While many Reds fans worry about his playing time, rookie Todd Frazier keeps smiling, talking and contributing in every way.
Frazier has become a key figure in Cincinnati's march towards the postseason, filling in at both first base and third base, and -- surprisingly -- in the lineup while Joey Votto was out with a knee injury. In 118 games, he's batting .284 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs. While Votto was out, Frazier batted .323 with six homers in 35 games in the All-Star's stead at first base. Frazier has even played 10 games in left field.
All of which was a bit unexpected from a 26-year-old rookie who hit .261 over four seasons at Triple-A Louisville, and was bumped from the 25-man roster just before Opening Day so the Reds could claim a reliever off waivers.
"I'm glad that we have him," manager Dusty Baker said. "I don't where we would be if we didn't have him, especially with Joey being out and Scott [Rolen] being out for so long."
But now that Votto and Rolen (the everyday third baseman) are back in the lineup and healthy, finding a spot for Frazier has become Baker's problem.
"Sometimes when you're on a real good team, you have to wait your turn to play every day," Baker said. "We're fortunate that he's had this opportunity. It's been fortunate for him that he showed what he can do. At some point in time, the world is going to be his. Now it's partially his, which isn't a bad spot to be in."
That can be a hard lesson for a young player -- especially one performing well -- to accept. Not so with Frazier. If he's not playing, he relentlessly cheers and encourages those who are. And when he is in the lineup, or called to pinch-hit, he's ready.
"You never know. That's why you come to the ballpark understanding that you're in until you see the lineup," Frazier said. "You understand that it's not in your hands. Sometimes, you can play your best and not find your way into the lineup. But that's just baseball. When you get your time to shine, you have to take care of it. You have to do something."
Frazier certainly has done something this season, and he is a big reason for the Reds' wide lead in the National League Central. But if that were all to the Frazier story, it'd be one that's been told, and heard, many times: Young player wants more, waits his turn.
No, this story is much more than that, including Little League World Series heroics and a one-handed home run. He's been a life-saver, no doubt, and not just for Cincinnati fans, either.
With the 2012 season about to begin, the Reds took Frazier north as part of the 25-man roster. But on a workout day just prior to Opening Day at Great American Ball Park, he was called into Baker's office and told by the manager and general manager Walt Jocketty he had to return to Louisville.
It was a numbers crunch. The club wanted to add bullpen depth and claimed reliever Alfredo Simon off waivers. Frazier suddenly was the odd man out.
"I think about it, and it was kind of like a blessing, I guess," Frazier said. "You never know, maybe I come in and don't start off very well. Instead, I played at Triple-A for two weeks and came up and produced like I have. I'm very happy with the year I've had. I just have to keep it going."
When infielder Miguel Cairo went on the disabled list in mid-April, Frazier was back and delivering off the bench. Rolen went on the DL with a bad left shoulder on May 12, which put Frazier into the starting lineup. Frazier struggled at first, batting .184 over the first 10 games as a regular. Then came a week where the myth-making began.
On May 23, Frazier delivered with the first walk-off home run of his big league career in a ninth-inning win over the Braves. Four days later, Frazier lost grip of his bat as he swung at a pitch from the Rockies' Jamie Moyer. Not only did he make contact, but the ball carried for one of the more improbable homers one could see.
And the following night after a game in Pittsburgh, Frazier and teammate Ryan Ludwick were having dinner when a man started choking. Frazier rushed over and performed the Heimlich maneuver to save the man's life. When the story got out, it became national news that especially resonated in the New York media, since Frazier grew up 60 miles from the big city in Toms River, N.J.
"It was pretty surreal. I have never done that before," Frazier said at the time.
While saving a man's life might have been new to him, experiencing the surreal certainly was not.
As a 12-year-old shortstop with his Toms River select team in 1998, Frazier starred in the Little League World Series. He batted .600 with four home runs in the series and went 4-for-4 with a homer in the final vs. Japan -- and he pitched the final two innings.
Welcome to instant celebrity. The team experienced parades, a visit to the White House, an appearance on Rosie O'Donnell's daytime talk show and a chance to take the field with the Yankees during the national anthem. Frazier took his spot at shortstop, next to Derek Jeter. When the Reds played the Yankees in New York in May, a still photo of the moment was located, which Jeter autographed for Frazier.
Harold Reynolds, an analyst for MLB Network, first met Frazier a year earlier while working the Little League World Series for ESPN. Reynolds saw many of the traits then that have made Frazier popular with his team and the fans now.
