Former Toms River stars reflect on Little League title

"They're doing the same thing we were doing," says Todd Frazier about the current Toms River squad. From 1995 to 1999, Toms River went to the Little League World Series three times.
"They're doing the same thing we were doing," says Todd Frazier about the current Toms River squad. From 1995 to 1999, Toms River went to the Little League World Series three times.
Posted: August 20, 2010

The dream of playing baseball beyond Little League had taken Casey Gaynor from his hometown of Toms River, N.J., to Rutgers and now Youngstown, Ohio, where he turned on the television set in his host family's home earlier this week and came across a game that rekindled fond memories.

In 1998, he played on the Toms River East team that won the Little League World Series against Kashima, Japan. And now, 12 years later, Gaynor saw a similar process unfolding with another hometown team, Toms River National, on its way to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series.

"It just reminds you of how fast time has gone," said Gaynor, 23, a pitcher for the single-A Mahoning Valley Scrappers, an affiliate of the Cleveland Indians in the New York-Penn League.

Indeed, time has zipped by for members of the 1998 team affectionately known as "The Beasts of the East." Only four players from that team went on to play college baseball. And of those, only Gaynor and Todd Frazier, teammates for a year at Rutgers, now play professionally. The rest found occupations in other fields.

But Monday night's Mid-Atlantic Regional title game win over Council Rock Newtown helped put things into perspective. "It's unbelievable it's been 12 years," said Frazier, 24, a shortstop and first-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds in 2007. "Some of those kids on this year's team were just being born [in 1998]. It's kind of cool. They're doing the same thing we were doing."

From 1995 to 1999, Toms River went to Williamsport an unprecedented three times, including back-to-back in 1998 and 1999.

Even current Toms River National player Kevin Blum, who hit six straight home runs in the regional, knows the history. "We're very aware of those teams," Blum said. "We know all about Todd Frazier and Casey Gaynor."

Frazier, who now plays for the Louisville Bats, the Reds' triple-A affiliate, holds those memories dear. In fact, he can give a play-by-play account of critical moments in the final games leading up to the Little League World Series.

He still remembers his performance at the plate in the 12-9 title win over Japan - 4 for 4 with a home run and an intentional walk.

"One of the best games I've ever played," Frazier said, laughing. "I didn't really want that game to end, to be honest, because we were enjoying it so much. It really was incredible.

"At that time, we didn't think anything of it. It was just my best friends playing baseball, and after the game we'd go to the pool or to someone else's house. It was great, just a bunch of young guys having fun."

After the team won in 1998, they appeared on talk shows and enjoyed celebrity status. Frazier remembers the reaction afterward when he received congratulatory letters postmarked from Hawaii to China.

"It was awesome," he said. "We didn't know how much impact on the United States and New Jersey this had at that time. There were parades after parades. It was like we just woke up the United States a little bit and everyone was into the Little League World Series that year. We got to be on a lot of shows. We met a lot of people. It was an unbelievable time."

Coverage of this year's regional tournament also sparked reminders of the camaraderie on the 1998 team, particularly when ESPN showed the Little League Eastern Region complex in Bristol, Conn. - from the dorms and swimming pool to the cafeteria.

"We had a special bond," Gaynor said. "Not just playing, but also what we did off the field on our down time. We spent, like, three months together, seeing each other every day. And we ended up doing something special that year. I know it's something we'll always cherish."

Though the communication isn't as frequent as it once was, the players take solace in knowing they're only a phone call - or a text message - away. There's also the chance they'll run into each other in Toms River, where many of the players' families still live.

As Frazier remembers it: Brad Frank, who became involved in UFC martial arts, is now a police officer; Joey Franceschini, who graduated from Rowan University, is an undercover officer; and Gabe Gardner, a body builder, works as a bouncer at an Atlantic City casino.

"I don't want to say we all went separate ways," Gaynor said. "We all just did different things after [Little League] baseball. But I could always call those guys and see what they're doing. And they could always call me if they need anything and I'll be there."

Frazier and Gaynor remained close throughout high school - Frazier went to Toms River South, Gaynor to Toms River East. And that bond was strengthened when the two went to Rutgers.

"That was cool to play with each other for a year," said Gaynor. He was only 11 when he started the championship game in 1998 that Frazier finished. Gaynor was the star of the team that lost in the U.S. title game the next year.

"He's a great guy and a good pitcher," Frazier said of Gaynor. "Out of all the guys, I probably see him the most."

So with Toms River National set to play Saturday morning at 11 against Hamilton, Ohio, Frazier said he would encourage players to look around and treasure the moment, as he did over a decade ago.

"You're playing in front of tons of fans and they're screaming your name, cheering. It's fun," he said. "It'll be the last time they play in a little stadium - the best stadium for a 12-year-old. Just enjoy each other's company and have as much fun as possible, because it only happens once."


Contact staff writer Mario Aguirre at 215-854-4550 or maguirre@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|