During a time in which multi-million dollar contracts and poor off-the-field behavior seem to always dominate the nation’s sporting headlines, it was a pleasure to watch Monday night as Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier reminded all who were tuned into ESPN that Major League Baseball and other professional sports really are games meant to be enjoyed by players and fans alike.
Having been selected a Major League All-Star for the first time in his career, Frazier was chosen by National League slugger Troy Tulowitzki to participate in this week’s All-Star Game home run derby, which is held each year on the night before the “Midsummer Classic.” Tulowitzki, the Colorado Rockies shortstop who had been the NL’s reigning derby champion, clearly made the right call.
Although Frazier, playing the role of “David,” wound up finishing second to the American League’s “Goliath,” Oakland A’s slugger and defending derby champ Yoenis Cespedes, it was hard for any viewer to turn off Monday night’s TV without believing that Frazier was also a winner in the contest. And that’s because of the never-say-die attitude Frazier exhibited throughout the evening and the clear joy he was seen sharing with his Reds teammates also chosen as All-Stars and with his two older brothers he took along to help him in the derby.
Monday night’s performance by the 28-year-old Frazier seemed to follow the pattern his career has taken since his first appearance with the Reds in 2011 — while he might down sometimes, you better never count him out. After connecting on only two home runs in the first of what would be six rounds of at-bats, Frazier appeared to be out of contention early. However, he found himself still in the mix when fellow National League slugger Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers failed to hit any homers, after which Frazier was able to defeat Colorado’s Justin Morneau, 1-0. Frazier was the heavy underdog against his next opponent, Tulowitzki, but defeated him 6-2. Frazier then advanced to the semifinal round with another 1-0 win, this one over Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton. That set the stage for the “David vs. Goliath” final round, when the AL’s Cespedes, the 2013 champ, easily defeated Frazier, 9-1. The loss left Frazier, remembered by many as a star on the Tom’s River, New Jersey team that won the Little League World Series in 1998, having enjoyed himself but promising to “do a couple of more push-ups” before next year’s home run derby.
If people are smart, they won’t doubt Frazier’s resolve to be named to the All-Star team again next year and win the home run derby, nor will they bet against his finding a way to lead this Reds team to a playoff appearance when the current regular season ends in September. Frazier has already hit the same number of home runs this season (19) as he did last year, and his batting average is up 56 points (.290) with 66 games still left to play.
Frazier has been one of the best of an unexpected cast of players that has helped the Reds (51-44) rebound from being 8-1/2 games out of first place in the National League’s Central Division on June 20 to trailing division-leading Milwaukee by only 1-1/2 games when regular season play resumes Friday against the New York Yankees.
Reds fans, of which there are a growing number once again in Letcher County, are happy to be a part of what could end up being a magical season if the team can continue to compensate for serious injuries to star players Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, who are among the sport’s best players at their positions.
Helped by a deep pitching staff led by Cy Young Award candidate and All-Star Johnny Cueto, a stellar team defense, and the inspired play of Frazier and two other first-time All-Stars, young catcher Devin Mesoraco and pitcher Alfredo Simon, the Reds have already managed to save what had looked to many “experts” to be a lost season. Will they find the magic needed to reach post-season play? Who knows, but don’t doubt the Reds as long as Todd Frazier is able to play for them everyday.