No Longer Little Two Little League heroes grow into Rutgers stars.

Posted: June 07, 2007

The summer of 1998 seems a long time ago, Todd Frazier and Casey Gaynor agreed as they relaxed in the sparse lobby of a hotel in Plymouth Meeting last month before a game against Villanova.

Yet the memories were fresh, and the Rutgers baseball teammates left the impression that they always would be.

"It seems way in the past, but I remember it just like it was yesterday," Frazier said.

"Yeah, we've gone through a lot of changes since then," Gaynor added.

Frazier, a junior shortstop for the Big East Conference champion Scarlet Knights, and Gaynor, a freshman pitcher, reunited this season, nine years after they led Toms River, N.J., to the Little League World Series title with a 12-9 victory over Kashima, Japan, in Williamsport, Pa.

Frazier was 12 at the time; Gaynor, 11. Frazier got the final out as a relief pitcher. Gaynor was the starter. Both hit homers, and both still marveled at the celebrity status they achieved in Toms River, an Ocean County town with a population of about 90,000.

They look back and still shake their heads in amazement when they talk about playing in front of more than 40,000 spectators. "We might have played before more people than we do now in a whole season combined," Frazier said.

They laugh at the memory of how excited they were to hustle back to their rooms to watch highlights of their games on ESPN's SportsCenter. "That was so neat, something I'll never forget," Gaynor said.

Then there was the parade in Toms River, in which both were perched on fire trucks and saluted by what appeared to them to be the entire country. "It seemed like millions of people were cheering for us," Frazier recalled. "Unreal."

There also was the ovation they received when they were honored at Yankee Stadium.

But as they said, much has happened, most of it good, since the two Jersey boys completed a circle from Toms River to Piscataway.

Frazier has sprouted to a 6-foot-4, 220-pound hitting machine who was named a Louisville Slugger first-team all-American last week and is rated the top professional baseball prospect in the Northeast region by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball. Last summer, he played outfield for the U.S. national team.

A marvelous athlete who holds the Toms River South High School record of 27 rebounds in a game and played quarterback before giving up football after his freshman year, Frazier is given a good chance to be selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft today.

"He's a kid with a lot of history," Phillies scouting director Marti Wolever said. "He's had a very good track record of success with U.S.A. teams. I think he profiles as an offensive third baseman in the big leagues, a third baseman with some pop. I see him going somewhere in the first round."

A unanimous choice for Big East player of the year, Frazier set single-season and career home-run records at Rutgers with 22 and 42, respectively, breaking records held by his older brother Jeff, who is in the Seattle Mariners' organization. His 22 homers rank fourth in the country.

Three years ago, Todd and Jeff were drafted on the same day, but Todd decided it was better to continue his development at Rutgers. Now he's prepared to turn professional.

"I'm excited about it," said Frazier, whose oldest brother, Charlie, was also drafted out of high school and now hopes to be a schoolteacher. "There's going to be nerves because you wait your whole life to get drafted and you just wonder what's going to happen. But it's been my goal since I was 12 - making it to the majors."

Learning from his brothers, Frazier said, he knew the path to the majors could be strewn with difficulties.

"They've told me it's a difficult lifestyle in the minors - long bus rides - and how it's a little bit of a hassle, but they talk about playing games every day, that it's nonstop and you have to get used to that," he said. "So I know it's difficult, but I think I'm ready to go through it because I love the game of baseball."

On the field, Frazier blends poise, patience and selflessness with his skills. Rutgers coach Fred Hill employs him as the leadoff hitter to get him as many at-bats as possible and, just as important, to try to get opposing pitchers to throw him a strike now and then. Frazier averages one walk a game, which ranks eighth in the country.

"Todd is very easy to coach," Hill said. "He's got a great attitude toward the game. He listens to everything you say and tries it. He's been a pleasure."

After Little League, Gaynor, a 6-2, 205-pound righthander, went 34-4 at Toms River East High and was a first-team all-state selection after a senior season in which he was 12-1 with a 1.25 ERA, 135 strikeouts, and only 21 walks in 84 innings. Despite being a freshman on a nationally ranked team, Gaynor has been a steady presence in the three-man starting rotation. He is 4-3 and second on the team in strikeouts and innings pitched.

Gaynor's father, Mike, coached the Toms River Little League team, and his older brother, Colin, finished his career at Rutgers two years ago.

"I think Casey has an outstanding future," Hill said. "He's probably done better than what we thought as a freshman. I think he's going to be excellent when he gets a little more experience."

Both Frazier and Gaynor believe the Little League experience made them better prepared to handle the pressures of the game and gave them a head start on dealing with the media.

About the only thing they don't seem to agree on is their loyalties to a major-league team. Frazier is a Boston Red Sox fan, and Gaynor roots for the New York Yankees. "I get heat all the time from all the Yankees fans back home," Frazier said.

But not much. In Toms Rivers, neither Frazier or Gaynor has to apologize for anything.

"Even now, some people still recognize you and they want to talk to you about it, about the good times you had," Frazier said.

Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com.

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