Jeff Pearlman

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A Very Mahopac Day

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Signed on to Twitter today and saw this lovely posting from @TTM_Todd …

For those who don’t know, I come from a very small town. Sorta like the base of Footloose, only more traffic lights, dancing allowed, some excellent coffee shops and pizza joints. But, still, quite tiny, and the sorta place where everyone knows everyone, and if you don’t know everyone you know someone who knows everyone.

I digress. Back in the late-1980s, Mahopac (traditionally a prep football hotbed) was all about baseball. In 1986 the Mahopac High Indians were even ranked in the USA Today’s national top 25, powered in large part by the pitching brilliance of a quiet left-hander named Dave Fleming. I wrote about it here in a 2013 SB Nation piece—the team went 19-3 behind Dave’s All-American season. Afterward, he attended the University of Georgia, pitched the Bulldogs to a College World Series title, and was selected by the Mariners in the third round of the 1990 Draft.

It was all dizzying and electrifying for my hometown. We’d had a few athletes make it semi-big—Peggy Storrar became a field hockey star at the University of North Carolina. Teddy Lawrence was drafted by the Detroit Tigers. But this felt different. It felt … legit.

Hence, on the day Dave was called up by the Mariners, we lost our collective shit. I was interning at the Putnam Trader, our local weekly, and I still remember Joe Lombardi, the sports editor, telling me the news. It was explosive and thrilling and surreal. Dave Fleming—Seattle Mariner? No way. No, no, no, no, no way.

But it was real. And legit …

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This, from my SB Nation piece, followed …

That night, Dave Fleming arrived at the Oakland Coliseum midway through the third inning. He signed his contract in the clubhouse, slipped into uniform No. 56 and was sent to the bullpen by Jim Lefebvre, the team’s manager. He hadn’t slept in 16 hours. “They told me to get loose in the eighth inning,” he says. “Jose Canseco was up, Harold Baines was on deck. If Canseco got on, I was told I’d go in to face Baines.”

When Canseco singled to left, the bullpen phone rang. Fleming’s first two pitches were balls, prompting Pete O’Brien, the Mariner first baseman, to approach the mound and pat the rookie on the back. “Don’t worry about the runner,” he said, motioning toward Canseco. “He’s not going anywhere.” On the next pitch, Canseco took off, and catcher Dave Cochrane nailed him.

Inning over. “Man, was I relieved,” Fleming says. “Just to get it out of the way.”

He stuck with Seattle for two more weeks, returned to Calgary, and then rejoined the Mariners when the Triple-A playoffs concluded. In Mahopac, it was all greeted cautiously. Lombardi ran occasional updates, but the demotion took the bloom off the rose. Some assumed we’d heard the last of Dave Fleming as a Major Leaguer. Nice story, but over before it began.

The next year Dave made the team out of spring training, then went 17-11 with a 3.39 ERA. The Mariners were awful, but Fleming was fantastic. It was one win after another after another, and we Mahopacians talked about it nonstop. Did you see what Fleming did last night? Did you hear?

All sports careers come to an end, as did Dave’s. He now works as a teacher in Connecticut, seemingly content away from the spotlight that was once his life.

For me, and much of Mahopac, Aug. 6, 1991 remains a glorious memory.

A truly glorious memory.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life