Frazier’s First Home Game As A Yankee

Press conference (Photo courtesy the New York Yankees)

NEW YORK CITY – Hundreds of members of the Todd Frazier Fan Club visited Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night.

The object of their affection was the former Toms River High School South and Little League standout who was traded to the New York Yankees from the Chicago White Sox on July 18.

“There are 600 fans here for me. … 500-600 are coming,” he said at a press conference at Yankee Stadium prior to a game against the Cincinnati Reds – the team that drafted the ex-Toms River East American Little League star. “A couple of busloads of fans and two of my Little League coaches are coming. I left 22 tickets for family and friends. They get a little more expensive over here. Just to have my family here to cheer me on…

“I am very excited. It’s a homecoming – something you can only dream of. There were 15-20 texts on my phone when I woke up this morning. I can’t be happier. I felt like a little kid last night.”

Playing in the first home game of his career in the Yankees’ famed pinstripes, Frazier started at third base in a 4-2 New York win. Frazier, who grounded into a triple play, was 1-for-2, drew one walk and stranded two runners. He’s hitting .205 with 16 homers, 44 runs batted in 43 runs scored, four steals and a .742 OPS (on base plus slugging) on the season.

Frazier received a first-inning roll call from the New York fans and acknowledged the gesture with a wave of a hand. He retired the game’s initial hitter, fielding a grounder in front of an announced crowd of 44,268 patrons.

Todd Frazier on the field during his first home game as a New York Yankee. (Photo courtesy Jeremy Grunin)

“Huge, huge,” Frazier said after the game. “To play in front of these fans is awesome. The roll call was very exciting. This is very exciting for me and my family. Hopefully, I will keep it rolling. I love it.”

Frazier’s first at-bat in the pinstripes was one for the books as he banged into a 6-3-5-6 triple play with the bases loaded in the second inning. Despite the triple play, the Yankees took a 1-0 lead on his grounder to shortstop. He hit seventh in the order.

“I had a big opportunity,” he said. “I will keep plugging away.”

With the Yankees up 1-0, Frazier led off the fifth and ripped a 1-1 pitch between third and shortstop for a single in his second at-bat of the game. He was erased on a force play for the first out of the inning.

With New York in front 3-1 in the sixth, Frazier walked on a 3-2 pitch with two out and moved to second on a passed ball. The inning ended as Tyler Wade grounded out.

Frazier starred on the East American all-star team that won the 1998 Little League World Series. He went 4-for-4, including a leadoff home run, notched the game-winning strikeout and was the winning pitcher in a 12-9 win over a team from Japan that was the Far East and International champion in the final game of the Series.

To celebrate its title, East American was invited by the Yankees to Yankee Stadium on Sept. 1, 1998 when New York faced the Oakland Athletics. Each Toms River player was introduced to the fans and invited to stand next to his Yankee position counterpart during The National Anthem.

Frazier, a shortstop, wound up standing next to Derek Jeter. Frazier played for the National League against Jeter in the 2014 All-Star Game – the first for Frazier and the final for Jeter. a few days later, Frazier helped the Reds honor the Yankee captain’s final year in baseball in a special pre-game tribute.

“It’s gonna be great,” Frazier said. “I will be taking batting practice where all of the greats played, especially Derek Jeter.”

Frazier said he benefited from his Little League days.

Todd Frazier on the field during his first home game as a New York Yankee. (Photo courtesy Jeremy Grunin)

“We were not the biggest team, but we were scrappy,” he said. “We hit more home runs than anyone else. The memories are the friends I made. I still have two bags of pins at home. Playing in front of 40,000 people can only help. We had a home run derby and infield competitions each day in practice. I try to bring that fun on the field even though I am being paid a lot of money.”

A Toms River resident, Frazier said he and his family plan to reside in North Jersey during the season.

“We will live in the Fort Lee area,” he said. “Right now, I will commute until I find a place. I will be stuck in traffic yelling at the steering wheel.”

Frazier’s part of the press conference lasted 13 minutes. Teammate Dave Robertson, a relief pitcher, followed. Frazier, 31, is among the team’s leaders in major-league experience.

“I was traded here for a reason,” he said. “I’ve gotta step it up and hopefully I will do that. I won’t step on anyone’s toes.”

Frazier said he has spoken with the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, the team’s slugging right fielder.

“I have a great dialogue with him about hitting,” Frazier said.

The game was telecast live on Channel 11, WPIX. One of the broadcasters was Al Leiter, the former Central Regional standout who pitched for the Yankees. Leiter, who graduated in 1984 when he led the Golden Eagles to an NJSIAA Group state title, spoke of the intense rivalry between South and Central.

Upon his arrival in New York, Frazier changed his jersey number from No. 21 to No. 29 as No. 21 is unofficially retired by the Yankees for outfielder Paul O’Neill. Frazier had worn No. 21 throughout his entire career in honor of O’Neill as he had grown up as a fan of the Yankees.

Frazier said he hoped to speak to O’Neill to gain permission to wear the number. However, clubhouse manager Rob Cucuzza told Frazier that it would not happen.

Frazier will receive $12 million to play major league baseball this season, according to Spotrac, which reports on athletic contracts. He will likely become a free agent after the end of this season.

South coach Ken Frank said he sees Frazier flourishing with the Yankees.

