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Mudville: May 23, 2024 5:46 pm PDT

Go For The Gold

He’s now America’s Toddfather.

Todd Frazier sparked Team USA to a 4-2 win over Venezuela last Saturday, going 4-for-4 with a home run, a double, two singles and a stolen base, a victory that sends Team USA to the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

Olympic Gold is the goal now.

“It was a blast,’’ Frazier told BallNine. “I took it in my hands before the game started because this was my third time around playing for a USA team, you got to get hyped up for this, there is no other way around it. Playing for your country is the coolest thing in the world.’’

Frazier is the definition of someone who loves baseball. I caught up with him on Friday on his way out to a Frontier League game in New Jersey with the Sussex County Miners as a way to stay sharp and keep his legs under him until the Olympics, which begin July 28 with Team USA battling Japan, Israel, Mexico, South Korea and one more team that will be added later.

International play is different and here is what it takes to succeed. USA, managed by Mike Scioscia, one of the best in the game, had to find a way and Frazier helped make the secret sauce.

“You have to bring it back to the days when you were young, firing everybody up, we were clapping up before the games because if you are not fired up on pitch one, and all of a sudden it takes you the third inning to get going, you are down 5-0 already because these teams build off energy,’’ Frazier told me. “The crowds are raucous.

“When we played Nicaragua for example, they had more fans in the stands than we did, so we were like the underdog again. Their fans are cheering everybody on and they are building off the energy.

“I made sure I brought everybody in the huddle and I said, ‘Let’s go. I need nine innings. I need three-four hours of your utmost energy because every pitch counts. It was exciting. Especially with the minor league guys moving up the chain here. We kind of showed them as veterans, ‘Listen, this is how you need to play every game until you finally retire. Don’t take one pitch for granted.’ ’’

“We are just 26 guys and five or six coaches that are old school that really don’t give a crap, if you want the truth. We want to play, that’s it’’’

In some ways that has been lost today at the major league level and that must change. Energy, talent and fundamentals win games. There is a good mix of veterans and younger players on Team USA like Phillies outfielder Luke Williams, who had a home run in the win over Canada. Mariners minor leaguer Eric Filia blasted a two-run home run to put Team USA on top, 2-1 over Venezuela. Frazier’s solo blast to left made it 4-2.

“You can see it already, Luke Williams got called up to the Phillies and hit a walk-off home run,’’ Frazier said of the value of this international experience for young players. “We are definitely going to miss him on the USA team for sure. He’s an awesome kid, gritty. He reminds me a lot of myself, man. He’s a gamer with a little California swag in there.’’

That is good news for Phillies fans, who need some good news.

Frazier, who starred at Rutgers, has always had that Jersey Shore swag about him. I’ve known him since he was 12.

This is 23 years after I first met the Toddfather when he was a kid, the star of the Toms River East American Little League team, a team that captured the hearts of America, shocking the mighty Japan team to win the Little League World Series in 1998 before 41,000 fans and a huge ESPN television audience.

Frazier was in the center of it all and, even getting the final key outs on the mound against Japan.

Now he gets another chance on the international stage. He also played in the 2010 Pan Am Games with another Jersey kid named Mike Trout and the 2006 Collegiate National Team.

Said Scioscia of Frazier, “He’s a guy that has kind of cemented the team. He’s the keystone.’’

With that kind of experience behind him, Frazier knew what to expect and was not shy about letting his teammates know at Clover Park in Port St. Lucie, the spring home to one of his former teams the Mets.

Frazier belts one for for Team USA.

Frazier, 35, has 11 years of major league experience, including a short 13-game run with the Pirates this season, but when that came to an end, Frazier simply shifted gears. He went to Plan B and set his sights on Tokyo with Team USA.

One of the things I always liked best about Frazier is his pure love of the game. Todd Frazier left the sandlot many years ago, but the sandlot never left him.

You could say this is his fourth international tournament because that last game against Japan in 1998, Toms River was representing the United States.

“It’s come full circle,’’ Frazier said with a laugh. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have this kind of resume. My numbers aren’t where I want them to be, but I do have some impressive numbers.’’

Frazier, who has hit 218 home runs in the majors, has gotten the most out of his talents and he is quick to thank his family and believes there is one more major league run in him.

“I think back to when I was younger and my brothers never let me play to my (age bracket),’’ Todd said of his older brothers Charlie, 40, and Jeff, 38. “It was always three to four years older than me. I was the guy who was always picked last in the beginning and by the end I was always picked first or second because they knew I was a quick learner, I wasn’t afraid of anybody whether we were playing football, basketball or baseball. They drove me to the person I am, and my dad and mom are the same way.’’

Frazier has heard from a lot of people about how excited they are for him.

“One of my friends said, ‘Isn’t it cool that you are going to be an Olympian,’ ’’ Frazier said. “It could be the culmination of my career.’ I think that is pretty fitting for me and pretty damn cool to say, ‘I’m going to be an Olympian and maybe bring home a medal. I think that would be an awesome way to end my career.’’

Then the competitor in Frazier, came back out and said of the majors, “Don’t get me wrong, I still want to play.’’

He could add vital experience to any team that is trying to win a championship and has made some recent key hitting adjustments to help him succeed in the tournament.

“I had one of my better series in the qualifiers, and now I have another opportunity to play in the Olympics and show I still belong,’’ he said.

