Whenever Todd Frazier wants to win an argument with one of the pitchers in his New York Mets clubhouse, the veteran third baseman likes to tap into his past.
To be exact, he has no problem bringing up and boasting of his accolades as a 12-year-old ballplayer.
“Not many people can say they got ‘the win’ in the Little League World Series championship game,” Frazier recalled with a laugh recently.
“When these pitchers talk smack, I say to them, ‘Hey, listen, I got the biggest ‘W’ ever, so don’t talk smack.”
This Aug. 29 will mark 20 years since Frazier and his 11 teammates on the Toms River East Little League team – also known as “The Beast of the East” – captured America’s heart by winning the Little League World Series championship in Williamsport, Pa.
That historic victory has followed Frazier throughout his career, and it’s a moment he still cherishes as he prepares for multiple reunions this month.
“It doesn’t feel like 20 years,” Frazier said. “It feels like just the other day because of how much fun we had, the memories we made.”
Frazier will always be known for his little triumphs, and, in some ways, he has come to represent what the Little League experience can provide for young baseball players.
His youth success led to a great college career at Rutgers, and then he was selected by the Cincinnati Reds the first round of Major League Baseball’s 2004 draft. Frazier has since made two All-Star teams, both with the Reds, and won MLB’s Home Run Derby in 2015.
Despite his professional accolades, the 32-year-old still gets peppered with questions about his Little League days, especially from those who are his age. While it could be exhausting, Frazier has come to embrace being the unofficial Mr. Little League.
“I love it. I see it online and people always say, ‘Don’t you forget he’s from Toms River,’ and always talk about it. It’s when they stop talking about it that you know you’re out of the game or you’ve done something wrong,” Frazier said.
“It’s something I really enjoy and love talking about and it’s one memory that I hope keeps playing in my head as long as I live, because it was just really a joyous time for me.”
The memories of that run are still vivid to Frazier, the star of that team who gave the world a glimpse of the talent he would eventually display at the big-league level in Cincinnati, Chicago and New York.
Those who know Frazier best insist that the 12-year-old version of one of MLB’s top talkers is no different than the 32-year-old edition. He still plays the game with zeal and passion the way he did when he served as a pitcher and shortstop for Toms River.
“It’s always a fun time to be around him. He was always goofing off, pretty much the same as he is today,” said Toms River teammate R.J. Johansen, who played center field and has remained close to Frazier and lives near him at the shore. “Kind of always had that fun-first mentality and always joking around, and that made it more fun to play the game obviously. I always remember the big smile on his face and him having a good time.”
Frazier’s teammates knew he was destined for greatness since he mastered any sport he played throughout his youth, and then providing bookend highlights on national television.
Toms River coach Mike Gaynor deserved an assist on that homer.
“Our coach, it’s crazy, those Jersey guys are nuts. He told us if you can peak your eyes back there and see where he is, go ahead,” said Frazier, who looked back at the catcher twice before the pitch.
“I saw him move inside, so I stepped back off the plate and hit the home run the next pitch. You can get away with that stuff in Little League, not now.”
Frazier’s blast served as the first of 11 homers in the game, which is what his longtime major league teammate, Devin Mesoraco, remembers most about the game.
Mesoraco, then 10 years old and living in Pennsylvania, attended the game with his father and family friend. Years later when Mesoraco crossed paths with Frazier at a showcase on the east coast, he remembered Frazier from that game.
The two have been teammates for six seasons, and Mesoraco knows all too well about Frazier’s triumphs. He noted that Frazier is not shy when it comes to boasting about his Little League title, and will jab his Mets teammate, Michael Conforto, for not winning the tournament when he played in Little League.
Conforto’s Redmond North (Wash.) squad came up short in 2004.
“He’ll just mention it like, not necessarily just to me, but like, ‘You guys never won a Little League World Series before,'” Conforto said. ” He takes a lot of pride in it.”
Following the strikeout, Frazier hopped around the infield grass, almost unsure of what to do, before being tackled and pinned at the bottom of a pile.
“I remember that last strikeout, I was playing shortstop, me and the third baseman were the first to grab him and hug him,” said middle infielder Joe Franceschini, who also still lives in Toms River. “All of our hard work paid off. We were on top of the world.
“Not many people can say that.”
The title ignited a media tour that included stops with at the White House – Frazier met Al Gore, not Bill Clinton – and meetings with Alec Baldwin, Jay Leno and Rosie O’Donnell.
It also led to the famous photo of Frazier alongside Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter at Yankee Stadium that is still shown to this day, especially when Frazier played for the Yankees last season.
“You get to stand with Derek Jeter, I don’t know what’s better than that, especially being from this hometown for sure,” Frazier said. “If they keep putting that up it means you did something in life and something I always dreamed of doing.”
Added Johansen: “We’re still getting our 15 minutes of fame because of him.”
Frazier owns both cassettes – yes, they still exist – and DVDs of the tournament, and guessed that he last watched the games about 11 years ago.
He also owns an extensive pin collection from the event that features one he acquired from other teams including “Simpsons” characters.
When Frazier played in the Cape Cod League, future major leaguers such as Andrew Miller and Evan Longoria urged him to have his parents bring the Little League videos.
The future All-Stars certainly enjoyed the trip down memory lane.
Frazier said he is still close with about half of the players from that Toms River East team, which is set to be honored leading into Major League Baseball’s Little League Classic on Aug. 19 in Williamsport, Pa., when the Mets play the Philadelphia Phillies. Frazier also is planning a party at his house sometime in August.
Some of the other players have stayed involved in the game, and they recognize how that run has come to be such a huge part of Frazier’s legacy.
“He’s the poster child for Little League. A huge success story,” said Casey Gaynor, who served as a pitcher/first baseman and previously worked as Rutgers’ pitching coach. “The best part of Todd is he still plays like that. A lot of people appreciate the way he plays, the way he carries himself, he does all that stuff little leaguers look up to.
“He’s definitely a little leaguer at heart.”
When Frazier catches up with his teammates two decades after the triumph, the conversations usually begin with them critiquing him for a recent poor game he had.
The talks usually then veer back to the late 1990s when the 12 of them combined to create a special moment that not many Little League graduates can boast of.
The Summer of ’98 will always stick with Frazier.
“Great memories,” he said. “Something that I will never forget.”