CINCINNATI — He made it to his first All-Star Game — back in 1996 — because he lost a vote.
Tuesday night, in Major League Baseball's All-Star Game at Great American Ball Park, Todd Frazier, the Cincinnati Reds third baseman, will start for the National League because he won a vote.
Both times his older brothers — Charlie and Jeff — played a part in the outcome.
This time the pair and all their buddies back in New Jersey, as well as Reds fans everywhere and anyone else who decided to cast a ballot based on production and not where a player was from, helped Frazier pull off what may be the biggest come-from-behind victory in Reds' history.
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On June 18, two weeks before fan voting for each team's starters ended, Frazier trailed St. Louis third baseman Matt Carpenter by some 2.5 million votes.
Although Frazier — who is having his second stellar season in a row and has become the true face of the Reds — eclipsed Carpenter in every hitting category, it appeared the slugger from the small-market Reds stood no chance in this election.
"My buddies back home were texting me every day, saying 'If you're not the starter, there's going to be a riot in New Jersey,'" Frazier laughed. "They did everything they could." With fans allowed to vote up to 35 times, there was a real ballot box push down the stretch — "I felt like I was running for office," Frazier cracked — and he ended up toppling Carpenter by 2.1 million votes.
"I remember when I was little and my dad saying, 'Hey, let's punch the holes in this (ballot) and pick your favorite players,'" Frazier said. "It's a new era now. The Internet has taken over the world. This was pretty amazing to see." Yet, on the amazement scale, he admits nothing tops that first All-Star Game he attended at old Veterans Stadium in. Philadelphia. That's the time his brothers voted against him.
"Our cousin Kimberly, I think she worked for CBS then, she got tickets for all of it," Frazier recalled the other day as he stood at his dressing stall in the Reds clubhouse at GABP. "My brothers got to choose what they wanted to go to because they were older and they both picked the Home Run Derby.
"So the little guy got left out. I got the scraps. I went to the game." The tongue-in-cheek lament made him laugh: "Hey, there are no scraps when you're talking All-Star Game.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing and we had a great time. We got down low and watched them take batting practice and infield and I was in awe. There were all my heroes."
Ozzie Smith was playing in his 15th and last All-Star Game in '96. Alex Rodriguez was playing in his first. The American League had guys like Cal Ripken, Wade Boggs and Ken Griffey Jr., while the National League countered with the likes of Tony Gwynn, Barry Bonds and Barry Larkin.
"It was amazing watching how those guys had perfected their skills," Frazier said. "Everything seemed so crisp and smooth.
"For the game we sat in the last row of the stadium and I remember watching Mike Piazza hit a home run that was so high I couldn't see it land. The Phillies' Darren Daulton had a box up above us and we heard him up there screaming.
"I remember thinking, 'Man, one day, hopefully, kids can look up to me playing out there. One day maybe the crowd will be roaring for me.'"
A record of success
While that 10-year-old boy's dream may have seemed like the longest of long shots, Frazier had odds that were a little more in his favor than most folks. He comes from a family where everybody — Mom included -- was a standout athlete.
And in his case, he's always seemed especially star-kissed when it comes to sports.
Or, as his brother Jeff once told Sports Illustrated: "That kid could fall in a ditch and find a gold nugget." Charlie Frazier, Todd's dad, was a 6-foot-8 prep star in their hometown of Toms River, N.J., and then went on to set several records playing basketball and baseball at Morehead State.
"A lot of people don't know it, but my mom (Joan) was an All-American swimmer who starred at Trenton State," Frazier said.
As for his brothers, Charlie was a sixth-round pick of the Florida Marlins in 1999 and went as high as Class AA before retiring. Jeff was a third-round pick of the Detroit Tigers in 2004 and made the big leagues for nine games in 2010.
"My parents raised us the right way," Frazier said. "My dad said, 'Here's a ball and a bat, let's see what you got.' "My brothers used to tease me — call me 'Todd the Toad ... get outta the road' — because I was out there playing all the time." He led his pee wee football team to a national championship and as a 9-year-old won the national Punt, Pass and Kick competition in Kansas City.
Then, at age 12, he starred on the Toms River team that won the Little League World Series.
That season he had badly cut his hand on a sharp piece of metal on his coach's car — "Split the right palm open like a watermelon," is how coach Mike Gaynor once explained it — and though he could no longer pitch like he once did, Frazier excelled at shortstop and at the plate.
He hit four home runs at the World Series, including a leadoff homer against Kashima, Japan, in the championship game.
He ended up going 4-for-4 that day and because he was the "toughest kid" on the team — again Gaynor's words — he was brought in to pitch the final two innings and managed to hold Japan to one run in what ended up a 12-9 victory for Toms River.
