CHARLOTTESVILLE — Steve Silverstein was idling in his truck in the winter of 2011, waiting to take his son, Scott, and some Virginia roommates to dinner one evening, when he was startled by a loud rap on his window.
Cavaliers baseball Coach Brian O’Connor needed to deliver a message out of Scott’s earshot. More than two years later, Silverstein still remembers nearly every word of the conversation.
“Don’t worry about your son. Your son will always have a scholarship here,” O’Connor told him. “He’s gonna come back. I truly believe it. But even if he doesn’t, don’t worry about it. He’s taken care of. You have my word on that.”
“This was after the second operation and he had not thrown a ball” for Virginia, added Steve Silverstein, a civilian stationed in Afghanistan for the Department of Defense, during a telephone interview this week.
O’Connor’s words seem prescient because Scott Silverstein, now a fifth-year senior, will take the mound as Virginia’s ace when the Cavaliers face Mississippi State in an NCAA super regional series this weekend in Charlottesville. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Brookeville native has a 10-1 record and a 2.86 ERA this season and is one of college baseball’s best comeback stories.
In 2007, Silverstein was a high school all-American after a stellar junior season at St. John’s in the District. But that fall, Silverstein felt pain in his left throwing shoulder. As a senior, he didn’t pitch at all, instead earning all-conference honors as the Cadets’ designated hitter. Despite the injury, the Washington Nationals took him in the 32nd round of the 2008 MLB draft.
Ben Shaffer, the Nationals’ former team physician, quickly discovered that Silverstein had a torn labrum and performed surgery. Silverstein then spent his first year at Virginia rehabilitating the injury, but did see some time as a designated hitter, first baseman and pinch hitter.
But when Silverstein tried to take the mound again before the 2010 season, the same pain in his left shoulder persisted. A visit to renowned surgeon James Andrews revealed another surgery and another eight-month rehab were needed. The news was devastating.
“He’s staring there looking at you in the bullpen and you’re working with the kid and he’s frustrated,” Virginia pitching coach Karl Kuhn said. “He’s angry. He’s mad. He’s crying. He can’t get right. He doesn’t feel good and it’s just like you’re looking at your son. How can you take the pain away from your child? You can’t. . . . You have a 50-50 chance of coming out of a labrum surgery the first time and this kid had a double labrum surgery.”
Countless hours with Virginia trainer Brian McGuire eventually got Silverstein back on the mound. But in 2011 and 2012, he wasn’t the same player who seemed destined for the professional ranks before the shoulder injury. Never, though, did O’Connor forget about the talented left-hander. Instead, he tried to re-assure him.
“I didn’t want Scott to feel extra pressure that he’s got to do it sooner than he’s maybe ready just to stay here at Virginia,” O’Connor said when reminded this week of his conversation with Silverstein’s father. “It was the right thing to do, and when you treat people the right way, and you live up to what you tell people, it’s amazing how they get rewarded and how it comes back to you.”
After recording a 2-5 record and a 4.48 ERA as a starter a season ago, Silverstein has “let it rip” in 2013, O’Connor said. Last week, when Silverstein threw six scoreless innings in a first-round win over Elon, he hit 96 mph on the radar gun. He has also added a devastating slider to complement his fastball, a pitch he “took to like a duck to water,” Kuhn said.
Neither coach can mention Silverstein’s name these days without using the phrase “unbelievable resiliency.”
“It had been a while since I had thrown and being thrown into an ACC season was what I wanted, but maybe not something I was ready to do,” Silverstein said of last season. “I came in hurt, so my whole goal was to pitch in an intrasquad [game] coming in. Just because I came in hurt, that’s all I wanted and now to be where I am now, I’m really proud of it.”
Steve Silverstein was stateside to watch Scott pitch in a few games this season, and hopes to be granted another leave from Afghanistan if Virginia qualifies for the College World Series next week.
Meanwhile, after all the injuries, there’s a good chance Scott Silverstein will be picked in the MLB draft again this weekend, five years after his initial selection.
But Steve Silverstein doesn’t mention that initially to other Virginia parents in the stands whenever an injury occurs. Instead, he talks about a father-son dinner and a loud knock on his car window.
“O’Connor will stand by you. He stood by my son. He stood by him when he didn’t have to,” Silverstein said.