By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
At the end of the 2014 high school baseball season, North Arlington’s promising junior Joel Silva was not pleased with his development.
“I just had a feeling that I could do better and I really expected myself to be better,” Silva said. “I needed to help the team a little bit more than I did. I always knew I had the talent. I just needed to add a little more.”
It started by joining the North Arlington soccer team. “I hadn’t played soccer since middle school, but I went back to playing soccer,” said Silva, who was a defender for the Vikings last fall. “It really helped me immensely and gave me strength in my legs. It helped with my stamina.”
Then, Joel had a sit-down gathering with his hardworking mom, Ana, and told her that he needed to do the extra things if he wanted to improve.
“My Mom has always been there for me,” Joel Silva said. “I just knew I had to do something just to get better.”
So Ana Silva picked up the tab as Joel went to pitching camps and clinics. He worked out with former professional pitcher Jim Wladyka to learn about some of the intricacies of pitching. Silva and North Arlington teammate and fellow pitcher Brian Costello went to Wladyka Baseball Camp with Silva.
“We figured we could go together and learn a lot there,” Silva said.
Both Silva and Costello worked with North Arlington pitching coach Bruce Baddis as well.
When the 2015 season began early this month, Silva thought he was ready.
“I knew had to step it up this season and do whatever it takes to help us win,” Silva said. “I knew the team was counting on me.”
Silva experienced some slight bumps in the road in the early going, having a tough go of it in the first couple of starts against Becton Regional and Saddle Brook.
“I was a little frustrated, but I knew I could do better,” Silva said. “I was so worried that he was trying to do too much,” said North Arlington head baseball coach Paul Marcantuono. “He was trying to be perfect and was a little down on himself. I told him that I didn’t need him to be perfect. I just needed him to be Joel Silva. It seemed to calm him down a bit.”
Last week, Silva took the ball against Paterson Charter and had a great game, firing a complete game shutout.
He was definitely prepared, mentally and physically, for his next start against St. Anthony in the Weehawken Autism Awareness Challenge last Saturday.
The start and the cause meant a lot to Silva.
“Before the game, I called my friend Jessica Ryan,” Silva said. “She has a sister, Cate, who has autism. I told Jessica that I wanted to pitch the game for Cate.”
As it turned out, Silva had the game of his life.
Silva fired a no-hitter, striking out 13, walking four and hitting two batters, leading the Vikings to a 5-1 victory over St. Anthony. It was the first no-hitter that Silva ever threw on any level and the first no-hitter thrown by a North Arlington pitcher since Joseph Monahan threw two in 2008.
The victory was also the fourth of the season for the Vikings, who won three games all of last season.
“It was a tough season for us last year,” Silva said. “We won only three games. We didn’t have our home field (Rip Collins Field was undergoing the major renovation project). I think going through all of that made us a better team overall.”
The Vikings trailed, 1-0, into the sixth inning despite Silva’s flirtation with destiny.
“He’s pitching a no-hitter and we’re losing,” Marcantuono said. “But we stayed with it and scored five runs in the sixth.”
Silva delivered the big hit in the inning, a two-run double, that sealed the deal.
“It was a great feeling,” Silva said. “It was pitching so well. I just had to wait for the win to come. But everyone contributed to us getting the runs.”
For his efforts, Silva has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week, the first such honoree in the spring scholastic sports season.
Silva said that he felt confident going into Saturday’s game.
“I felt great,” Silva said. “Everything was on. My curveball was dropping in for strikes and my fastball was good. My control was a little off. I kept running my fastball inside, but as the game went on, I got control and was locating my pitches better.”
“It was one of the most unconventional no-hitters you’ll see,” Marcantuono said. “His control was a little off, but his fastball was still overpowering and his curve was breaking. I always tell him that if he wants to dominate, he has to throw inside. It was all just a mix of everything.”
After Silva had the lead, there was nothing that was going to stop him, as he struck out four of the last six batters he faced to secure the memorable performance.
“There was no way I was taking him out of the game,” Marcantuono said. “He had to be the horse. I think the whole team knew he was throwing a no-hitter. As soon as he got the last out, he didn’t know what to do. He just smiled at me.”
“I was in total shock,” said Silva, who knew he had a no-hitter going during the last two innings. “I had no idea I could do it. I had so many things running through my mind. Seriously, I was in complete shock. But it was awesome.”
Marcantuono said that the Vikings were also in a bit of awe with Silva’s dance with destiny.
“No-hitters don’t come around here often,” Marcantuono said. “We hadn’t had one in seven years, so we didn’t know how to react. But it was great feeling for all of us and especially Joel. It was a great way to start the tournament. It gave it all a little excitement.”
As it turned out, North Arlington’s win was the lone victory for a Bergen County school in the Weehawken Autism Awareness Challenge. The other seven games were all captured by Hudson County squads.
In that respect, it makes Silva’s no-hitter even more impressive.
“I can’t ask for a better team,” Silva said. “We’re all still young and still learning. But we’re getting there. You put it all together, the win, the no-hitter, winning for Cate. It was just great.”
One for the memory books, that’s for sure.