Leiter, Frazier, Elias And Edgar Share How They Became Sports Legends

Al Leiter (left) displays why he was nicknamed Animated Al by then-Ocean County Observer columnist Chris Christopher. He was interviewed with Frankie Edgar, Todd Frazier, and Keith Elias. (Photo courtesy Tom Naclerio)

  TOMS RIVER – Four sports legends shared their stories, charting their careers for hundreds of people – many of whom were aspiring athletes – at Ocean County College.

  On stage at Aspirations of a Professional Athlete, which attracted 305 registrants, were ex-Central Regional High School baseball standout Al Leiter, who achieved major league greatness; Todd Frazier of Toms River East American Little League and major league fame; former Lacey and Princeton University football star Keith Elias; and ex-Toms River East wrestler and mixed martial artist Frankie Edgar. Retired broadcast journalist Kevin Williams was the event’s moderator.

  Leiter, inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame last summer, was a lefty major-league pitcher from 1987-2005. The two-time All-Star was on three World Series championship teams.

(from left) Al Leiter, Toms River resident Jay Mutter and Todd Frazier share a moment at the event. (Photo courtesy Jay Mutter)

  Frazier excelled on the 1998 Little League World Series champion East team and was a two-time All-Star. The former Toms River South and Rutgers University standout won the 2015 Major League Baseball Home Run Derby and finished second in the event in 2016. The third baseman was chosen 34th in the first round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.  

  Elias enjoyed record setting careers at Lacey and Princeton at running back and competed for the New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts. He began his pro career with the Giants as an undrafted free agent. He closed his career with the New York-New Jersey Hitmen of the now defunct XFL. His No. 20 jersey was retired by the Lacey chapter of the Jersey Shore Pop Warner Football League and Lacey’s Lions.

  Edgar won the 2010 Ultimate Fighting Championship Lightweight title and defended it three times before losing it in 2014. The 2010 UFC Fighter of the Year will be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame (Modern Wing, Class of 2024) this summer.

  Fielding questions from Williams, the icons spoke. Admirers asked questions. An autograph session concluded the event.

  “During my junior year at Princeton, pro scouts came to my practices,” said Elias, the Senior Director of NFL Player Engagement and the owner of a history degree. “That’s when I realized a pro career was a real possibility.”

  Frazier will work 20 pre and postgame shows and four games in the booth in his second season with the YES Network as a commentator. He will cover New York Yankees games. He also worked two spring training games. He will be a commentator on ESPN’s coverage of the 2024 Little League World Series. 

  “My Little League career was the first time I got my name out there a little bit,” Frazier said. “When I was in the seventh grade, a guy came to me and said, ‘Fill out a player card.’ I was 13 years old back then and I said, ‘This is what I want to do,’ and lo and behold it came true.”

(from left) Al Leiter, Todd Frazier, Frankie Edgar, and Keith Elias meet fans. (Photo courtesy Tom Naclerio)

  “I have always been a dreamer,” said Edgar, the owner of Frankie Edgar’s Iron Army Academy, a Toms River mixed martial arts school. “I wanted to be a professional baseball player. I went to a baseball camp and said, ‘I guess I won’t be doing baseball.’ “

  Leiter was selected by the Yankees in the second round out of Central. He was drafted 50th overall. 

  “I was fortunate to be a good student,” said Leiter, a commentator on the MLB Network. “I received a whopping $105,000 bonus to sign with the Yankees. That slot is now worth about $4 million. Bucky Dent was a manager of mine in the minors and he said, ‘You’re going to Yankee Stadium.’ It always felt like a dream. It took a lot of work. I said to Bucky, ‘Why am I going to New York?’ He said, ‘You’re going to the big leagues.’ You create your own luck.”

  Elias said Lacey coach Lou Vircillo played a large role in his development.

  “He was my mentor,” Elias said. “He taught me everything I needed to know. He told me which college all-star games I should play in. He taught me how to handle the media. Football started with me in a basement with pillows. Lacey Township is an awesome community. You could stay out late and it was safe.”

  Frazier spoke highly of South coach Ken Frank and then-Rutgers mentor Fred Hill.  

  “Coach Frank taught me how to be a man on and off the field,” Frazier said. “Coach Hill broke everything down fundamentally. I told him, ‘I did those drills in T-ball.’ He taught me to get after it and be fundamentally sound.”

  Edgar had high praise for Steve Rivera, a coach, and Toms River.

  “He taught me how to compete,” Edgar said. “He coaches my kids. Toms River is a special place. It’s a big part of who I am. It’s a city, but then it is not. I am glad I am raising my kids here.”

  “A lot of people factor into our lives,” Leiter said. “Dave Righetti (a Yankees teammate) taught me how to be a pro. I’d do anything for him. We are who we are based on our past. I make the effort to come back to the people I grew up with.”

  “The biggest things are opportunity and luck,” Frazier said. “I was lucky enough to make a good amount of money. I still had to go through the grind of the minor leagues. It took me six years to make it to the majors. At one point, I was 0-for-31 at the plate with the Reds. My manager, Dusty Baker, said, ‘The Cincinnati Reds are looking for another third baseman.’ I said, ‘Oh bleep.’ “

  “When I made the major leagues,” Leiter said, “the minimum salary was $62,000. Now, it’s $700,000. I never thought about money as it totally clouds the process. That actually benefited me. I grabbed the controllable and that was my money.”

  Edgar traveled a bumpy road to stardom.

Al Leiter (left), Todd Frazier (right) and Ocean County College athletics director Ilene Cohen (center) enjoy a moment with the Vikings. (Photo courtesy Tom Naclerio)

  “My life has been filled with adversity,” he said. “My heart has been ripped out many, many times.”

  Elias was sold short. As an NFLer, he was nicknamed Rudy, the movie character who played for the University of Notre Dame despite his small stature.

  “When I played in the East-West Shrine Game, a guy from USC (University of Southern California) said, ‘Are you from Princeton University? What are you, the kicker?’ ” Elias recalled. “I cried on my bed in my hotel room and said, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.'”

  Leiter said social media is damaging.

  “It has hurt professional athletes,” he said. “Players are afraid to misstep. Social media is a distraction. A lot of people don’t like other people’s success. I think social media is awful.”

  “Nothing is hidden anymore,” Frazier said. “Stuff is leaked out. That should be leveled off. Nothing is kept within the team. It can be used for good things such as raising money.” 

 Leiter whiffed 32 Wall Township hitters in 13 innings as a senior. Counterpart John Spinapont struck out 18 Golden Eagles in a tie game cut short by the umpires because of rain. Leiter tossed the first no-hitter in Florida Marlins history on May 11,1996, Mother’s Day Eve Night.

  Members of the OCC baseball and women’s softball teams and athletics director Ilene Cohen attended the recent event.