Frazier starred on global stage as youth

Frazier starred on global stage as youth

Frazier starred on global stage as youth
PITTSBURGH -- In the visitors' clubhouse at PNC Park on Friday afternoon, the Reds had most of the numerous televisions around the room tuned to a Cubs-Cardinals game -- but not every one.

A couple screens were showing an early-round game from the Little League World Series. While some players had passing interest in the game, Reds rookie infielder Todd Frazier was much more of a captive audience.

If anybody knew what those kids were thinking and going through, it was definitely Frazier. As a 12-year-old in 1998, he was in Williamsport, Pa., as a member of the Little League World Series championship team from Toms River, N.J.

"I think about it all the time, especially now, since it's on," Frazier said. "These guys bust my chops in here a little bit. At the same time, it was an exciting time for me. You can't not think about it. I wish all of those kids good luck."

Frazier wasn't just part of the team, he played an integral part of its success. He batted .600, with four home runs in the series. In the finals against Kashima, Japan -- a 12-9 victory -- he was 4-for-4 and led off the game with a homer, one of the combined 11 between both teams.

Add to that a moment most kids who sleep with their baseball gloves likely dream about: After playing shortstop for much of the game, Frazier also pitched the final two innings. When he struck out the final batter, he was mobbed on the field by his teammates in a dog pile.

"It was cool, but I'm a little claustrophobic. I was pushing people off me," Frazier recalled. "I struck the guy out and didn't know who to go to. I saw my third baseman from the corner of my eye. I just jumped on him, and he tackled me. It was awesome."

As thrilling as the win was, it was not end of the fond memories. Williamsport was akin to an Olympic Village, where international goodwill wasn't just a cliché but the way of life.

Regardless of the languages, there were hundreds of kids just being kids.

"I just remember pin trading, ping pong and meeting new kids," Frazier said. "I became friends with kids from Saudi Arabia. I haven't talked to them since then, but we hung out the whole time. You get to meet all the different people, and there's camaraderie. It was fun, and nobody took it too seriously."

Perhaps that was best considering the global stage. It wasn't like they were playing only in front of their parents and a few friends.

"The first day out there, we felt like we were at the top and the pros," Toms River second baseman Joe Franceschini said. "We never played on a Little League field like that one before. Plus, you have all of the cameras and people there on top of you. If I was doing it now, I'd be much more nervous. At 12 years old, we didn't take notice of it. We just tried to win the games and enjoy the experience.

"It was the start of my career, you could say. It was a good start, I guess."

In the wake of the series title, the Little Leaguers were treated like big leaguers as the nation celebrated the kids from Toms River.

"We really didn't know what we were doing until we got back home and had the parade with thousands of people there," Frazier said. "It was crazy how the world took to it. We had two or three parades, went to the White House and went on the Rosie O'Donnell Show to name a couple of things. It was just unbelievable."

Frazier remains in touch with most of the team via text messages and phone calls. The team had its 10-year reunion to remember their achievements about three years ago. By then, the players were 21 or 22 years old, and they belatedly toasted themselves and their friendships over a few beers.

For everyone on the Toms River team, except Frazier, the Little League World Series was the pinnacle of their sports career. Now 25, Frazier was able to go quite a bit further. After he went to Toms River South High School -- and played against several of his Little League teammates at rival schools -- he starred in college for Rutgers University. The Reds made him their supplemental-round (34th overall) pick in the 2007 Draft.

Franceschini watches every Reds game he can -- a captive audience when Frazier appears on screen. If his friend does something good, he'll fire off a congratulatory text message or some good-natured ribbing -- a 21st-century version of the teasing that likely went back and forth as 12-year-olds.

"He was pretty much the same as he is now. He likes to have fun," said Franceschini, now a quality-assurance consultant in Toms River. "He's also competitive and always wants to be on top. He actually did make it to the top in the pros. It couldn't happen to a better person and a better family."

Frazier earned his first Major League promotion from Triple-A Louisville on May 23, with the good luck of joining the Reds in Philadelphia, about an hour away from Toms River. He struck out as a pinch-hitter and learned the next day he was being sent back down because of a numbers crunch on the roster.

The Reds recalled Frazier on July 22, and he's batting .209, with four homers. He had a key ninth-inning single and scored in Sunday's 5-4 win over the Pirates.

About 200 miles east, on the other side of Pennsylvania, the Little League World Series has entered its second week. The title game is scheduled for Sunday, when one team will experience just what the boys from Toms River did.

Williamsport will one day beckon Frazier back again -- as a spectator.

"I haven't been back since then," Frazier said. "Hopefully, God willing, I have kids and a family, and I would definitely bring them there. I still have two books of pins. I'll come back and trade."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.