Toms River, NJ hometown baseball hero Todd Frazier presented an evening of baseball talk on Friday, January 19, 2018 at Toms River’s Grunin Center of the Arts. Along with moderator Russ Salzberg, Todd discussed his experiences growing up in Toms River and playing baseball all the way from his days as a Little Leaguer to his current status as a reigning MLB superstar.
Frazier — who was born in Point Pleasant, NJ — grew up in Toms River. He first gained international fame at the age of twelve when he led the Toms River East American team to the 1998 Little League World Series title. Nicknamed the “Beast of the East” for their power, skill, and gorilla mascot, the team went undefeated in the tournament.
To celebrate their Little League world championship, the team was invited by the New York Yankees to a game where each player was introduced to the crowd and invited to stand next to his Yankee position counterpart during the playing of the national anthem. As a shortstop, Frazier was thrilled to be able to stand next to New Jersey native Derek Jeter.
After playing baseball for Toms River High School South — where he was coached by Ken Frank, currently ranked the #15 coach in the United States — Frazier went on to play for Rutgers University where he became 2007’s Big East player of the year.
A first-round draft pick of the Reds in 2007, Frazier was an All-Star for the first time in 2014 and, in 2015, was voted to start for the National League at third base. After the 2015 season, Frazier was traded to the Chicago White Sox, and before the 2017 trade deadline, the White Sox dealt Todd to the New York Yankees.
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In New York, Frazier established himself as a key player in the Yankees’ push to the playoffs where, against the odds, he helped to propel his team to the seventh game of the AL Championship Series.
At Toms River’s Grunin Center — located on the campus of Ocean County College — a sold-out audience of baseball fans of all ages is patiently waiting to hear Todd Frazier speak.
Local filmmaker Sandy Levine takes the stage to welcome the crowd to tonight’s special presentation focusing on Toms River baseball. Levine starts the evening off by sharing a clip from her upcoming film about Toms River High School South baseball coach, Ken Frank, entitled South Baseball: The Spirit of Winning.
Revealing that the film’s premiere will take place here at the Grunin Center on April 8, 2018, Levine introduces Ken Frank — the head coach of South baseball for 40 years, and the winningest coach in New Jersey — who stands at his seat to avid applause.
Levine also introduces long-time NYC sportscaster Russ Salzberg, whom many in the audience recognize from his appearances on FOX 5 and MY9 television, in addition to his work on WFAN sports radio.
Lastly, she introduces to the stage Toms River’s hometown hero, Todd Frazier.
Salzberg and Frazier greet the audience before settling down into oversized chairs and engaging in lively conversation.
Salzberg starts off by asking Frazier what team he intends to play for next season.
“I still don’t know,” replies Frazier. “We’re looking for the best fit. I love playing for the Yankees, but I’m a free agent now,” adding, “I just talked to my agent and I can’t tell you what he said, but the ball’s in my court,” before concluding, “It’s a crazy business!”
Going back to Frazier’s days as a member of the Chicago White Sox, Salzberg says, “I did a story on you when you were on the White Sox and I said, ‘This kid is a leader,’” before noting, “And when you came to the Yankees, your leadership showed through — you were a leader in the clubhouse.”
Acknowledges Frazier, “I try to lead by example,” pointing out, “We’ve got guys who are pretty good!”
When asked if he’d ever consider becoming a manager, Frazier confesses, “I’d like to be a high school coach — not a minor league coach. I want to be with my family. I’m interested in teaching.”
Here, Frazier discusses how he feels it is beneficial to have kids play all different sports, stating, “Bodies get different movement through basketball, football, baseball, etc.” Suggesting that “parents have to be realistic” and do what’s best for their children, Frazier additionally reminds audience members that it’s okay to allow youngsters to “make mistakes on their own.”
Frazier also spends a portion of the evening talking about his days as a Little League World Championship player when he recalls, “We were just playing the game of baseball. We were just happy-go-lucky guys and we got lucky. When we went to the World Series, we met kids from all over the world. Kids in other countries — like Japan — had to take laps if they were out of line. We were allowed to be kids. When we won, we did television appearances and met famous people. We felt like superstars — and then a few days later we’re back in school!”
