Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mahopac-Bred Rief's Success Continues

 CJ Riefenhauser left home with a few dollars, a dream, and a level of perseverance that gives Mahopac baseball coach Chris Miller a tingle.

“He always had that dream (to get drafted),” said Miller of Riefenhauser, who was snagged by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 20th round of the 2010 MLB draft.

“(C.J.) always made decisions that would lead to that dream. He bounced from school to school, which is where the perseverance came from. He always wanted to get drafted. Once he did, he wasn’t going to squander that opportunity and worked even harder."

Miller, a la many others in Riefenhauser’s circle, is cognizant that Riefenhauser's unflappable mentality has been crucial. He’s watched his evolution from NCAA journeyman to promising professional unfold.

The road to Riefenhauser's dream has been far from straight. That curvy, pothole-filled road included a pass-through at nearby Iona College, which lasted just one semester.

The road included a curve at Guilford Tech in Jamestown, North Carolina.

Authoring a book on the nation’s most obscure colleges, Riefenhauser's apex would occur during a chapter at Chopola Junior College (Marianna, Fla).

"I was in the middle of nowhere,” Riefenhauser recalls.
 "It was culture shock at first. But I got used to it. I mean, I've been just about everywhere. Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina. It’s been a fun ride.”

The kid they call ‘Rief’ penned with Chopola (sounds more like a chocolate chip cookie recipe than a reputable NCAA breeding house) because it was baseball school, with a history of churning out pro-level talent.

He remembers playing games before a pin drop quiet crowd of 10 people. He recalls long, brutal bus rides through Florida’s swamplands.

Any time Riefenhauser sees a cheap, rickety motel, memories of his campus-to-campus and minor league journey resurface.

Shortly after committing to Division-I Elon on what appeared to be another stop on his unpredictable college journey, Riefenhauser was drafted.
Riefenhauser's never let his focus falter.

The goal is day-to-day progress. The top-order commitment is to keeping batters guessing. Riefenhauser's velocity and movement has rendered him a tough hit.

In the end, the travel and labor has been worth it for Riefenhauser. The 23-year-old pitched a perfect frame during the 2013 MLB All Star Futures game at Citi Field.

At Triple A Durham, a baseball-crazed town made famous by the epic Kevin Costner film, “Bull Durham,” Riefenhauser said the fan base has been solid.

It's vastly different than playing on the Florida JUCO circuit, when he heard crickets chirping even while engaged in a 3-2 battle with some hard-raking righty.

The 23-year-old, who has hiked his fastball up to 91-93 MPH range, has an ERA of 1.83 and a WHIP of 0.97. He’s fanned 20, walked eight, yielded 11 hits, and surrendered just four earned runs.

Riefenhauser said thoughts of having a cup of coffee, a cocktail, or a contract in the big leagues have not crossed his mind lately.

“I honestly haven’t invested thought on that at all,” the Mahopac native said.

“You only worry about the things you can control and change. The things that you can’t control, you can’t get tangled up thinking about them.”

Durham (86-54) has ripped three of its last four during a slapdash second half of the season full of back-to-back-to-back games. 

"It's a constant grind after the All-Star break," Riefenhauser said. "That's the beauty of it."

Riefenhauser has taken workaday steps to sharpen up his command and utilize his breaking ball more. He's managed to mesh in a changeup as well.