Over the past week, the image of a 12-year-old Todd Frazier standing side-by-side with Derek Jeter at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 1, 1998, has been widely circulated on broadcasts and online.
Frazier, then a Little League World Series champion with Toms River, New Jersey, re-created the photo with Jeter at last week’s All-Star game in Minnesota as the Reds star made his All-Star debut.
“We talked for a brief moment,” Frazier said on Friday as his Reds visited Yankee Stadium for the first series after the All-Star break. “I told him they’re kind of blowing this picture up of you and me back in the day and he said, ‘Yeah, I’m feeling real old.’ That’s just the way he is. He’s a nice guy, he’s gracious. He took the picture with me.”
Nearly 16 years after that famous photo, Frazier is becoming known for something else: The former Rutgers University star has turned into an All-Star, and he showed why with a game-tying home run in the eighth inning off Dellin Betances on Sunday.
Frazier was a star at Rutgers, where his older brother Jeff also played. He set school records with 42 home runs and 210 runs scored before being drafted 34th overall by the Reds in the 2007 MLB Draft. He already has the third-most MLB homers among Rutgers products, behind only Eric Young Sr. and David DeJesus.
Frazier was third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2012 and named the National League’s most outstanding rookie in 2012 by the player’s association. Last year, he slipped to .234 with 19 home runs and 73 RBIs, prompting some changes with his hitting mechanics midway through spring training with Cincinnati hitting coach Don Long, assistant hitting coach Lee Tinsley and former Reds’ outfielder Eric Davis.
The consensus was that Frazier’s swing should be influenced by some of the game’s most-productive tall right-handed hitters, a group that includes former Yankee 6-foot-6 Dave Winfield.
“I’m in a better position,” said the 6-foot-3 Frazier. “I feel a lot more comfortable. I’m seeing more pitches and I understand that, the one pitch that I miss, it’s not going to be the end of the world.”
The change has him off to the best season of his young career. He already has 19 home runs with more than 50 games left to play this season. He should also best his career-highs in hits, runs scored and runs batted in. He’s stealing bases at a career-best clip with 15 on the season.
“Change is good sometimes,” he said. “It’s something that I think I really needed to work on. After the year that I had last year, I think any change would have helped me. So this year it’s been a lot of fun.”
Frazier still maintains his New Jersey roots. His walk-up music at Great American Ballpark is Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me” or “Fly Me to the Moon” and when James Gandolfini died last year, he honored him by walking up to "The Sopranos" theme.
This year’s visit to Yankee Stadium also came at an opportune time since he had the final day of the All-Star break to enjoy the huge slices at SawMill Pizza on the Seaside Park, New Jersey boardwalk.
“I got a lot of feedback from that,” Frazier said. “People in Ohio are like, 'Please bring me back some,' and I said it won’t be good by then. I don’t know how to make a good pie, so it was really fun to be back there and get that smells in the Toms River air.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.