In first Derby, Frazier keeps it all in the family
Reds All-Star has brother, former Minor Leaguer Charlie, pitch to him
MINNEAPOLIS -- For the Frazier brothers, Monday night's Gillette Home Run Derby was, in the words of the incomparable Yogi Berra, "déjà vu all over again."
That's because Todd, the youngest Frazier son and starting third baseman for the Reds, was tapped by National League captain Troy Tulowitzki to represent the NL -- and Frazier's oldest brother, Charlie, was on the Target Field mound. Todd advanced to the final round before falling to defending Derby champion Yoenis Cespedes of the A's.
Growing up in Toms River, N.J., as the youngest of three boys, Todd endured a little good-natured heckling from brothers Charlie and Jeff, both of whom have Minor League playing experience. Jeff, the middle brother, enjoyed an 11-game stint with the Tigers in 2011.
"Me and my middle brother, Jeff, we would play basketball or baseball outside and we would not let [Todd] play, because he was the youngest. And we didn't let him hang out with the older guys," Charlie Frazier said. "He would tell our dad on us, and my dad would come out, he would take the ball and say, 'You guys can't play unless you let him play.' So all of a sudden we would let him play. But once my dad would leave, we would beat him down a little, and I think that's what helped him get a little better and more competitive."
Suffice it to say that Todd isn't holding a grudge for that. Instead, he's happy for Charlie and Jeff, who run a successful baseball clinic back home in New Jersey.
"[Their business is] great. In the offseason, I go and work with them as well," Todd Frazier said. "They have a lot of showcases going on. It's something big that's kind off taken over New Jersey a little bit. [My brothers] were the guys that made me play with them. They're bigger athletes, older kids, and if I played with the kids my age, they'd always grab me by the tail and say, 'Let's go, we want you to get better.'"
Naturally, then, Todd's thoughts immediately turned to Charlie when it came to picking his pitcher.
"I would always say to him, 'If you ever make that Home Run Derby, pick me and I'll throw to you,'" Charlie said. "I was on vacation in the British Virgin Islands with my wife and kids and some of her friends from Florida. All of a sudden I woke up in the middle of the night, around 5:30, and I looked up at my phone and I saw about 70-75 text messages saying, 'Hey, good luck with the Home Run Derby.' I had talked to Todd, but it wasn't really like, 'You're definitely in it.' So I went to my iPad and started looking up the articles and stuff and I saw he picked me to do it, and it was like a dream come true. I couldn't go back to sleep. I wanted to actually come home from vacation."
And the experience was sure to be just as gratifying for Charlie as it will be for Todd.
"I wanted him to have this moment," Todd said of his brother as he held court with media during an All-Star player availability session. "He was the first one to get drafted in the family, and for him to be on a Major League field, to be in a Major League clubhouse, he's going to eat it up and I'm happy for him. Me and him are being at each other's hip just working on things, and hopefully we come out on top. I think it's going to be a lot of fun."
For Charlie, the Derby will be one last taste of the career that never worked out. After being drafted by the Marlins out of high school in 1999 and bouncing around the Minors for several years, the eldest Frazier brother hung up his hat after the 2004 season.
"It was a sad day for him, pretty upsetting," Todd said. "But he understood it was time to move on. He's not one of those guys that will go play independent ball and try to work his way back. I think that's one of the hardest things to do as a baseball player, keep coming back and back. He's got a great job now, a great family and I'm just very happy to have him on my side tonight."
Both brothers had a case of pre-Derby jitters.
"There's definitely nerves and that kind of stuff," Charlie said. "I'm looking forward to getting on the field with him and working out and throwing some pitches to him and getting him going a little bit."
"Nerves are starting to pile up a little bit, if you want the truth, because it's just a little overwhelming at times," Todd explained. "But I think once I get in that cage and get a couple swings in me, I'll be fine."
Whatever happens, the Frazier family will be grateful for the experience.
"When I was growing up, we were always playing Home Run Derby in the backyard with Wiffle balls. We beat our little brother up a lot and we've all played professional baseball, but this is something kind of special because this is all of our dreams," Charlie Frazier said with a smile as he watched Todd field questions from the media. "That he gets to participate in the Home Run Derby and do it with the All-Stars, it's a dream come true for our family."
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.