FLUSHING, NY — Throughout the past decade, the state of New Jersey has produced copious baseball talent at the major league level. There are currently 19 New Jersey natives in the league, a number that is higher than it’s ever been.
"We got a lot of good guys and we represent where we’re from,” said the New York Mets’ Todd Frazier, one of those 19.
Of course, the game’s best player — two-time MVP Mike Trout — hails from the Garden State, but he plays on the other coast of the country in Anaheim. Most of the other New Jerseyans are scattered throughout the country, as well, making it hard for the state to follow its products.
Then there’s Frazier.
This past February, the Toms River and Rutgers legend signed a two-year, $17-million contract with the hometown New York Mets. So far, Frazier has belted 10 home runs while anchoring third base in Queens. The eight-year major league veteran has become a clear vocal leader of the Mets, too, often lightening the mood of the clubhouse with his authentic Jersey sense of humor.
“It’s been great; it’s been really good,” Frazier told TAPinto.net Monday at Citi Field before the Mets-Reds game. “Now that I’m an hour and a half away from home, it’s relaxing and it helps my family out. Other than us not winning, it’s been great.”
Though Frazier doesn’t live at home during the season — calling the drive from New Jersey to Citi Field “a pain in the butt” — Flushing’s close proximity to Jersey makes it much easier for his family and everyone in his circle to watch him play nightly. Playing just across the river from his home digs also carries plenty of perks for Frazier himself.
“Seeing my family more [has been the coolest part],” he said. “Usually it was tough when I was out in Chicago [with the White Sox] or Cincinnati [as a Red], because they’d stay for five or six days and then I wouldn’t see them for another twenty. It’s an easy hop, skip, and a jump for me to go home and surprise them, or them to surprise me here.”
The Mets are Frazier’s fourth stop in the big leagues. He made his debut with the Reds, then signed with the White Sox in 2016 before getting traded to the Yankees last summer.
Major League Impact
It’s the first inning of a Mets-Braves game during the middle of the monotonous “Dog Days of Summer” when a weak ground ball is hit just beyond the pitchers mound. Frazier fields it in front of ace pitcher Jacob deGrom, who just did a bellyflop trying to get to it. Frazier immediately starts laughing.
“He tried to get to that bunt play, and he actually slipped over because I called him off at the very end,” Frazier explained. “It made for a good laugh, kind of got everybody going.”
Frazier makes the barehanded play and throws the runner out, and seconds after, cracks a joke in the middle of the field. It’s so funny that it makes a usually stoic deGrom start laughing so uncontrollably that he has to hide his face in his glove.
The two Mets share a closer laugh before deGrom — a Cy Young Award frontrunner — heads back to the mound and settles in to toss eight innings of two-run ball.
“We need that kind of stuff; if you don’t laugh about it, you’re taking the game too serious,” he said. “We know it’s your job at the end of the day, but not all of it has to be so serious, because some days are better than others.”
That whole instance is just another example of how Frazier loosens the Mets’ clubhouse and helps break up the monotony of a long season. In a similar icebreaker earlier this year, Frazier started a salt-and-pepper shaker gesture after he’d come up with a big hit. The antic caught on, and within days, the whole Mets team was doing it. Now they wear “Salt and Pepper” shirts around the stadium.
Through whatever medium, it's clear that Frazier's addition has brightened up a Mets team that's needed it at times this year.
Before Frazier even reached high school, he was already used to the spotlight. He famously led Toms River East American to a Little League World Series title in 1998, hitting a leadoff home run then striking out the final batter in the championship game.
A few years later, he developed into one of the best prospects in the country at Toms River South HS, where he played for legendary head coach Ken Frank. Though he was drafted by the Rockies upon graduating, he chose to attend Rutgers instead. That only further grew his New Jersey legend.
Under revered coach Fred Hill, Frazier was named Big East Player of the Year and an All-American in 2007, the same year he was drafted in the first round by the Reds. He set the Scarlet Knights’ record for career home runs (42) and was on the last Rutgers team to appear in the NCAA Tournament.
“All through little league and then high school, having one of the most prestigious high school coaches in Ken Frank who built me up into the baseball player I am today, and then I went through exactly the same thing in college with Fred Hill,” he said about his New Jersey upbringing. "I couldn’t ask for two better guys for preparing me for where I’m at today.”
Coming up through the New Jersey pipeline clearly helped Frazier prepare for pro ball. He ascended through the minor leagues in just 3 1/2 seasons before making his MLB debut in 2011 with Cincinnati — a team that scouts and drafts many Jersey players.
Leaving a Legacy
Frazier’s name carries a lot of weight back home. Almost anyone who plays the sport in New Jersey has at least heard of him, and even though he’s made millions and rose to fame in the league, he still leaves an impact around the state. He even has a summer ball tournament name after him — the Frazier World Series.
So, naturally, Frazier must feel a lot of pride in his stature in Jersey.
“Without a doubt, 100 percent,” he said. “[NJ players] work hard, we don’t care what the weather is, or what the situation is — we just come out prepared everyday and we don’t worry about anything else.”
The state has continued to produce professional talent. Five NJ-born players made MLB debuts in the past two seasons, while 19 were drafted this June.
But that number should be even higher, Frazier thinks.
“We need more,” he said. “I think scouts are missing out to be honest. These [players] work their butts off and they come from good programs as well — good upbringings.”
“[Jersey players] work hard, we don’t care what the weather is, or what the situation is,” Frazier added. “We just come out prepared everyday and we don’t worry about anything else.”