With a knowing grin on his face, Todd Frazier worked his way around the cramped confines of the visitor’s clubhouse at Fenway Park with a large silver tin. He stopped at everybody — teammates, coaches, support staff, media relations, media members — peeling back the aluminum foil covering the container to reveal a coffee cake dusted with white powdered sugar that his mother, Joan, baked and brought up for this trip from the family’s home in Toms River, N.J.
Make no mistake, this was the best coffee cake in New Jersey, if not the world, according to Frazier. It was, quite literally, a slice of home for the White Sox third baseman who’s remained committed to his roots since he rose to national and local fame — and started signing autographs — at the age of 12.
Long before he was winning a Home Run Derby or becoming the centerpiece of the White Sox offseason roster retooling, Frazier was the undersized youngest brother in a family full of athletes. His two older brothers, Charlie and Jeff — who both went on to be MLB Draft picks, Charlie in the sixth round by the Florida Marlins in 1999 and Jeff by the Detroit Tigers in the third round in 2004 — and their friends often didn’t want to pick Todd for their backyard games due to his youth and diminutive stature.
“He was always a little guy to us,” Charlie says. “We always called him Todd the Toad because he never grew.”
There was a problem with this exclusion from baseball, football, basketball or whatever game the Fraziers would play, though. Jeff says if Todd was ever left out, he’d go in and tell his father, Charlie Frazier Sr., that his older brothers wouldn’t let him participate.
So Charlie Frazier Sr. would come out, take the ball, and say if Todd isn’t playing, nobody’s playing. And all of a sudden, Todd would be on a team. If it was football, he’d be in the middle of the huddle urging his elder teammates to remember, hey, I’m here, and I’m going to get open.
“I think he always had that will in him to say hey, listen, whether I’m not good enough today or tomorrow, I’m going to keep working and I’m going to prove you wrong,” Jeff says. “So it was kind of like he had no choice. He had to fight his whole way up. And it’s obviously paid off.”
The competitiveness stretched beyond the backyards and streets around Toms River. Charlie estimates he, Jeff and Todd broke “four or five” ping pong tables as kids because games would get so heated, someone inevitably would slam a corner of the table after losing a game, rendering the surface unplayable.
Charlie and Jeff had the luxury of being the oldest kids, too, when it came to picking their favorite sports teams. Toms River is about the same distance to New York as it is to Philadelphia, so for the kids, there were decisions to be made as to which teams to root for. But there was no way the three Frazier boys were going to root for the same side.
So Charlie and Jeff laid claim to New York’s teams — Charlie was a Yankees and Giants fan, Jeff was a Mets and Jets fan. Todd picked the Boston Red Sox as his childhood team, but when it came to the NFL, he decided to be a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan.
“I tell him every year, have fun with that one, bro,” Jeff laughs.
When Todd and Toms River East reached the Little League World Series, ESPN listed him at 5-foot-2, 104 pounds. The growth spurt came later, sometime around the end of middle school and the beginning of high school. When it did, Todd quickly became able to compete with his athletic siblings.
It’s hard to imagine Frazier, who will compete in his third Home Run Derby Monday night in San Diego and has the most home runs of any White Sox third baseman before the All-Star break, as an underdog. But in his family structure, that’s what he was as a kid. And it’s something he still appreciates to this day.
“I loved every second of it,” Frazier says. “I loved everybody saying, you gotta live up to (them). I couldn’t ask for two better people to look up to and try to live up to. They were always pushing me to be better. … I thank them all the time and whatever records they had, I was trying to get those records and eventually I broke mostly all of them. I thank them every day of the week and I couldn’t ask for two better guys to look up to.”
Check out the complete story at SportsWorld.NBCSports.com.