CINCINNATI — Around the Redsland environs fans call Todd Frazier the Toddfather, a fitting description for the New Jersey native with the east coast twang and the penchant for Frank Sinatra music.
There are no family mafia connections, he says with a laugh, other than he and his relatives loved watching The Sopranos. And he knows nothing about dead horse heads in beds.
What he does know about is playing baseball, playing third base for the Cincinnati Reds and making such an impression that in only his second year there is a Facebook Toddfather group.
Frazier, 27, a supplemental first round draft pick in 2007, was voted the National League’s Outstanding Rookie after last season by his fellow players and was third in the BBWAA Rookie of the Year balloting.
So, the question was: sophomore jinx. Maybe, maybe not. After a decent start to 2013, Frazier’s average began plummeting like an Alaskan thermometer.
On April 21, three weeks into the season, Frazier was hitting .292. Then an 0 for 6 against the Chicago Cubs dripped him to .268 and the numbers sank from there — all the way to .214 on May 7.
Frazier was so frustrated he changed his walk-up song when it was his turn to bat, dropping Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon.” But he didn’t drop Sinatra. He just changed to “Come Fly With Me,” but some thought maybe it should be “A Long Night.”
“It was time to quit trying to get five hits in one at-bat because that’s what I was trying to do,” said Frazier before somebody convinced him that not even Ted Williams or Ty Cobb or Pete Rose could do that.
Instead of flailing at everything that arrived at home plate, Frazier got back to doing what he did last year. Since his average sank dangerously close to the Mendoza Line at .214, Frazier is on a streak over the past 14 games during which he hit .331, creeping his average back to .242.
“He needed to swing at better pitches and he needed to quit guessing at what pitches were coming,” said manager Dusty Baker. “He says he wasn’t, but I saw signs of it.”
Frazier, though, believes it was merely pitch selection and antsy pants at the plate to get all the hits back in one at-bat.
“I’ve felt good all year, but it was just a matter of me swinging at good pitches to hit instead of just swinging,” he said. “I’d never been in a situation like that and I’m still trying to figure out how to get my swing back. Right now it feels pretty good because I’m hitting line drives again.”
At this point, Frazier says he’ll take any kind of hit — line drive, infield roller, outfield blooper, “Or any way to get on base, really. Everybody worries about my average. I’m not really worried about the average.
“I worry about getting home runners in scoring position and production,” he said. “I’ve been doing that and I have been getting on base, that’s pretty big.”
Frazier said he hasn’t changed much, hasn’t concentrated on any one thing, but he grins and said, “When I’m up there in the box, I tell myself I’m the best hitter there is. That stuff works for me.”
What is important to Frazier is to look in the standings and see the Reds playing .614 baseball, 13 games over .500 and only 2 ½ games behind the St. Louis Cardinals, who seem to never lose.
“We’re playing great team baseball and when we win everybody in here wins,” he said. “I thought it would be a gut check for us to see how we played in Pittsburgh over the weekend.”
The Pirates swept three from the Reds at PNC Park in April and the Reds lost two straight in Cleveland before hitting Pittsburgh again. “And we won the series (two gamers to one) and almost swept them (blew a 4-2 lead in the eighth and lost in 11).
“This shows how we are at this time of the year, about one third through the season, and it’s pretty nice,” he said. “We’ve played well together and I like where we are. We have great guys on this team and it is fun and relaxing. Nobody puts much pressure on you.”
The Reds began a six-game homestand Monday against two top contenders, three against the Colorado Rockies (second in the NL West) and three against the St. Louis Cardinals, the NL Central leaders.
“This will give us another good indication of how we stand,” Frazier said. “Colorado can mash the ball and their pitching is pretty good.”
Despite the second place standing, the Reds are tied with Pittsburgh for the second-best record in baseball, and Frazier said, “We look at the fact at this point we’re over .600 and not many teams can say that. We’re not worried first, second or third right now. It’s all about wins. We started slow, but we’ve come on real strong and have to keep doing that.”
And if things continue positively for the Reds and Frazier, he might switch his Sinatra walk-up song to, “It Was a Very Good Year.”