Team USA played some old school baseball. That is great to hear.

“We don’t have any analytics, we really don’t have any video, we are using scuffed up baseballs, we’re practicing on lumpy fields but it didn’t matter,’’ Frazier said. “We are just 26 guys and five or six coaches that are old school that really don’t give a crap, if you want the truth. We want to play, that’s it’’

That’s more than enough. That’s baseball.

Here at BallNine, a lot of baseball people have stepped to the plate recently to say the game is heading down a dangerous path. Frazier has seen a lot of change in MLB since he first arrived with the Reds in 2011 for 41 games. The next season was his rookie season and he batted .273 with an .829 OPS. From 2014-17 Frazier drove in 343 runs.

“In baseball we are losing a lot of people because we are worried about the numbers, the percentages, where to position a guy,’’ Frazier explained. “How about a two-strike approach? How about bunting a guy over? How about the Xs and Os of baseball. I think that is the frustrating part right now. We are worried what kind of baseball we need to use, what kind of sticky stuff a pitcher can use. This has been going on for years and all of a sudden this is what we are worried about instead of playing the game of baseball.’’

Staying sharp with the Sussex County Miners.

As for Launch Angle, Frazier makes this excellent point.

“Maybe I’m wrong but you can’t have the same swing for every pitcher you see and I think that is what’s going on right now with a lot of guys and this Launch Angle swing. How you going to hit that ball at the letters unless you are perfectly on time and anyway you are going to be out front (with the Launch Angle).

Pop a Toddfather when you’re watching some Olympic Baseball.

“Look at me for example. I was never the prototypical hitter. I looked pretty one out of 20 swings but I got the job done. I wasn’t worried how I looked, I throw a bat at a ball and I hit a home run so it’s like, we know how to play baseball, we don’t need all these gurus and coaches telling us how to swing now. It seems like everybody has a swing coach. It is what it is. Hopefully it changes, but we’ll see. All these strikeouts. It’s good for pitchers, don’t get me wrong but I don’t know how good it is for the game.

“Do I think we can change it, yeah, it’s a wonderful game,’’ Frazier told me. “I love the game but we have to make adjustments and not on percentages and that kind of stuff. Adjustments to bring it back to where we used to be. See the ball hit the ball. Get the guy over, bunt him over. Single the guy to death until the big one comes, that kind of stuff.’’

The Cubs’ Kris Bryant has ditched his serious Launch Angle and is having a great season.

“That’s one prime example,’’ Frazier said. “The kid is a great hitter, sometimes you get away from that. It happens. It happened to me. My hands were getting away from my body. So I kept them in a little closer, brought them down a little bit. Hand placement. How about that? No we’re worried about swing placement. You got to bring it back old school every once in a while because that’s how it started. This is how the game of baseball came about, chopping down on the ball. The old saying, you are chopping on wood. Squish the bug, that kind of stuff.’’

Scioscia is a joy to play for as a manager, Frazier said.

“He is a great manager, calm, cool, collected. He made sure we were all right. He had our backs on everything. We got kicked out of a batting cage one time and we said no we are not leaving. We had a couple issues but at the end of the day it was ‘When does the game start?’ We got 20 swings and we had to get out of there, but we still ended up kicking butt. It goes to show you it is just baseball 101.’’

Frazier has always appreciated leadership going back to his days at Toms River South High School and Coach Ken Frank, 74, who last week won his 900th game.

“My old high school coach Kenny Frank, man, he’s got 900 wins and he is still booming,’’ Frazier said. “I think this is his 42nd year coaching high school baseball and he’s been sending me texts every day. It’s nice to hear from him.’’

Frazier has heard from many of his former teammates, including the Mets’ Jacob deGrom, Pete Alonso and J.D. Davis

“Pete, we had a really good friendship he always keeps up with me,’’ Frazier said of the slugging first baseman. “I’m wishing him the best – they are having a good season with all the injuries. It’s pretty remarkable.’’

Frazier’s family is a baseball family. His brothers Charlie and Jeff both have baseball academies. Charlie, who was drafted by the Marlins in 1999 and spent six years in the minors, runs Frazier Baseball and Jeff, who made it to the majors with the Tigers in 2010 as an outfielder, has Frazier’s Downtown Academy (DTA).

With Father’s Day next Sunday this is a special time as well. Frazier would bring his son Blake to the clubhouse while with the Mets.

“I love bringing my oldest son into the major league batting cages and the clubhouses,’’ Todd said. “He tells me all the time, he wishes I was playing Major League Baseball so he can say hi to the guys.’’

Blake is seven, Grant is two and daughter Kylie is five. With all his baseball travel through the years Todd is quick to credit his wife Jackie.

“She is my backbone,’’ Todd said. “She is my No. 1 to deal with three kids for a lot of years, it’s remarkable and I wouldn’t be here without her.’’

Soon the Sumer Olympics will be here.

“Just me playing the game of baseball,’’ Frazier said of the journey. “Loving the game and bringing energy every day of the week and I know I can still do it for a couple of years for sure. I know I’m on my last legs, I’m realistic, but I will never change. You can ask everybody that I played with they always say, ‘You keep bringing that energy, man. I don’t know how you do it all these years.’ It’s from my roots, man. My dad always taught me the right way. If you can do something, do it to the fullest, if not, move on. And it’s not time to move on yet.’’

No it’s not. It’s time for the Olympics.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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