"When we got home the whole town just shut down," Frazier said. "They took us all over Toms River on the fire truck and everyone went nuts. We had no idea what we'd done — how America took to it — but it was really cool." The team was invited to New York to watch a Yankees game and Frazier stood alongside shortstop Derek Jeter during the national anthem. The moment was captured in a photo and it was replicated last season, Jeter's last before retiring, when the Reds played the Yanks in New York.
"Man, what a good guy," Frazier said.
The same can be said about him and that's just what Dayton Dragons Manager Donnie Scott did when he pulled me aside at the start of his team's 2008 season and nodded toward Frazier, who had starred at Rutgers University and been a first-round pick of the Reds in the 2007.
"This guy is pretty legit," Scott said of his then 21-year-old shortstop. "There's something special with his bat — the way the ball jumps off it. There's a different sound to it. A major-league sound. For people around the game a while, you can tell the difference." Scott now sounds prophetic, not only on Frazier's ability to hit, but on his always-upbeat team leadership.
"I know there's been a knock in Cincinnati in years back that there really weren't any leaders in the clubhouse," Scott said. "Well, this guy is gonna be that guy, no ifs, ands or buts about it.
"The guy's makeup is off the charts: Common sense, a sense of humor, extremely competitive, tough. He's a natural born leader." Frazier talks about how he's been molded along the way by his high school coaches and by Rutgers coach Fred Hill, who mixed old-school and sometimes profane sayings — "I didn't know what he was talking about sometimes," Frazier laughed — with other guidelines that were easy to understand: "He basically said, 'Keep your head on straight, work your butt off and good things will happen to you,'" Frazier said.
Frazier showed that approach when he arrived in Dayton that first year. Although he had received an $875,000 signing bonus, he drove a 9-year-old Toyota Camry with over 100,000 miles on it.
Today, he never forgets where he came from and always embraces his family.
He's Jersey all the way, from picking Rutgers over Clemson to marrying his sweetheart, Jackie Verdon, who's from Freehold, 20 miles from Toms River.
When Hurricane Sandy devastated his hometown, he gave his money, time and sweat to help folks rebuild and today the Little League field there bears his name.
And of course, his walk-up music from the on-deck circle to the batter's box is a tip of the hat to Jersey. While most players opt for the thudding hip-hop beat, rock 'n' roll or sometimes country, he is escorted by Ol' Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra, the favorite son of Hoboken, N.J.
More than anything, though, the musical choice is an acknowledgment of family.
"When I was growing up, my grandparents played his music all the time," he said. "To be honest, I hated it when I was younger. As a kid it seemed so bland. I felt like I was hearing a trumpet play every day.
"But you know how stuff grows on you? That's what happened to me. I started to think, 'Aaah, this is pretty good music.' It makes me think of my grandparents and my family. It brings me back to the good old days." He said his family — including 15-month-old son, Blake, who was in Dad's arms in the clubhouse on Opening Day this year, and Jackie, who is expecting their second child in December — will be at this year's All-Star festivities
Family is such a guiding force to Frazier that he said every year before the season starts he writes each of his brothers a letter setting out his goals.
"Last year I pretty much reached all of them," he admitted. "I hit the steals mark, exceeded my home runs and got close on RBIs."
Dream came true
As a kid, Frazier said he dreamed of being a big-league all-star "every day of the week, man.
"During T-ball I remember trying to hit like Cecil Fielder. As I got older I tried to hit like Manny Ramirez."
Frazier made his first All-Star team last year. He was a reserve and walked in his only at-bat. But the night before he was a Home Run Derby star, finishing second — with brother Charlie pitching to him — to Yoenis Cespedes.
"Oh my God, that was crazy," he said. "At first I was just praying, 'OK, just get one out.' I actually hit two and then won the next round and I was a little more relaxed.
"And then came the game and it was 'I just gotta pinch myself.' "I remember being in the dugout, talking to (Pirates) Josh Harrison, he's from Cincinnati, and I said, 'This is mecca right here, man!' "I wasn't nervous, just anxious. I didn't want to miss anything: Not one guy swinging a bat in batting practice. Not throwing a ball to a fan. Nothing. And I tried to grab as much stuff as I could get to give to my family so they could enjoy the experience, too."
This year he's off to a torrid start and the Reds' numbers crunchers have projected he could end up with the greatest slugging season in franchise history. He's on pace for around 49 doubles, 51 home runs, 111 RBI and 102 extra-base hits.
"I think he's always had that inner confidence that he could excel here," said Reds Manager Bryan Price. "He's been a better player when more is expected of him — when he's moved to the middle of the lineup and considered a featured piece of the offense. Some guys shrink in that situation, but he doesn't. He flourishes. I'm really proud of him. We've asked him to do a lot and he's answered the bell. He earned his All-Star spot."
"Cincinnati fans are great," Frazier said. "I can't wait to get my name announced and just hear the roar of the crowd." As far back as 1996, that's been his dream.