SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s kind of weird to start out at the top, hitting your sporting peak at, say, 12.
Sure, you may win the Home Run Derby at 29 — as White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier did last summer. But that’s nothing compared to what he did before he even turned 13.
Yes, the pinnacle arrived in 1998, when 12-year-old Frazier — a majestically pint-sized, helium-voiced, 5-2, 104-pound play-anywhere guy — led his Toms River East (New Jersey) team to the Little League World Series championship, the first for the United States in five years. The dinky shortstop led off the title game with a home run, went 4-for-4, then took over as pitcher and got the win, striking out the last batter for emphasis.
So did the 6-3, 220-pound slugger really hit the apex at 12?
‘‘I might have,’’ he says with a chuckle. ‘‘I might have.’’
He’s in the Sox’ clubhouse while the endless Easter Sunday game against the Giants is still going on upstairs. (It will end after 3 hours, 44 minutes.) He had darted in earlier after driving in a run with a screaming seventh-inning triple, then scoring on the next play.
He had stood and watched the TV with the clubhouse guys, observing a monster movie in which a Tyrannosaurus rex lurched through a suburban neighborhood. He laughed out loud when the giant reptile staggered past some homes and toward a garage, looking like a house pet that had swallowed an atom bomb.
Then back up the stairs, through the dugout and into the game. In the next inning, Frazier hits a first-pitch fastball from righty Sergio Romo so hard that it could’ve bored a hole through that run-amok lizard and ended the movie.
As it was, the ball went over the left-field wall on a line so fast, it almost embedded in the grass above the Old Town Gringos cocktail sign.
Quite often manager Robin Ventura pulls Frazier after six innings, so it was fortuitous that he played eight. Those last two at-bats accounted for seven bases, three RBI and a swing that seems to be timing up nicely with the one that won last season’s Home Run Derby and knocked out 35 homers.
‘‘It’s fun,’’ he says of hitting. ‘‘You’re still trying to find your swing because it’s spring training. But it’s getting close to the regular season, so you have to be getting things right. When it comes to the regular season, you can’t miss fastballs. I got two out there and slaughtered ’em.
‘‘You just have to be on the fastball every time. First it, then the off-speed pitch. My high school coach told me, ‘Think one, hang two.’ ’’
There you have it, kids, the secret to hitting.
Actually, Frazier will say this about the magic of hitting a baseball, regardless of all the mental training and batting devices and gimmicks that are hawked by wannabe baseball sluggers the world around: ‘‘Look, you either have it or you don’t, really. You see it in little kids. Bottom line, you either have it or you don’t.’’
And little Frazier had it big-time, even when he was teensy. Part of it was from always playing with his two older brothers, one of whom played major-league ball. ‘‘They wouldn’t let me play with kids my own age,’’ he says. ‘‘I thank them all the time.’’
The rest was from being competitive and a born natural.
Back to that World Series 18 years ago. ‘‘I was average height, weight, just a regular guy,’’ he says. ‘‘But I had some pop.’’
(We’re thinking smaller than average, but whatever.)
‘‘I was the leadoff guy,’’ he continues. ‘‘I’d always try to come up to bat as often as possible. In Little League, you always want to put pressure on the other team. You’re that young, you make them give up a run, next thing you know a kid’s crying, then they give up two, three runs.
‘‘When you’re that age, all you want to do is hit home runs, and that’s all I was trying to do.’’
And on it goes. Frazier’s pro stats have been on a fairly steady ascent the last four years — going from back-to-back 19-homer seasons to 29, then 35. His doubles have gone 26, 29, 22, 43. His RBI: 67, 73, 80, 89.
He talks about hoping to get to 100 RBI, and he feels where he’s batting in the Sox’ lineup — ‘‘I don’t care if it’s 3, 4 or 5, wherever’’ — that the opportunities are going to come. With Jimmy Rollins ahead of him, pitchers will not be able to just throw him breaking pitches. And if they throw fastballs, well, you know what happens there.
‘‘God, this has been a fun spring,’’ he says. ‘‘I feel great. I’m ready to go. Getting to know these guys, I really like them. Robin’s a good guy; it’s good to have a manager like him. We’re looking to win a championship.’’
Of course they are. One like that big one for the Toms River East gang many years ago.
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