TOMS RIVER – The temperature outside was below freezing, but baseball took center stage at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts.
Todd Frazier, Toms River’s favorite son who has achieved major-league stardom, shared his thoughts with 468 fans on a Friday night billed as “An Evening with Todd Frazier.”
Frazier, the former Toms River High School South standout, was a free agent third baseman-first baseman at the time of the function after spending last season with the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees.
“It has been a tricky off-season, different,” Frazier, 31, told the sellout crowd at Ocean County College. “We (Frazier and his agent) have talked with both New York clubs (the Yankees and the Mets) and some other teams. I don’t know what is going to happen. We have had good conversations.
“We are looking for the best fit at the end of the day. We have not figured out what that would be. I have a lot of options. My agent just got off the phone before I got here. The ball is in my court now. It is all positive stuff. I would love to stay with the Yankees. They treated us like family from the get go. I will keep on rolling. We will figure it out and I hope to sign pretty soon.”
Frazier told the crowd the Mets hope he provides power.
“The Mets have wanted me for my power from the get go,” he said, “and they do need that leadership. They have it, but if I go over there they will be that much better.”
The lecture’s moderator was veteran New York broadcaster Russ Salzberg.
Pressed by Salzberg to name the other teams that have shown interest in obtaining Frazier’s talents, Frazier replied with a smile, “You’re pushing me. You’re pushing me.”
A video tribute, South Baseball, the Spirit of Winning, put together by Sandy Levine, was played prior to the lecture. It featured numerous scenes of Frazier and South coach Ken Frank, who has guided the Indians to more than 800 wins and leads New Jersey in victories. Frank coached Frazier, who also starred for Rutgers University, at South.
Frank responded to applause from fans by emerging from his seat and waving with his right hand. The video will debut in a documentary format April 8 at 2 p.m. at the Grunin Center.
“Toms River South is a unique place to play,” Frazier said. “The school building is a part of the outfield. Ken Frank instilled confidence in us and he does that for a lot of players and students now.”
Prior to the program, a meet and greet took place downstairs. Frazier signed numerous autographs.
“Signing autographs is a part of this job,” Frazier said. “Signing them relaxes me. I hope to leave lasting impressions on our fans. It is my job and duty to give back.”
Frazier and Salzberg entered the stage to applause and entertained admirers for about one hour.
He said he enjoyed emerging as one of the Yankees’ leaders.
“I tried to lead by example,” he said, “especially with the younger guys.”
Frazier takes a career batting average of .245 (820-for-3,345), 175 home runs, 468 runs scored, 498 runs batted in and 62 stolen bases into this season.
He was selected 34th overall by the Cincinnati Reds out of Rutgers in the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft. While with the Reds, Frazier received batting tips from former Cincinnati star Pete Rose, who leads the major leagues in hits. Frazier opined that Rose belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame despite his gambling issues.
Frazier was named the National League’s Outstanding Rookie by the Major League Baseball Players Association after the 2012 season.
He was also named a National League All-Star for the first time in 2014. He competed in the Home Run Derby and lost in the final round. A brother, Charles, a former South star who played in the Miami Marlins’ minor-league system, pitched to him throughout the contest.
Frazier and the Reds agreed on a two-year, $12 million contract in 2015. The deal paid Frazier $4.5 million in 2015, including a signing bonus, and $7.5 million in 2016.
Frazier won the 2015 Home Run Derby on the Reds’ field where Charles Frazier pitched to him throughout the competition.
Frazier was traded to the White Sox during December of 2015. He signed a one-year, $12 million contract with the White Sox. With Charles Frazier again pitching to him throughout the event, Frazier finished second in the Home Run Derby in 2016.
The White Sox traded Frazier to the Yankees last July.
He hit .222 (43-for-194), drove in 32 runs, scored 33 and slugged 11 home runs, four doubles and one triple with the Yankees through 66 regular-season games. He drew 35 walks and struck out 54 times. He put up a .365 on-base percentage, a .423 slugging percentage and a .788 OPS (on-base plus slugging) for New York.
He batted .182 (4-for-22), drove in four runs and scored three through seven games in the American League Championship Series against the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros.
