Third baseman among Reds players who fit, embrace role
By Megan Zahneis
Leadership is a crucial, yet often overlooked, component of any social group. In professional sports, leaders and motivators are tasked with maintaining chemistry, balance and composure, whether on or off the field.
It's also a hard word to define.
"It's just a natural uncanny ability to gain respect from others, as you keep working on your craft," is how one industry expert put it. "It comes to you naturally and, as you get older and older, if you keep being a leader and don't deter from what you usually do, that's the respect you need to get."
Halfway into his fourth full season in the big leagues, the 29-year-old third baseman is leading the Reds in hits, RBIs, slugging percentage and OPS. Frazier netted both the third-base starting role for the National League in the Midsummer Classic and the Home Run Derby crown as the hometown favorite in last week's All-Star festivities.
But what's more, Frazier is a leader.
That's a commodity Frazier's club desperately is in need of as it finds itself only one game out of the cellar and preparing for large-scale changes at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. With the team's expected restructuring, Frazier is poised to become the next man to carry the team. Much as Barry Larkin led Cincinnati through several lean years in the 2000s, Frazier may take up the mantle during the next rebuilding phase.
"For me, being a leader, it just came to me," Frazier said. "I guess one thing was, I was good at what I did and people kind of look up to you, so they ask you questions like, 'Hey, what do you do in these certain situations?'
"After I won a Little League World Series, when I got to high school, the reporters would always come to me to talk. My personality was always great -- or I like to think so, at least -- and the more people that want to talk to you, the more respect you start to get. And as you get respect, you're going to take on that leadership role. Growing up now, the more and more I get exposed at it, the easier it comes to me, because I started at such [a young] age. The natural ability to just say what I want to say -- but in a good way, not to hurt people or praise people too much -- that natural ability just takes over."
That natural ability, according to Frazier, is key.
"When we talk about leadership, we talk about being natural," he said. "I think that's the biggest thing you can ever do is be natural. Don't try to change who you are. There are a couple different ways. You can lead by example, doing your stuff on the field or what you do in your profession and what you want to do. Or you can lead with your voice: pat a guy on the butt and say, 'Get 'em next time.' Things like that go a long way."
Cuban-born catcher Brayan Pena, who has 10 years of Major League service time, agrees.
"I respect [my teammates'] opinions and the way they play the game and it makes a difference, it really does," Pena said. "Especially for the younger guys, for them to see you doing the right thing, that's the legacy that you're trying to pass along."
"I don't lose any sleep at night, know I'm coming in with great players that respect you and you respect them," Frazier said. "That's basically the bottom line -- you've got to have respect."
Though Pena may shy away from being deemed a team leader -- "just me being me" is how he defines it -- it's clear in his work with the Reds' young pitchers as they adjust to life in the big leagues. His buoyant attitude and positivity are sources of motivation for his batterymates.
"You have to make sure that they know how good they are," Pena said. "You have to make sure they know they're here in the big leagues because they belong in the big leagues, and when you tell them that and they know that, good things will happen.
"As a player, when you start second-guessing yourself or start having tough situations hitting, catching or playing defense -- that's when you have to compose yourself and bring the best out of you."
In the end, that's what leadership is about.
"It's not about just being the guy who hits 40 homers or the guy that wins the Cy Young," Pena said. "It's about the guy that goes out there every single day and tries to do the right thing. Even if he goes 0-for-4, he's still the leader, because he's still cheering for his teammates and he's the first one to take the field or the first one to come to the park and the last one to leave.
"A leader really has to know what he wants and has to show what he wants and the right way to do it. You can't just go out there and say it. Some people talk the talk and some people walk the walk -- and a leader, he walks."
Megan Zahneis is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.