"Very outgoing," said Reynolds, who maintained a friendship with Frazier and his family that still continues over the years. "He was a fun kid that loved, loved, loved baseball and his buddies. I saw it when he was 11 and now that he's a grown man. Some people have that magnetism where people are drawn to him. He's one of those people."
Since first coming up to Cincinnati in 2011, Frazier has rarely heeded the "seen, but not heard" axiom that most rookies and young players follow when reaching the big leagues. He mixes, mingles and has fun with anybody in the clubhouse. With media, Frazier is relaxed as he handles the numerous questions. He doesn't often pass on chances to playfully tease reporters who walk by his locker. When among fans, he's not afraid to stop and chat.
"Wait until he comes out of his shell," joked Tom Edwards, a former Rutgers University infielder and Frazier's teammate. "Todd early in his career played on TV a lot and that prepared him. It had him not afraid of anything at an early age. It's definitely carried over here."
Edwards, who visited Frazier in Cincinnati last week, sees no difference in Frazier's personality since he became a well-known big league player.
"If it hasn't changed him yet, it's not going to," Edwards said. "He's the same kid -- confident, cocky, etc. Off the field, he's a normal guy that likes hanging out, watching football. He's same normal guy like he was back in 2007. He came every day with a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm. He treated every day like a new day, full of life and energy. He tried to get everybody going and was smiling all the time."
Proud with New Jersey swagger -- even his walkup music is selections from Garden State native Frank Sinatra -- Frazier could seem brash. But he does it in a manner that doesn't rub people the wrong way.
"When I first came up, I was scared to talk. There were so many old-school veterans," said Cairo, a respected veteran infielder who debuted in the Majors in 1997, or when Frazier was 11. "Times have changed. That's the way he is. He's having fun and playing really good. He's got confidence in himself, but has made adjustments as a player with hitting and defense. There's nothing wrong with being like that and having fun."
|"He was a fun kid that loved, loved, loved baseball and his buddies. I saw it when he was 11 and now that he's a grown man. Some people have that magnetism where people are drawn to him. He's one of those people."|
-- Harold Reynolds|
on Todd Frazier
"He's a fine young man and we like having him around," Baker said. "He's confident, but also very humble in his mannerisms and his ways. He's probably more vocal than some rookies, but that's him."
Frazier feels that it's his confidence comes from the need to be positive about life, which provides the extra edge he needs to succeed on the field.
"When I was growing up, there was a lot of talking, a lot of building everybody up," Frazier said. "It was, 'Don't sit back and watch the show, be involved.' We had sayings in school: 'The more you talk, the more you win.' It was always be positive no matter what. If you go 0-for-4 and won the game, it was a positive. You can always find a positive out of something. That's how I live my life."
Frazier, who was the 34th overall Draft pick out of Rutgers in 2007, did not have a quick rise through the Reds' system. The Little League shortstop had grown to 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds, so he was quickly moved off shortstop and told to acquire a multitude of gloves. He would play first base, second base, third base and both corner outfield spots in the ensuing years.
The versatility would prove useful. When Frazier was called up for the first time in May 2011, at Philadelphia, it lasted only one day. The dozens of friends and family that saw his one at-bat, a strikeout, had to be told the fun was only temporary.
"He didn't just walk to the big leagues because he won a Little League World Series. He's had his ups and downs," said Reynolds, a former infielder who played 12 years in the Majors. "It's because of those struggles that have made him a better player."
The Reds have not tipped their hand about their plans for the 37-year-old Rolen, who is in the final year of his contract. If Rolen retires, or doesn't return, Frazier would seem to be heir apparent at third base and finally have a set spot in pro baseball.
Frazier has endured a waning of production in recent days, as the wear and tear of the season has slowed his bat. He hasn't hit a homer since Aug. 21, and he's batting .212 (11-for-52) since notching his last RBI on Aug. 28. That could easily diminish his NL Rookie of the Year Award hopes. D-backs starter Wade Miley and Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper are also prime candidates.
No problem, says Frazier.
"I understand that this is a job, but at the same time, you've got to have fun doing it. You have to be happy," Frazier said. "This game is tough. It's very humbling. This month, I don't have an RBI. Is that frustrating? Of course.
"But at the same time, I can break out in heartbeat. I know that streak is going to come again like it did a couple of weeks. You have to know you will have that feeling. And once it does, it's, 'Ha, I'm back.'"