“They are a great fit for him,” Frank said. “He brings them another winning attitude in the locker room and is surrounded by big time players. He is sort of the older guy now and one thing he knows how to do is win. He finds a way to get it done. He is a good team person. Everyone gets along with Todd. They need a little spark and the Yankees will be a spark for Todd, too.

“Todd loves the competition. He plays the game hard and that does not happen with a lot of the young kids. His attitude is the extra tool that makes him better than most.”

On Dec. 16, 2015, Frazier was traded to the White Sox from the Reds. During the 2016 season, he placed second in the MLB Home Run Derby. In his first full year with the White Sox, he finished with career highs in home runs, runs batted in and walks. However, he hit a career-low .225 in 158 games. At the time he was traded to the Yankees, Frazier slugged 16 homers and knocked in 44 runs while batting .207 through 81 games.

Frazier through July 22 slugged 164 career homers, had a career batting average of .246, drove in 466 career runs and sped to 62 career stolen bases.

Frank, who nurtured Frazier while he was with the Indians, said he has seen his protege play in the stadiums of the Yankees, the New York Mets, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles.

“My favorite stadium is in Philadelphia (Citizens Bank Park),” Frank said. “After the game, they set up food and beverages for those who visited the players and you sit around and chat with the other players. They treat you very well and they were kind enough to let me into the locker room after the game. It is great to spend time with Todd and the other players. Todd also took me to the dugout where I had baseballs signed.”

Frank said he is not surprised at Frazier’s success.

“I always felt he would be a star or at least get a shot at it,” he said. “He had all of the tools and the personality to go with it. When my dad attended the Little League World Series (in 1998), he said Todd would make it in either Hollywood or professional baseball as he had a great personality and was a good young man.”

The 6-foot-3 Frazier has not forgotten his roots.

“He is one of those guys who will be the first one to come to your side and help you out,” Frank said. “He is a gentleman when he has to be and an athlete when he has to be. Todd does not forget the people who were little parts of his life. I am proud to say I have coached him. I love watching him play and meeting the other players through Todd. The only thing he has not done in the majors is be with a winner.”

Frazier played on the Indians’ Group III state championship teams in 2002 and 2003.

“When Todd was in high school, we always used the word ‘composure,’ ” Frank said. “He has kept his composure through good and bad. When he was in a batting slump, he made a positive out of it as he did not let things bother him.”

Frank said he saw Frazier, who also starred in basketball for the Indians, play baseball for the first time as a Little Leaguer.

Yankee Stadium. (Photo courtesy Jeremy Grunin)

“He played the game with passion and was happy and competitive,” Frank said. “He was always happy and always competitive. When he was at South, he would turn it up a notch during batting practice when the (professional) scouts were watching. The more pressure you put on Todd, the better he gets. He likes pressure.”

Frazier was selected 34th overall by the Reds in June of 2007 out of Rutgers University. His first major-league season with the Reds was 2011.

He came up big off the field with the Reds in 2012, saving the life of a man choking on a piece of steak by administering the Heimlich maneuver. Frazier was named the National League’s Outstanding Rookie by the Major League Baseball Players Association in 2012 while with the Reds. During the 2013 season, Frazier hit a homer for the Reds’ honorary batboy Teddy Kremer, an adult with Down syndrome.

Frazier was a National League All-Star in 2014 and 2015. He was the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game spokesperson.

He won the Home Run Derby in Cincinnati in 2015 when he was with the Reds and captured the Heart and Hustle Award last season with the White Sox.

Frazier sparkled at Rutgers where he was named the 2007 Big East Conference Player of the Year after batting .377, posting a .502 on-base percentage and notching a .757 slugging percentage. His 42 homers and 210 runs scored are career records at Rutgers where he played from 2005-07.

“Rutgers was great,” Frazier said. “It was a privilege to play with (coach) Fred Hill Sr. We had a good bunch of guys. We were scrappy. We gave guys a battle. We fought hard. That makes you a better athlete and a better person. Seven guys were drafted with me.”

During 2012, Frazier married his longtime girlfriend, Jackie Verdon, a former Rutgers gymnast. In March of 2014, the couple had their first child, a son named Blake. Their daughter, Kylie Kimberly, was born in December of 2015. Frazier’s name graces the Little League field called Frazier Field House.

The 220-pound Frazier is a fan of Frank Sinatra, who hailed from Hoboken. He often chooses Sinatra’s songs when he steps to the batter’s box prior to an at-bat. Sinatra music played over the public address system as Frazier stepped into the batter’s box Tuesday night.

Frazier’s brother, Jeff, starred at South and Rutgers and played for the Detroit Tigers. Another brother, Charles, excelled at South and was a Florida Marlins farmhand. Charles Frazier pitched to Todd Frazier during the 2014, 2015 and 2016 Home Run Derbys.

“Jeff and Charles are here,” Frazier said. “I hope to get my son in our locker room.”

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Chris Christopher covers sports for Micromedia Publications Inc. with knowledge, pride and passion. His beats are the high school, college, professional, youth and recreational scenes. A three-time New Jersey Press Association award winner for sports writing, Christopher was inducted into the Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Fame in 2015 for his work in the media. The Lakewood resident enjoys taking walks in Ocean County Park and on the boardwalks in Ocean and Monmouth counties and rooting for the New York Mets.