GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Todd Frazier knows challenge and adversity — far beyond the baseball field.
Frazier was born and raised in Toms River, N.J., and built a new home there for his new wife, Jackie. And Frazier was there when Superstorm Sandy came calling, a storm that nearly obliterated not only Toms River, but the entire state of New Jersey.
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“It was crazy, just crazy,” he said. “Usually hurricanes only hit the coast, but this time the whole state got hit. It was just tragic, so tragic. I saw people just walking the streets with no place to go.
“My parents’ house is about a half mile from where the flooding ended and they are about five or six miles away from the ocean. That water just kept rising and rising.
“Just hectic and insane. It seemed every house was hit in some way, destroyed or a tree blown down or debris or cars flipped over, even though it wasn’t close to the ocean. But we came together and that was the best part of it.”
Frazier was staying at his wife’s parents house in Freehold, N.J., “Because our house was not quite finished,” and it was far enough away to avoid the raging waters.
With that all behind him, Frazier’s attention turns to playing third base for the Cincinnati Reds this year as a permanent replacement for Scott Rolen.
“I think last year I opened some eyes and now it’s time to show everybody it wasn’t a fluke,” said the 27-year-old supplemental first-round pick in 2007. “They now know I can do it and I know I can do it.”
Although he had a great spring in 2012, Frazier was the last player cut when the team picked up pitcher Alfredo Simon and Frazier was sent back to Class AAA Louisville. But once he arrived 42 games into the season, he slid comfortably into his clubhouse chair and became one of the team’s leaders.
When the season was over, he finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting (his peers voted him the Players Choice Rookie of the Year).
For most of the season after he arrived, he was a fill-in at third base when Rolen was injured and a fill-in at first base for six weeks when Joey Votto was injured. And during Votto’s absence, Frazier helped carry the team. He played 35 of the 48 games Votto missed and hit .323 with six homers and 25 RBI.
For the year he hit .273 with 19 homers and 67 RBIs, pretty special for a rookie without a position.
“It is going to be fun and I don’t put any pressure on myself,” he said. “I like to set my goals high and try to reach them. My father once told me, ‘Once you set team goals, then the individual goals take care of themselves.’
“I have individual goals, but not to be too clichéd, you want to get to the playoffs, do some damage and win the World Series. If that happens, nine times out of ten it is a great year for you. You contribute one way or another.”
While manager Dusty Baker liked what he saw of Frazier last year, he knows the product is far from ready to have a label slapped on it.
“It takes longer than what we saw,” Baker said. “It takes time to see how a young player makes adjustments when the league learns how to pitch to him. And a lot of times that affects your fielding.”
Baker sent Frazier home after last season with a homework assignment that involved footwork.
“He worked hard this winter,” Baker said. “We told him to work on his first-step agility. When you are playing third base, it is that first step that determines if you make the play. It is not called the hot corner for nothing. You end up reaching if you don’t have that first step. We take pride on defense here and he worked hard on it and we’re giving him an opportunity to play.”
Baker, though, knows Frazier has many more assets than liabilities.
“He’s a strong young man,” Baker said, probably recalling the two one-handed home runs Frazier hit last season. “He brings some good things to the table — to the team and to the clubhouse. Not only does he have a strong game, but he has a great personality, a personality of a winner. He is not scared or intimidated by anybody.”