In talking about his hometown of Toms River, Frazier states, “I pinch myself every day. I haven’t seen a better baseball community than Toms River. Thousands of people would come to watch our high school games. It is a unique place to play. Ken Frank instilled confidence in us.”
He also talks about his willingness, as a Major Leaguer, to sign autographs and regularly meet with fans, stating, “We have a duty to give back — it’s part of my job. I get out there ten minutes before each game and sign autographs. You see a kid and you sign,” noting that in so doing, “you can leave a lasting impression.”
Salzberg takes the final segment of the evening to open the floor to audience questions.
When an adult in the crowd inquires about Frazier’s pregame ritual, Todd confesses, “I always have four Otis Spunkmeyer cookies 45 minutes before the game.They have to be soft and gooey. If they are burnt, then I know it’s not going to be a good game,” acknowledging, “That happened once to me.”
Several of the evening’s questions, however, come from some younger baseball fans in the audience — a few coming from a trio of Little Leaguers from Kingswood Township, NJ — Jack, Nicky, and David.
Jack, 8 — who plays for the Lions — asks Frazier, “What would you be if you weren’t a baseball player?” to which Frazier responds, “I’d be a special education teacher,” noting he went to Rutgers University as a communications major.
Nicky, 7 — also a player for the Lions — wonders, “Who’s your best friend on the Yankees?” to which Frazier takes a moment to think, and then replies, “CC Sabathia.”
Lastly, David, 9 — who plays for the Braves — asks Frazier, “What is your favorite baseball memory?” to which Todd reveals, “When I hit my first home run — I was running and I didn’t even feel my legs!”
After Frazier and Salzberg shake hands to a standing ovation from the hometown crowd, we chat with several members of the audience who share their thoughts on tonight’s presentation with Todd Frazier.
First, we talk to Michelle from Toms River who recalls, “I used to see Todd as a young boy when he played Little League. We’re so proud of him! He comes from the nicest family. I brought my own boys to see him tonight because he is a positive role model. He gives us hope for the future because he’s someone whom kids can look up to. He always reminds us that team spirit is so important.”
We also chat with Barbara Koehler, one of the sponsors of tonight’s program, who brought her son and grandson to this special event.
“We thoroughly enjoyed this evening!” exclaims Barbara, owner of Mathnasium — the math learning center — located in Toms River.
“Mathnasium is proud to be a sponsor of the Grunin Center,” states Barbara, explaining, “The donations made by sponsors are used to bring area kids to special shows here at the Center,” before adding, “This is truly a gem of a theater and, in terms of its offerings to the community, it’s just growing and growing!”
Lastly, we catch up with with Jack, Nicky, and David — the three Little Leaguers whose questions were featured during the audience participation portion of the evening.
Acknowledges Jack, 8, “We prepared our questions at home. My mom even helped me practice. I was a little nervous, but I was happy to talk with a famous baseball player. I had fun, and I enjoyed Todd Frazier speaking,” before declaring, “Go Yankees!”
Nicky, 7, reveals, “I had a magnificent time! It was fun!” before confessing, “Even though Aaron Judge is my #1 favorite player, Todd Frazier is definitely one of my favorites.”
Lastly, comments David, 9, “I thought it would be really cool to meet a major league Yankee,” before acknowledging, “but I will pass out if he gets traded to the Mets because we’re going to Opening Day when the season starts to see the Yankees!”
In addition to these three up-and-coming baseball players — who likely will never forget having a chance to chat with one of baseball’s reigning superstars, the rest of the sold-out crowd at the Grunin Center surely also left with fond memories of spending some quality time with their hometown baseball hero, Todd Frazier.
For more on Sandra Levine’s film, South Baseball: The Spirit of Winning — which debuts at Toms River’s Grunin Center on April 8, 2018 — please go to grunincenter.org/event/south-baseball-spirit-winning.
For information on additional events at The Grunin Center — including American Idol’s Michael Lynche on Feb. 17, 2018, An Intimate Evening with Rickie Lee Jones on March 22, 2018, and a lecture by Erin Brockovich on April 12, 2018 — please go to grunincenter.org.Photos by Love Imagery
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