Frazier married his longtime girlfriend, former Rutgers gymnast Jackie Verdon, in December of 2012. They are the parents of Blake and Kylie Kimberly Frazier.
“My wife said performing on a three-inch balance beam is tougher than hitting a baseball,” Frazier said.
Frazier led the Toms River East American Little League to the 1998 World Series title. He starred in the world championship game against the Far East and International champion Kashima Little League from Kashima, Ibararaki, Japan. Beginning the contest at shortstop, he was 4-for-4, including a lead-off home run, and was the winning pitcher, notching the game-clinching strikeout in a 12-9 victory.
“We played Home Run Derby during our practices and our coaches were goofy in the best way possible,” Frazier said. “We were happy-go-lucky and Japan was pristine. Their practice field was 200 yards down the road from ours and they were big on the fundamentals. We had five days off and then it was off to school. There were pressures, but we were just a bunch of kids playing the game of baseball. We visited the White House and met Rosie O’Donnell (after winning the title).”
To celebrate the championship, East was invited by the Yankees to Yankee Stadium on Sept. 1, 1998 when they faced the Oakland Athletics. Each East player was introduced to the fans and invited to stand next to his Yankee position counterpart during The National Anthem. Frazier stood next to the legendary Derek Jeter.
“It was cool,” Frazier said. “Paul O’Neill (then a New York outfielder) was the first guy I met. He was one of my idols. I pinched myself and said, ‘I would like to be here.’ Even now, I pinch myself each day.”
Salzberg hailed Frazier as The Hit King of Toms River and the duo left the stage to applause, ending the lecture.
OCC’s baseball and women’s softball teams operated the refreshment stand. Donations went to each team.
There also was a question and answer session with fans. One fan asked Frazier, who majored in communications at Rutgers, of his plans once his playing days end.
“I would like to be a special education teacher,” said Frazier, whose response ignited applause from fans. “It is something I have really wanted to do. Broadcasting would be pretty nice.”
Frazier, who played on an 11-under national championship football team in Toms River and also starred in basketball at South, offered his opinions on parenting and youth sports.
“Parents should let their children make their mistakes on their own,” he said. “As a parent, you can’t fight it. It’s tough. Breed confidence in your child. Talk to him. Sit either he or she down and talk to them. I don’t have all of the answers. Understand what your child likes to do and push him on the way, but don’t push him too much.
“Kids play way too much traveling ball. There is a high percentage of Tommy John surgeries. I don’t feel kids should lift weights early. Kids need to preserve their arms. I see 13- and 14-year-olds with slings on. Children should play different sports to avoid burnout.”
Frazier played against Jeter in the 2014 All-Star Game – Jeter’s last – and days later helped the Reds honor the Yankee captain’s final year in baseball in a special pre-game tribute.
Frazier was drafted on the 37th round out of South by the Colorado Rockies in 2004.
He played for the Toms River South Indians from 2001-04, seeing action in the outfield, at shortstop and on the mound. South won the NJSIAA Group III title in 2002 and 2003.
He finished his career with a .443 batting average – fourth all-time at South among hitters with either 200 career at-bats or more. He set South career records in runs scored (121), homers (26), stolen bases (78) and walks (81). He wound up with 121 hits for fourth all-time at South. He wound up second on its career runs batted in list (89) and tied for fourth in career doubles with 26.
Frazier slugged a school single-season record 12 homers in 2003. He drew a school single-season record 34 walks in 2004. He sped to a school single-season record 42 steals in 2004. His 31 thefts in 2003 were second on South’s single-season list.
He batted .521 for the third-best single-season record in South history as a senior and hit over .500 as a junior.
He turned down the Rockies and continued his career at Rutgers where he set the Scarlet Knights’ career home runs record with 42. He was named the Big East Conference Player of the Year in 2007 and was chosen as a Rivals.com All-American.
Frazier lives in Toms River where East American’s field is known as the Frazier Field House.
Another brother, Jeff Frazier, who also starred at South, played briefly for the Detroit Tigers in 2010, batting .217 through nine games. He excelled at Rutgers.