Jersey boy Todd Frazier’s the kid everyone wants to play with

By Bob Behre

 

(This story was written for Diamond Nation Magazine in the middle of the 2015 MLB season when Todd Frazier was playing for the Reds. So much about the Yankees’ Todd Frazier shines through. And he is now shining on the big playoff stage for the Bronx Bombers. For those wondering if the Yankees should re-sign Frazier for 2018, the answer should be a resounding yes).

There’s always that kid everyone wants to play baseball with, whether it’s for his innate ability, a knack for getting it done in big spots or simply for his effusive, infectious approach to the game.

Then there is Todd Frazier, New Jersey’s representative on the Cincinnati Reds, who has found a way to bottle all of those wondrous gifts and generously keep that container uncorked for all of us to enjoy.

“Todd just gets better and better every year,” says Garden State coaching legend Kenny Frank, who should know. Frank had the pleasure of inserting Frazier in the leadoff spot of his lineup for four years at Toms River South and has the perspective of having seen him mature since his Little League days.

Frazier really is the gift that keeps on giving to the New Jersey baseball community.

He has answered a 2014 season in which he hit 29 home runs, drove in 80 runs and batted .273 with an even better 2015 in what is the 29 year-old’s fourth full season in the major leagues. Frazier is arguably putting forth an MVP caliber campaign, having hit 23 home runs, knocked in 49 runs and batted .289 through just 69 games.

“Todd has the best attitude of any player I’ve ever had, in reference to coming to play every day,” said Fred Hill, the now retired Rutgers University baseball coach. “Whether he went 4-for-4 or 0-for-4 the day before it didn’t matter. He came to play the next day like nothing happened.” Frazier had a lot more good days than bad at Rutgers.

He first delivered in a major spotlight as a 12 year-old on the Toms River East Little League team that took the country, and Williamsport, Pennsylvania, by storm in 1998. One of the leaders on a talented team labeled the “Beast From the East,” Frazier hit a leadoff home run, went 4-for-4 and was the winning pitcher in the Little League World Series championship victory over Kyoto, Japan.

It’s always a good start to your baseball career to carry the emotions of an entire country on your shoulders and get it done with millions watching on TV – all at the age of 12.

Frazier shined brightly again during an outstanding high school career that included two First Team All-State selections, three consecutive group championship berths and two NJSIAA Group 3 championships at Toms River South.

Coach Frank wisely batted the speedy, powerful and athletic Frazier at the top of his lineup, but for a much simpler reason than to maximize those abilities. “I wanted to get him five at bats instead of four,” said Frank. “That was the key, getting him up to the plate as much as possible.”

Frazier could have gone straight to pro ball like older brother Charlie, but chose Rutgers, like another older brother, Jeff, and, subsequently, gave another coaching staff and fan base in New Jersey three years of watching that uncorked bottle spread his baseball goodwill.

Charlie Frazier, drafted in the sixth round by the Marlins in 1999, reached the Double-A level in 2004 before ending his career. Jeff Frazier was drafted in the third round by the Tigers in 2004 and made ‘The Show’ in 2010, playing in nine games.

All you really need to know about the kind of person Todd Frazier is occurred in a game against the Miami Marlins in April 18, 2013. Ted Kremer, the Red’s occasional bat boy at the time who lives with Down Syndrome, asked Frazier to hit a home run for him. Frazier said he would, and hit a two-run home run in the sixth inning.

The scene with Kremer jumping around in celebration around home plate and Frazier picking up the young man in the dugout in a bear hug will forever live in a much-watched video.

“It was great how excited he was – that look,” Frazier told the Cincinnati Enquirer after the game. “I started smiling even before I hit home plate because I knew it. They said he forgot to pick the bat up, so the umpire was yelling to him. Such a great guy. You can’t get mad – even if you have a terrible day. How can you be mad when you’ve got a guy like that around.”

The Reds were in the middle of a rough 2015 season, sitting in fourth place in the National League Central with a pedestrian 32-37 record at the time of printing. Perhaps this explains Frazier’s big 2015 season. He was giving the Reds everything he had to keep their collective noses above water.

More likely, it is his time. Todd Frazier gets better every year. He did it in Little League, high school and college. There should be no surprise he “keeps getting better and better” as coach Frank says.

Frazier’s outstanding start to the season has him in second place in the National League All-Star voting behind the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter and a sure bet to be selected to the All-Star Game, which, interestingly enough is in Cincinnati.

“My father told me once that Todd will be in Hollywood one day,” said Frank. “He’ll be the ambassador to the All-Star Game. He has an aura about him. If you look on the field before a game, everyone is talking to Todd.”

Frazier was the Big East Conference Player of the Year in 2007 and rated as the top professional prospect in the Northern Region by Baseball America. That’s not bad for a kid who had to wait until the 37th round for Colorado to call his name as a high school senior in 2004.

It would be easy, but incorrect, to assume this has been an easy ride for Frazier, a trip to the major leagues that came with the simple whip of his bat. Hardly. Frazier is a grinder in the true sense. He was drafted 34th overall by the Reds in 2007 after three highly successful seasons at Rutgers. He still holds career records at the school for home runs and runs and single season records for home runs, doubles and runs.

But Frazier had plenty of work ahead of him in the Reds’ minor league system. It would take him four full seasons of steady but sure improvement before he got the call and made his debut on May 23, 2011. He was 25 and struck out in his only at bat. He was sent back down to Triple-A Louisville the next day.

Frazier played third base, left field, second base, shortstop, first base and DH for the Reds over his first three seasons but has, the past two seasons, settled in as the team’s full time third baseman.

Through all of his success, Frazier has had seemingly one big moment after another. It started with that 4-for-4 performance in the Little League World Series championship game, or likely prior to that. Who knows how many Little League games he won for his teams back in Toms River.

After being named to his first All-Star Game last year, Frazier was invited to compete in the Home Run Derby. An afterthought in the Derby among the game’s competing superstars, Frazier reached the final before losing to Yoenis Cespedes.

He would have a full day on May 27, 2012.

He hit a home run off the Rockies’ Jamie Moyer in a 7-5 Reds win despite the fact the bat slipped out of his hands as he was swinging. The ball traveled 400 feet. Later that night, at a restaurant with teammates, Frazier heard a man choking (on a piece of steak) and administered the Heimlich maneuver, saving his life.

“I gave two pumps and it came out,” he told reporters the next day. “It was pretty surreal. I have never done that before.”

Frazier’s college hitting coach, Glen Gardner, said, “It seems like Todd’s always in big spots, but so is everyone else. The difference is, they don’t execute and you forget about them. Todd succeeds so much in big spots you think he’s in big spots more often. He’s done it at every level.”

And Frazier has remained humble and true to his New Jersey roots, as Frank relates in a story from May 26 (2015). Toms River South had just lost 1-0 to Mainland in the South Jersey, Group 3 sectional semifinals.

“One of our coaches said, ‘Todd just called and said, damn, I just got a text that South lost 1-0,’” said Frank. “Todd never forgets.”