Online and catalog baseball equipment retailer Baseball Express “racked up sales of $40 million in 2002, up 17% from 2001”, according to president, Pat Cowles.

Howard Duckworth, a former player with the Atlanta Braves organization, created the company as Southwest Baseball Supply in 1989. He began by selling sporting goods out of the back of his van at baseball camps he ran and later branched out into a nationwide mail-order catalog business.

In 1994, a group of Houston investors including Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, bought the company and changed the name to Baseball Express.

“It was an under-served market — selling direct to baseball players who require premium products and know what they want,” said Fred Lummis, president of the investor group.

Since the buyout, investors have pumped about $11 million into efforts to grow sales from $7 million in 1996 to $42 million this year.

The company sells about 80% of its product — high-end equipment not found in typical retail stores — through the 6.2 million catalogs mailed each year. The balance is done through its web sites.