Reds' Todd Frazier knows how to roll with the punches

National League All-Star Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati National League All-Star Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds bats during the Gillette Home Run Derby at Target Field on July 14, 2014 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Elsa

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Nearly 16 years have passed.

During that span, Todd Frazier graduated from Rutgers University, was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds and has played four big-league seasons. He got married and had a baby. Just last week, he was runner-up in the Home Run Derby and played in his first All-Star Game in Minnesota.

Still, no matter where Frazier goes, the summer of 1998 follows.

When the slugging third baseman of the Reds took his turn at bat in the fourth inning Friday night, Yankee Stadium's scoreboard flashed a smiling photo of him accompanied with one of those "Did you know?" biographical messages that many fans are familiar with by now:

"Todd was a member of the Toms River team that won the 1998 Little League World Series (went 4-for-4 with a home run in the championship game vs. Japan)," read the enormous scoreboard high above the centerfield wall.

In case you didn't catch this year's All-Star Game, in case you haven't accessed the Internet recently, in case you somehow haven't heard, Frazier took a sentimental photo with Derek Jeter moments before baseball's midsummer classic. It's significant because it was Frazier's second snapshot with the Yankees' captain. His first was after his torrid Little League run in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, back in 1998. After his team captured the Little League World Series, it was given the opportunity to take the field with the Yankees -- and Frazier was matched up with Jeter at shortstop.

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"All of my teammates are a little sick of hearing about Toms River by now," Frazier said with a laugh. "Especially with it getting blown up during the All-Star Game because of the photos with Jeter."

With a wry grin, Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco said, "They play the highlight of Todd hitting the home run in Little League out on the scoreboard back in Cincinnati all the time. All the time.''

The scene has yet to get old for the fun-loving Frazier, though. He's still finding new ways to amuse himself with it while eliciting a combination of rolled eyes and smiles from teammates.

"In batting practice, if I pop one up and it just gets over second base, I say, " 'That's all right -- that'll be out at Williamsport,' " Frazier said.

As a joke, when he rejoined his team after the All-Star break, Frazier told Reds manager Bryan Price that the experience was "still not as great as the Little League World Series, but it was real close."

All kidding aside, Frazier's Little League experience matters to him so much because it shaped who he is: a 28-year-old who made it to the big leagues in part because nothing seems to rattle him.

"We played in front of 40,000 and 50,000 people [in Williamsport] the last two days," Frazier said. "I think that's big-time pressure as a 12-year-old, for sure."

It was pressure, he said, that he learned from. By the time he reached Rutgers, he showed maturity beyond his years.

"He wasn't even a freshman and it was like recruiting an upperclassman," longtime Rutgers assistant coach Glen Gardner said in a phone interview Wednesday.

With his older brother Charlie throwing to him last week, Frazier fell to the A's Yoenis Cespedes, 9-1, in the final round of the Home Run Derby in front of 40,558 at Target Field as millions watched on television. The crowd and buzz was nothing that Frazier hadn't seen before.

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"I wasn't really that nervous at all," he said. "I was just happy to be with my brother."

After last season, few predicted that Frazier would be a contestant in the Home Run Derby, never mind come close to winning it. An All-Star? Frazier? No way.

Frazier finished third for the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2012, but took a step backward last season. He batted .234 with a .314 on-base percentage, although he did hit 19 homers and drive in 73 runs in 531 at-bats.

When spring training started, Frazier chatted with Reds hitting coach Don Long, assistant hitting coach Lee Tinsley and former Reds star Eric Davis. The consensus was that Frazier should model his swing after some of baseball's best tall righthanded hitters, including former Yankee Dave Winfield. That meant a mechanical adjustment. The 6-3 Frazier's hands are closer to his hips now -- as opposed to near his shoulders -- when he's anticipating a pitch.

Frazier has since emerged as one of baseball's best all-around third basemen. As of Friday, he was second among third basemen with 19 homers and his .844 OPS ranked third.

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"I'm in a better position," said Frazier, who also has done a better job of not swinging at pitches out of the strike zone. "I feel a lot more comfortable. I'm seeing more pitches and I understand that the one pitch I miss isn't going to be the end of the world."

Frazier hasn't always been even-keeled, which he learned as early as 12 isn't necessarily such a bad thing.

"His joy for the game, his frustration for the game, it's all right there in the open for everyone to see," Price said.

And since his days in Little League, Rutgers and the minor leagues, it's always been that way.

"One day he was standing in the dugout when we were losing and he told me if the guys don't stand up with him and get into it, he was going to knock someone out," Gardner said. "I just told him maybe he should wait until he was a sophomore before doing that."

For Frazier, there is no other way to play the game he's genuinely loved his entire life.

"I think it was more with my family raising me the right way, understanding that the more we got older, the more pressures that are going to be in sports and in life, and they took me by the hand and said, 'Let's go, this is what's going to happen; relax a little bit and keep enjoying life, and no matter what happens, keep putting a smile on your face,' " Frazier said. "That's something I've always taken to heart."

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