Tommy Reifler stands in an opposing dugout and is every team’s worst nightmare. Garden City’s senior shortstop is the complete player, with the instinct of a wolf, the speed of a greyhound and the discipline of a Zen master.
He can hurt an opponent in a myriad of ways: with his flawless glove, rifle arm, fleet baserunning or with his meticulous work at the plate.
“He will beat you one way or another,” Trojans coach Dave Izzo said. “He’s an aggressive player but he does it with a surgeon’s precision. He is beyond reliable and never makes mistakes where others would. He’s playing baseball on a high, high level.”
Reifler is the 2019 Diamond Award winner for position players, given annually to Nassau’s best, and received the distinction on Wednesday night at the Marriott in Uniondale. In a strong campaign for Garden City (16-5), Reifler hit .500 with an on-base percentage of .571 out of the leadoff spot. He had 13 extra-base hits, compiled a 1.336 OPS and was 14-for-15 on stolen-base attempts, including a successful steal of home.
In seasons past, Reifler would start the season on a tear only to hit an offensive downturn. “This season there was no lull,” Izzo said. “He was as consistent at the plate as he was in the field and on the bases. It’s the measure of a great player.”
“I tried to be as good a hitter as I could at the plate this season,” Reifler said. “I’ve never been the [signature] hitter in a lineup. I feel like I was able to be a bigger contributor than last year.”
Asked about his better hitting performances, Reifler noted a game against Manhasset in which he was a home run short of the cycle. “I went off the wall twice and that was something to remember,” he said.
Reifler’s plays in the field, however, are the ones that seem to stand out. They underscore his instincts, intellect and ingenuity. A small sampling of his brilliance:
• Against New Hyde Park, Reifler made a throw from shallow leftfield to cut down a runner at the plate, a throw few shortstops would even attempt.”I was able to set my feet and it ended up preventing a big run in a close game,” Reifler said.
• Against Bellmore JFK, he tried to track down a short fly ball toward center with a man on second but failed to make the over-the-shoulder catch; he still picked up the ball on one bounce and gunned down the runner trying to advance to third. “He was alert and made the perfect throw,” Izzo said.
• He was in position and made the perfect read on a soft liner to second and had the wherewithal to beat the runner on second back to the base and then made the throw to first in an astonishing triple play against Carey.
• And he had the sense, playing in with two runners in scoring position and one out against Plainedge, to snatch a line drive to his left and beat the runner— who was behind him — to the base for a double play.
“This kid has unreal defensive instincts.” Izzo said. “Who makes plays like that?”
“Before any play happens I am aware of where every baserunner is,” Reifler said. “My dad [David] taught me to always have an inner clock. How much time does a baserunner have to get to a base? Where is my next play to?”
Though Reifler batted .366 during his four-year career, this was his best season. In 21 games he had hits in 19 and more than one hit in 12, including all of the team’s first seven contests.He struck out just once.
But there is another aspect of the game that might be the Binghamton commit’s favorite: baserunning.
“Where my instincts on defense are my most memorable plays, I like being a problem on the bases for the [opposition],” Reifler said. “The problems I can cause on the bases rattle a pitcher. It helps my teammates and opens the door on big innings.”
In addition to the steal of home, he was balked there one time. “I like wreaking havoc when I am on base,” Reifler said. “In the field I restore order so it’s fun to put pressure on a defense.”
A baseball intellectual, Reifler is one of those players who can recount every pitch he got, every scenario he assessed and every play. It’s one of the hallmarks of great baseball players and makes him someone who could be a difference-maker in college.