Male Athlete of the Week: Joey Spaccavento, Northern Highlands

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Joey Spaccavento insists getting the win was the most important thing. Even if it was at his expense.

The Northern Highlands senior hitter hit three home runs on Friday and returned to the plate with another crack. Instead, the first pitch rolled to the backstop and scored the winning run of the third. The bat never left his shoulder.

To some, ending the game on a mercy rule may have felt a bit anticlimactic. But not for Spaccavento.

“No (disappointment). Not at all,” Spaccavento said.

“Obviously you’d like the chance to hit four, but we were down 8-1 after the start of the second. To come back as a team, to be able to finish the game in six and be the winning team is unbelievable.”

Spaccavento is the definition of a baseball addict. He’s a die-hard Mets fan who makes their games televised in good times and bad. He wears the No. 5 in honor of Joe DiMaggio, his namesake who shares his birthday and his Italian heritage.

Ask him about his latest surge and he’ll explain the mechanics of hitting and his focus on changing the angle of launch.

“He’s all baseball, all the time,” Northern Highlands freshman coach Brandon Eldridge said. “He spends his free time reading and learning to punch. He’s as committed to his craft as I’ve seen a high school student.”

Northern Highlands coach Paul Albarella describes the soft-swinging southpaw as a role model for his work ethic and the way the ball explodes on his bat. At the end of the workout, Spaccavento will punch some more then head to the weight room. On game day, he’ll grab a tee and do some final licks.

For Spaccavento, it’s been a burning passion for as long as he can remember.

“When I was younger, my mom would take me out in the backyard and hit ground balls and play catch with me,” said Spaccavento, who alternates between the outfield and first base.

“Then, as I was getting older, almost every day after school, my dad would take me to the field and throw BP.”

The highlight came on Friday in a home game against Bergenfield.

Second at bat, Spaccavento went 4 for 5 with a brace, three homers and five RBIs. It sparked a comeback for the Highlanders, who rallied after seven runs in a 21-11 win.

“I didn’t really realize how special it was until I got up later in the round and could see the excitement of everyone else watching the game,” Spaccavento said. “I felt a buzz. Everyone was watching. That’s when it really hit me.”

The irony is that the only thing that stopped its charts was the unusual size of Northern Highlands.

There’s plenty of space between home plate and the backstop and it’s “certainly the farthest of any high school” Albarella has seen. This makes wild locations like Spaccavento much more common.

A place in the record books still awaits after three shots deep to the right.

“It must be the first in the program’s history,” Albarella said. “And he wasn’t cheated. The home runs would have been ruled out at Yankee Stadium. They were legitimate hits.”

Next year, the longtime Mets fan will travel to Red Sox country at Division I Merrimack College. The plan is to study finance and maybe touch some other dingers.

Spaccavento joked that he can’t remember the last time he dived twice in a match, let alone three. His parents found the balls from the home run and plan to keep them in a display case.

“I hope to start a collection,” Spaccavento said. “The first of a long series.”

Joey Spacavento

Sport: Baseball

The school: Northern Highlands

Classroom: Senior. Age: 18

Achievement: Spaccavento went 11 for 16 at the plate with four home runs and nine RBIs in his team’s four games.

Also nominated: Yutaka Uchida from Leonia, Michael Garbarino from Saddle Brook, Michael Rizzo from Lyndhurst, Derrick Romero from Elmwood Park, Dylan Benanti from Hackensack, Sean Guzman from Ridgefield Park, Phil Centineo from Waldwick, Austin West from Passaic Valley, Domenic Maucione from Becton, Jack Guerrero of River Dell, Kyle Bratcher of Park Ridge, Steven Peralta of Passaic Tech, Jude Clough of DePaul, Christian Gerace of North Arlington, Jamie Zee of Bergen Catholic and Jordan Vega of Wallington for baseball; Mahwah’s Richard Sciaino and Tenafly’s Ben Roberts for lacrosse; Jun Chun from Old Tappan for golf and Masa Hamada from Bergenfield for volleyball.


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