The senior shortstop is in the midst of his final baseball season for Dartmouth with the opportunity to lead the Big Green to their fifth consecutive Rolfe Division title and third Ivy League crown in four years. But his successes aren't limited to his stay in Hanover. Winning has followed him wherever he's been.
Sclafani is quick to credit others for his success, especially his parents.
"My father is one of the hardest workers I've ever seen, and my mother is a very focused individual," the two-time co-captain stated. "Both of them instilled those values in me at a young age, and no matter what happens on the field, good or bad, I try to keep the same consistent approach and work on getting better every day."
He also credits his father with having him hit from both sides of the plate, although it wasn't always appealing when he was younger. "I have been switch-hitting ever since my father put a bat in my hands," recalled Sclafani. "But when I was young, I didn't like hitting left-handed because I could hit the ball farther from the right side. So he had me hit exclusively left-handed for an entire little league season. My coach didn't even know I was a natural righty until late in the season!"
A two-sport star at Jensen Beach High in Florida, Sclafani came to Dartmouth in the fall of 2008 after a stellar prep career. As the starting shortstop for the Falcons all four years of high school, Sclafani was the team MVP three times, leading the squad to a district championship and a second-place showing at regionals in both his junior and senior year while garnering all-state honors.
His exploits weren't limited to the diamond, however, as he was a standout on the hardwood as well. A two-time all-conference and all-area point guard, Sclafani guided the Falcons to a 19-2 overall record and perfect 9-0 mark in the league in his junior campaign. But after that season, he decided to put all his energy into his first love - baseball.
"My father played basketball in college (University of New Haven), and he always wanted me to have the same love for the sport that he did," Sclafani said. "While I enjoyed the sport, baseball has always been my first love. There's just something special about going out on the field and crushing a ball."
Sclafani does believe his days on the basketball court have crossed over to benefit him on the baseball field, most noticeably on defense.
"Being a point guard, I was always having to make a quick move and stop on a dime," he noted. "And there is so much lateral movement playing defense, that I believe the jumps I get in the field now are partly from my basketball days, even though I haven't played the sport for four years."
Considered the best fielding infielder - let alone shortstop - in the Ivy League in a poll of the league's coaches done by CollegeBaseballInsider.com, Sclafani admits the defensive part of his game has needed the most work. If one had asked him what he needed to work on when he arrived on campus, though, he likely would have given a different answer.
"I didn't think I had any shortcomings back then," he said with a laugh. "I quickly learned that wasn't the case. All the practice and drills the coaches have put me through in the field have helped me transform into a much better defender; my arm has gotten stronger and more accurate, I'm better going to my left and right, coming in on balls and throwing from different angles. But I'm still working to get even better."
That drive to continue improving has made him one of the premier players in the Ivy League. Three times Sclafani has received All-Ivy honors - twice on the first team, once on the second team - and in 2011 was a New England All-Star. Baseball America has named him the Ivy League Preseason Player of the Year three times. He is also one of 30 candidates for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, given to an NCAA Division I senior wit notable achievements in four areas of excellence - community, classroom, character and competition.
The numbers bear out his accolades. He ranks among the Ivy League's top 12 in several career categories, including a league-record 19 triples. He is one of just five Big Green players to amass 200 hits in a career and will likely finish his career in the top three in conference history. Entering the weekend of April 21, Sclafani leads the league in the "triple-slash" categories - batting (.429), on-base percentage (.547) and slugging percentage (.810) - within the conference.
Even with all the honors he has piled up at Dartmouth, Sclafani doesn't take the time to dwell on them. He would rather create memories that will be more lasting.
"Sure, setting the triples record is pretty cool, and it's an honor to be high on those statistical lists, but nothing feels better than winning a title," Sclafani said. "We're together nearly every day of the week from September through the beginning of May, and we work so hard to achieve that goal of winning the league championship. I want nothing more than to have that sense of accomplishment one more time with all of my teammates."
Once his senior year is complete and he has a diploma in hand, Sclafani's focus will be on a professional career. Numerous scouts have come to see him play and he will likely be chosen in the upcoming MLB First-Year Player Draft. "Really all I want is an opportunity to show what I can do, hopefully have some success and move up the ranks," he said.
A major league organization would be wise to give him that opportunity. That is, if they are looking for a winner. (Rick Bender)
Joe's recruiting trip to Hanover was made possible by the generosity of the Class of 1945 and Frank P. Mannarino MD '72 through the Dartmouth Athletic Sponsor Program.