped develop some 50,000 young baseball players, including more than 300 who have made it all the way to the Major Leagues. Among those major leaguers are such all-stars as Justin Verlander, C.C. Sabathia, Prince Fielder and Mark Teixeira.

Along the way, the business that was launched on a shoestring in Sclafani’s apartment has blossomed into a $14 million-a-year company, with a 23,000-square-foot office on Berger Road in Columbia and a national reputation for providing a service that is rare in the baseball world.

“They’re highly respected,” says Ron Davini, executive director of the Tempe, Ariz.-based National High School Baseball Coaches Association. “They go into great detail [with their evaluations] ... and they produce a good product.”

Building the business has been hard work, Sclafani says. But it’s been a labor of love.

“I’ve always loved the game,” says Sclafani, 43. “From when I was 10 or 11. And not just playing it. I loved the coaching aspects, the scouting and instructing. … It’s a lovely game, and I wanted to just stay in it.

“I didn’t realize it at the time,” he adds,  “but I really enjoy growing a business as well.”

Sclafani’s first office was a room in his Elkridge apartment, and he was his only employee. In the beginning, he had to scramble for clients, attending numerous games to talk to high school coaches, offering free clinics.

In 1995, a former teammate at Penn, Rob Naddelman, signed on to help. The business graduated to a tiny rented space, just big enough for two desks and phones.

But the word was getting out, and parents and high school coaches began calling them for help. After a few years of focusing on evaluating players, the Baseball Factory added a player development component. Instructors were hired, camps and clinics offered. They moved to larger quarters, then moved again to even larger quarters.

They formed partnerships with American Legion Baseball, Little League International and Under Armour. They acquired Team One Baseball, which ran showcases for top players across the country. They added volleyball and softball components, and rechristened their company Factory Athletics.

Today, Sclafani, now the chief executive officer, and Naddelman, the president, oversee a business with 70 full-time and more than 1,000 part-time employees. This year, the company will conduct some 1,000 events across the country, from one-day evaluations (which cost $99) to multi-day player development programs and tournaments (which can cost thousands), and reach about 25,000 youngsters.

It’s a dream come true for Sclafani.

“There was never a Plan B,” he says, recalling the first few years of the business. “Even in the early days when we were scrapping, our mindset has always been to just keep plowing through. We always both felt that if we did things the right way, success would follow. In the back of our minds, we just kept pushing forward.

“I hoped it would become what it is today. But I don’t think 20 years ago we thought it was going to be all these sports and all these other things.”

Factory Athletics offers a wide variety of services, from evaluations breaking down a player’s strengths and weaknesses to multi-day camps held at Major League facilities, where academics and “life skills” are also taught.

But the company’s core mission is unchanged: Training young boys — and girls, in the case of volleyball and softball players — to get the most they can out of their sport.

And they don’t just train elite athletes. “We have players who are going to be Major League all-stars, and we have kids trying to make their Little League team,” says Naddelman. “We have different programs for different levels. If a kid wants to work hard, we’re not going to write anybody off.”

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