Young Todd Frazier had it out for that roller coaster.
Not the real one: As far as anyone knows, Frazier had no vendetta against the Cyclone, the creaky, terrifying relic housed in Coney Island’s Luna Park. But there is another, much smaller replica a few hundred feet away, in KeySpan (now MCU) Park. This Cyclone is a one-dimensional facsimile, stationed in the deep, deep depths of leftfield. Balls don’t go that far all that often.
Unless you’re a young Todd Frazier, that is. And young Todd Frazier — playing, at the time, in the 2007 Big East Tournament — did it like it was second nature.
“He was exploding,” said Glen Gardner, Frazier’s hitting coach at Rutgers University, and the man who scouted him. “I think he hit it over that thing once and through it another time. People didn’t hit it there and he was doing it easy. He carried us [during that series] and we all jumped aboard and he took us right into the [NCAA] regionals. It was outstanding. He took us and carried us as long as we could go.”
Trades are no big thing at this stage in the baseball season. Teams are either buyers or sellers and players are merely pawns in the game, shuffled around from city to city and state to state with a simple phone call. But when the White Sox traded Frazier, 31, to the Yankees on Tuesday, it wasn’t quite so impersonal. You see, for the first time since being drafted by the Reds in 2007, the pride of Toms River, New Jersey, was truly coming home.
“It was pretty cool,” Frazier said of the trade. “Have a lot of friends at home and family that love the Yankees. Everybody’s pretty excited. Hopefully once we get back home we’re going to see a big crowd coming in from Toms River so that will be nice.”
Those friends and family agree.
“I think it will give everyone a thrill,” said Casey Gaynor, a lifelong friend and his teammate in Little League and college. “To be able to watch him every day is going to be a great experience, not just for him but me and my friends. A lot of us are Yankees fans. It gives us something other than [Aaron] Judge and [Gary] Sanchez to watch, so it should be fun.”
Frazier’s first home game as a Yankee will be Tuesday, against the Reds, the team with whom he originally signed.
“I remember going to old Yankee Stadium all the time and the upper deck, of course, and the stadium would shake back and forth when something crazy would happen,” Frazier recalled. “I had a tryout there in high school and all that kind of stuff, with the monuments in the outfield, so it’s going to be a cool homecoming.”
There’s no way to oversell how much Frazier means to his hometown. In 1998, he and Gaynor were part of the team that won the Little League World Series. The articles from those days describe them as underdogs with swagger, and a stuffed gorilla they thought brought them luck. In 2002, a statue commemorating the team was erected in the Ocean County Mall. There was a parade, they appeared on Good Morning America and were honored by the Yankees. That last one led to the now-famous picture of a young Frazier standing next to Derek Jeter in the Yankees infield.
“People still talk about it to this day,” Gaynor said, “which is crazy — almost 20 years later.”
After that, everyone kept an eye on Frazier. It was clear from early on, Gaynor said, that he had the potential to make it to the big leagues. And scouting him for Rutgers, said Gardner, was a no-brainer: He was bigger than his two older brothers, Charlie Jr. and Jeff, both of whom were drafted.
Jon McCue, who played with him at Rutgers, said Frazier “always had the perfect attitude, never too high or too low.” People were still talking about the Little League World Series in college, he said, adding that “I was huge into that team. The whole state was, and even more so [players like us] who were the same age. He stayed an amazing player.”
Everyone says the same thing: Frazier never seemed overwhelmed by the pressure. “He was just outgoing, very personable and a very, very funny kid,” Gaynor said. “My favorite thing about Todd is his personality, his openness . . . he makes you feel like you’re best friends.”
After he was traded, McCue and Gaynor quickly started making plans. Both hope to get down to Yankee Stadium sooner rather than later, and McCue says he’s trying to coordinate with a slew of old teammates. There’s a group text, he added, with everyone speculating where Frazier, a corner infielder, will see the most playing time. Meanwhile, the office at Rutgers is abuzz, Gardner said. And Frazier? He hasn’t changed a bit.
“Just the other day, I texted him and he didn’t have to get back to me, but he got back to me in two minutes,” Gaynor said. “He’s getting a million texts and a million phone calls and I feel like he makes it a point to reach out to everybody.”
Above all, though, he’s happy for Frazier. “He’s got two young children,” he said, “so it’s going to be easy for him to be around and be home and play in basically the city that we’re nearest to.”
In return, Frazier gives Toms River the gift he’s given them since he was a child. “Someone,” Gaynor said, “to root for.”
With Erik Boland
Todd Frazier’s road from Jersey to the Bronx:
Born: Feb. 12, 1986, in Point Pleasant, N.J.
Little League World Series team: Toms River East
High School: Toms River South
Drafted: 2007 by Reds, 37th overall
2007: Billings (Rookie), Dayton (Class A),
2008: Dayton, Sarasota (A+)
2009: Carolina (AA), Louisville (AAA)
2010-11: Louisville, Cincinnati Reds
2016: White Sox
2017: White Sox, Yankees
*Plus 10-game stint at Louisville in 2012