Saturday, July 10, 2021 | 11:01 AM
Playing for the Pittsburgh Hardball Academy provided Anthony Sciulli with a chance to play travel baseball he may not have otherwise had.
Sciulli, a Chatham commit and 2021 Penn Hills graduate, has always played on more than one baseball team.
When Penn Hills didn’t have a American Legion team, he was able to catch on with the Murrysville Legion team in addition to playing travel ball with the 18U Pittsburgh Hardball Academy.
While the local competition is something Sciulli enjoys, playing for Pittsburgh Hardball has opened a lot of doors for him and other local athletes. The academy has pulled in baseball players from Penn Hills, Swissvale, McKeesport and Clairton among other underserved communities.
Fellow 2021 Penn Hills graduate Josh Gerken plays on the 18U team, while Philmore Austin and Chyno Spearman play on the 16U team.
“It’s sponsored by the Pirates,” Sciulli said. “It’s helping youth that don’t have the financial situation to play travel ball. It allows them to get out and showcase their talents.”
Co-founded by Brian Jacobson and Nelson Cooper a year and a half ago, the Hardball Academy is a mentorship program that is an add-on to Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program.
While the RBI program is meant to bring more diversity into the younger levels of baseball, it didn’t necessarily provide a competitive travel team for kids to go into. The Hardball Academy also focuses on helping the kids make sure they are putting a good profile out for college coaches.
Jacobson said they focus on making sure athletes represent themselves well on social media, help prepare to be eligible to play at the college level and offer SAT and ACT prep courses in addition to social and culture enrichment opportunities.
Finding ways to keep the kids engaged is part of every trip.
“We are on our way to take the 16U and 18U teams to Louisville,” said Jacobson, who coaches the 16U team. “We are going to go to the Louisville Slugger Museum while we’re down there, but we are also going to go to the Muhammad Ali Center. We don’t want to go just to play baseball. We want to experience what that city has to offer.”
The academy didn’t have an easy start. Jacobson and Cooper, who coaches the 18U team, started things about two months before the pandemic locked everything down. It made playing baseball games difficult. With technology, they were able to still work on the mentoring aspect.
“The baseball component was difficult, because you couldn’t physically do the baseball aspect,” said Jacobson, who graduated from Peabody. “We were able to do the mentoring aspect virtually. I think during the pandemic, the mentoring aspect was needed more than ever from a mental and emotional standpoint. “
Sciulli has enjoyed all of his opportunities in baseball.