MAHOPAC, N.Y. – With the sports world at a standstill, there is perhaps no better time to remember the past.
That’s what Mahopac High School did on Saturday, June 27, when the baseball program retired the jersey numbers of Dave Fleming (No. 16) and C.J. Riefenhauser (No. 7)—the only two Indians to play Major League Baseball.
Fleming, a 6-foot-3 left-handed pitcher, graduated from Mahopac in 1987 after posting a 7-0 record with a 0.26 ERA his senior season. He walked just 9 batters that year, said Frank Miele, his high-school coach.
“I’ve had pitchers throw 9 walks in 5 innings,” Miele said. “He’d throw anywhere that he wanted to. He’d hit the corner, he’d throw inside, he’d throw a curveball, he’d throw whatever.”
Fleming went on to pitch for the University of Georgia, leading the Bulldogs to their only College World Series win in 1990. That year, he was taken in the third round of the MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners. As a rookie in 1992, Fleming went 17-10 with a 3.39 ERA, finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting. He played several more years with the Mariners and the Kansas City Royals, finishing his Big League career with 38 wins in 97 starts.
Fleming, now a teacher, was unable to attend the ceremony, held near the baseball field at the Mahopac Falls School.
Mahopac’s other sensational southpaw, C.J. Riefenhauser, remembered that field fondly.
“Stepping back on this field not only reminds me of great memories, but a great foundation as well,” Riefenhauser said. “This is where I fell in love with the game and here is where I learned all about life. This is a special place for me.”
Miele, the retiring athletic director whose second stint with the district ended on Tuesday, said he wasn’t sure how a couple of Major Leaguers would feel about having their high-school jersey numbers retired.
“I swear to God, it was almost like I gave them the MVP,” Miele said. “They were so honored and humbled.”
Riefenhauser, who is now the varsity baseball coach at neighboring Yorktown High School, played for Miele’s successor, Frank Moloney.
“It feels like yesterday that I watched him pitch for the first time as a ninth grader up on that field at the middle school,” Moloney said of his captain and All-Section pitcher. “I knew instantly when I saw his demeanor on the mound that he was special. As a player, he was tremendous leader and tenacious competitor. He would get better as the situation became more tense.”
After graduating from Mahopac, Riefenhauser suited up for Chipola Junior College—whose team name is also the Indians. He was then drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 20th round of the 2010 MLB Draft. He made his Big League debut in 2014 at Yankee Stadium, retiring all four batters he faced. A reliever, Riefenhauser pitched in 24 games for the Rays in 2014 and 2015.
Riefenhauser thanked his coaches, friends and family for allowing him to follow his dream.
“They always reminded me: once an Indian, always an Indian. And that will stay with me forever,” Riefenhauser said. “Just seeing my number on here is something special, and I thank everyone here for being a part of this.”
Presiding over the well-attended jersey retirement ceremony was one of Miele’s final acts as athletic director. He graduated from Mahopac High School in 1967 and then worked 39 years for the district in various roles: physical education teacher, assistant principal, football coach, baseball coach, and athletic director. He retired in 2011 but returned last summer as interim athletic director.
Miele, pointing to the outfield scoreboard, said it once displayed three retired numbers: Ted Lawrence’s No. 9, Chris Tantalos’ No. 25 and Miele’s No. 20. At some point, Miele said, the numbers went missing.
“I don’t know if they walked away. I don’t know what happened to them,” Miele said. “So, I said, before I leave, we’re going to bring those three numbers back at the same time we are going to add two final pieces—as of right now.”
Miele invited Lawrence back for the rededication of his jersey number.
“Ted Lawrence was the first and only person who played for me for four years,” Miele said. “In my 22 years, he was the finest catcher that I was associated with.”
Lawrence was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1985 and played for the organization’s minor-league affiliates.
“I attribute my greatest growth as a player and person to playing for Frank Miele,” Lawrence said. “To me having my jersey retired in 1985, the year I was drafted by the Detroit Tigers, was the single most culminating event that could happen to me as a player. It meant that you were among the very best to play for a legendary coach and baseball program.”
Tantalos, another promising pitcher, helped lead Mahopac to two section titles and two regional championships. At Norwalk Community College, he won the 1998 NJCAA Division III Baseball World Series. He was training toward a pro career, catching the eye of Major League teams, when he was killed in a car crash in 2000.
“Sometimes they say, somebody takes the good people first. Maybe that’s why I’m standing and he’s gone. His life was cut a little too short,” Miele said. “When I think about him, it’s almost like he’s right here and I can still see him on that mound. All I know is, when I needed that one pitch, that one inning, it was Chris Tantalos.”
Last of was Miele, who was in no hurry to start a life away from Mahopac sports. As the final speaker of the day, Miele broke his own 2-minute rule that he imposed on other speakers.
“It’s not raining yet. Relax,” Miele said to the crowd as he told stories of the past. “This is my last go-ahead. I won’t ever have a mic again.”
Miele coached Mahopac baseball from 1979 to 2000, winning 375 games, 15 league titles, five section titles and three regional titles.
“I’ve had the greatest life that anybody could ever have,” Miele said.