Frazier’s hard work paying off for HensWritten by Chris Schmidbauer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When the 2010 baseball season began, Mud Hens first baseman Jeff Frazier was one of several players caught in a crammed outfield. The Hens broke camp with five outfielders on its roster, and with only three spots available and several star prospects ahead of him, it looked like at-bats for Frazier might be few and far between.
“I just kept telling myself I would get a chance,” he said. “I just knew when I got that opportunity that I needed to make the most of it.”
Being the “odd man out” has been the theme of Frazier’s career. After being drafted by the Tigers in 2004, the New Jersey native has had to prove himself several times.
He was traded to the Seattle Mariners in 2007, then traded back to Detroit in 2008. After spending the majority of 2008 at Double-A Erie, Frazier was poised to begin his 2009 season with Toledo. But those hopes were dashed after the Tigers signed Johnny Damon prior to last season.
After getting called up to Toledo in May 2009, he went on a tear in July, hitting .353 throughout the rest of the season. He hit 11 HR with the club and drove in 54 RBI. With such a productive season under his belt, Frazier felt he would be ready to help lead the Hens in 2010.
“I thought doing what I did in Toledo last year, I thought that would mean that I would easily be a starter somewhere,” he said.
Throw in the start of this season’s bleak outlook for Frazier, and it seemed like he was in store for more bad luck.
“Coming in on Opening Day this year and not seeing my name in the lineup was difficult. We had all these up-and-coming guys, and I knew I just had to take advantage of any chance I got.”
Frazier got his chance that first game, when outfielder Casper Wells was injured sliding into second base.
“I was put in as a pinch runner and, in my only at bat, I got a single, and I haven’t been out of the lineup since,” he said.
What has ensued since that fateful at bat has been Frazier’s most complete season in professional baseball. Moving from the outfield to first base, Frazier has hit the cover off the baseball.
He ranks second on the team in batting average (.274), and he leads the team in home runs (20), RBI (61), and slugging percentage (.516).
Frazier’s surge of power at the plate can be attributed to some tips from Hens hitting coach Leon “Bull” Durham and manager Larry Parrish.
“Both Bull and LP were watching the way I was swinging through the ball, and they said if I dropped my hands I would be able to get some lift on the line drives I was hitting. I took their advice and the ball started carrying over the wall.”
Frazier’s fantastic first half earned the first baseman an All-Star slot for International League team and he was also selected to participate in the Triple-A Home Run Derby. Both were great honors for the 27-year-old.
“The whole experience was great,” he said. “It was pretty close to my hometown and I had a bunch of family and friends in the stands. The crowds were great and everything was first class all the way. I just had a blast out there.”
While the fanfare is nice, Frazier has more pressing issues to deal with.
Frazier is in the final year of his contract with Detroit, and with the season more than halfway through, time is running out for Frazier to prove his worth.
“This is a huge year for me and it is so important for me to finish strong. I am going to keep doing what I have been so that I can find a place to play next year.”
Some might crack under such intense pressure to perform, but Frazier uses it as motivation.
“I use it to drive me every day, and I keep trying to prove that I am worth taking a chance on,” he said.
No matter what the future holds, Frazier said he is still focused on getting the Hens back to the winning ways from earlier in the season.
“We went on a little bit of a slide there for a bit,” he said, “but stuff is starting to come back together for us. I am going to keep doing what I can to help this team win, and I know the other guys are too.”
Chris Schmidbauer is sports editor for Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact him at email@example.com. He also can be heard every Tuesday at 11 a.m. on the Odd Couple Sports Show on Fox Sports Radio 1230 WCWA.