NEW YORK -- Todd Frazier had a much better home run swing as a 12-year-old, and the evidence is found in the YouTube clips of the 1998 Little League World Series. Frazier was a 5-foot-2 leadoff hitter for his New Jersey team, Toms River East, a boy who took a man's cut on a pitch from the Japanese starter and sent the ball sailing high over the left-field fence.
On Monday night, Frazier was a 6-foot-3 man who took a boy's cut in his first at-bat against Houston Astros starter Charlie Morton, a pitcher he positively owns. Frazier doubled over and lunged at the 95 mph fastball that was low and outside, following through with one arm, and somehow the ball floated and floated and finally cleared the Lays potato chip sign in right-center to give the New York Yankees a 3-0 second-inning lead.
Suddenly, on his trip around the Game 3 bases, his joyride through the American League Championship Series, Frazier was acting like a preteen in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, rather than a 31-year-old Yankee in the Bronx. He pumped his right fist as he rounded first and then pointed toward some family members in the outfield seats. As he headed for third base, he looked down at his stiffened left forearm as if he were a quarterback reviewing his taped-up play card or a commuter checking his watch against a late-arriving bus.
Frazier said his family members in the cheap seats weren't thrilled to be excluded from the players' family section and that it caused "a big controversy" before the game. As for his second gesture, Frazier said he had used it for "pretty much every home run" and that he was telling millions of people watching, "What time is it? It's my time."
They say you should act like you've been there before, but here's the thing: Todd Frazier had never been there before. He had never hit a postseason home run. He had been a two-time All-Star in Cincinnati, and he had won the Home Run Derby. But he had never felt what one of his Jersey-born heroes, Derek Jeter, had felt in October at Yankee Stadiums old and new.
They stood together once in 1998, after Toms River won that Little League World Series title. Jeter and young Frazier, wearing a buzz cut, had their caps over their hearts during the playing of the national anthem. Nineteen years later, Frazier delivered Jeter's kind of home run, to right field, for his first career opposite-field homer in the Bronx. He had goosebumps all night -- and for good reason.
"There's nothing like here in New York," said Frazier, who has watched his share of October passion plays from the Yankee Stadium stands.
"This is where you want to be," he said. "If you don't want to play in this kind of situation, don't even play this sport. Because this is every baseball player's dream."
The Yankees scored all of two runs in their two ALCS losses in Houston, but with one opportunistic swing from their third baseman, they scored three. Aaron Judge later crushed a three-run shot between two spectacular catches in right, including one that sent him crashing against the wall. Judge is the one who inspired the "MVP" chants. He is the bigger-than-life star on the biggest team in the biggest city, and there are nights when he can make the legend of Babe Ruth feel Jose Altuve-small.
But please understand: Frazier is the Yankee who won Game 3, the Yankee who kept his team breathing in this series. And there was some symmetry in the fact that Frazier's homer was his most important since his boyhood launch in 1998, the heart of the most recent Yankee dynasty. Brian Cashman acquired a 31-year-old third baseman named Scott Brosius that year -- the same Brian Cashman who acquired a 31-year-old third baseman named Todd Frazier this past July.
Frazier isn't Brosius, who was a titan that October and, ultimately, the World Series MVP. But Frazier has a little Brosius in him, a knack for being in the middle of important moments. When manager Joe Girardi was bloodied and helpless on the ropes after his no-review follies in Game 2 of the ALDS, putting the entire season on the brink, he credited Frazier for lifting him up. "I was about as low as I could be as a baseball player or baseball coach," Girardi said. The manager told his players before Game 3 that they needed to rally around one another, and when he was done, his third baseman pierced the silence by shouting, "Let's go."
"I'll never forget that," said Girardi, who then watched his team win three straight sudden-death games.
The manager went on about Frazier's energy and leadership and called him "a joy to be around." More than anything, Girardi said, the third baseman has "a ton of fight in him."
Frazier has packed an awful lot into three months. He hit the line drive into the stands that seriously injured a young girl and compelled the Yankees to announce that they will install protective netting in the Stadium. He hit the homer at Citi Field that left a disapproving Mets fan unimpressed and started the strange thumbs-down craze.
Frazier is a card-carrying Jersey Guy from Rutgers who married a Jersey Girl and counts the Hoboken-born Frank Sinatra and Long Branch-born Bruce Springsteen among his musical favorites. Spend 10 minutes listening to him tell stories around his locker, and it's hard to picture him anywhere but on a Jersey Shore beach next to a packed cooler.
Frazier grew up 85 miles from the Bronx, and on Monday night, he became a local legend with a wind-aided, 365-foot homer in his first at-bat. "Luckily," Frazier said, "it just kept going."
In the clubhouse afterward, Frazier stood with Judge near the big man's locker and mimicked his what-time-is-it gesture. The two Yankees laughed. Frazier said he was getting blitzed with text messages, emails and phone calls from friends and family, though he promised that nobody's seat would be upgraded for Game 4.
As it was, half of Toms River was in the crowd. It's a good thing, too. The bygone hero of the Little League World Series might've just helped the Yankees get to the World Series for grown-ups.
"It's such a cool feeling," Frazier said. "I wish everybody could feel basically what I'm going through."
Frazier handed CC Sabathia a big lead in the second inning, and that was that. As the third baseman walked to the plate for his second at-bat in the fourth, the Stadium speakers played Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon."
Funny, but it felt like Todd Frazier was already there.