CLEVELAND: The hard part wasn’t all the anxious waiting leading up to the Major League Baseball Draft.
It wasn’t even going through the painstaking, back-and-forth dickering over the terms of a $3.5 million contract.
The hardest part of last week’s life-altering events for Indians’ first-round draft pick Clint Frazier and his parents came after the whirlwind draft experience.
It occurred when it was time to say goodbye.
“This week has been incredible, but it’s just gone so fast,” said Kim Frazier, whose 18-year-old son from Georgia was the fifth overall pick in the draft. “It’s going to be hard to say goodbye, to let him go.”
But by the time Mark and Kim Frazier’s son woke up in a Cleveland hotel Sunday morning about to embark on his new life, the tough goodbye had become at least a little less painful.
After exchanging tearful goodbyes in what all three had earlier suspected would be “a very bittersweet moment,” Frazier headed to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and boarded a flight for Arizona.
Frazier was no longer a high school kid who had a midnight curfew on the weekends. He was now a millionaire professional athlete preparing to report for his first job.
“It’s crazy when I think about it right now,” Frazier said. “But it’s what I always wanted to do. My mom still has a picture I drew in kindergarten that she saved and put away in a scrapbook. We had to draw what we wanted to be when we grew up. I drew a baseball player.”
The slugging outfield prospect and reigning Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year, was headed to Goodyear, Ariz., to begin his professional career with the Tribe’s rookie-level Arizona League Indians.
Frazier has only played outfield for two seasons. He moved from third base after his sophomore high school season, and he readily acknowledges there’s still plenty to learn. But Indians amateur scouting director Brad Grant believes Frazier has the tools — good speed and a strong arm — to allow him to grow into the position.
“He’ll play center field, that’s where he’ll be in the long run,” Grant said. “There’s no reason to move him.”
Frazier’s parents also made their way to the airport early on Father’s Day, but they boarded a different flight. Their plane was headed to Georgia, as the couple made their way back to their hometown of Loganville and what was sure to be an oddly quiet house.
“That’s when it’s going to be the hardest,” Kim Frazier conceded Saturday, her camera ready as she stood with a group of family and friends watching Clint take batting practice in the same group with Indians catcher Carlos Santana and outfielder Michael Bourn.
“When we get home and he’s not there and there’s no games to go to, that’s when it’s going to be the hardest on us. He’s been the center of our lives for 18 years, baseball a big part of it. It will be an adjustment for all of us for sure.”
Something that will help the Fraziers adjust are the memories that began in New Jersey where the MLB Draft took place and ended 10 days later in Cleveland after a crash-course introduction to the Indians organization over the weekend.
Visiting Cleveland for the first time, the Fraziers were introduced to key members of the Indians front office who will now serve as Clint Frazier’s quasi parents, the ones making the major decisions regarding his baseball future.
Afterwards, Frazier met Indians manager Terry Francona, who gave the recent high school graduate three simple pieces of advice: “Work as hard as you can, listen more than you talk and be respectful of the game.”
“If he does that, those guys usually fly through the system because they’re so talented,” Francona said.
With the kindergarten picture tucked away, it didn’t really dawn on Frazier how much better he was than his teammates until the eighth grade. That’s when he was asked to play on a ninth-grade team.
“I was nervous until I realized I could hang with them,” he said. “That’s when my confidence really grew.”
Kim Frazier said her son is often initially shy in unfamiliar situations.
But by the end of the weekend, Clint Frazier, who addresses anyone older than he is with a polite “ma’am or sir,” was feeling more at ease.
“I have a lot of expectations for myself,” Frazier said when asked about goals. “I know being one of the highest selections comes with a lot of expectations.”
After visiting with Francona, who admired his firm handshake, a wide-eyed Frazier was treated to a private heart-to-heart conversation with Jason Giambi, the Indians’ 42-year-old designated hitter, in the third-base dugout.
“I remember playing with him on a video game,” said Frazier, who was 8 months old when his new mentor made his major-league debut with the Oakland Athletics. “Just to be sitting next to the guy, just how big he still is and all the words of wisdom he’s given me in taking me under his wing, that’s all I could ask for.”
Giambi left Frazier practically speechless when he handed him a piece of paper with his cellphone number on it, just in case a question or two pops up along his baseball journey.
“Everybody we’ve met here in Cleveland and the people in the Indians organization have made us feel so welcomed,” Mark Frazier said Saturday afternoon, pausing to use his iPad to record his son taking swings in the batting cage when it was his turn to hit. “It’s hard to let him go, real hard. But I feel comfortable leaving him in the hands of this organization.”
With Frazier’s parents beginning to feel a little more comfortable, the same Indians players who persuaded Francona to participate in their version of the then-popular Harlem Shake video craze during spring training cooked up an equally creative way to welcome the kid.
Before the 5-foot-11 Frazier settled into the batting cage and showcased the swing that produced a school-record 63 home runs at Loganville High by spraying balls around the outfield — including a handful into the left-field bleachers — the Indians players embraced Frazier with a little clubhouse hijinks.
As Frazier came in to change into his uniform, he was startled to be met by a room full of guys wearing goofy, bright red wigs — a nod to Frazier’s curly red hair that flows out from the back of his baseball cap.
“That was awesome!” Frazier said with a wide grin. “I never knew what it would be like to meet a bunch of major leaguers at once. Seeing all of them in red wigs, giving me a hard time, was something I could not put into words.”
It was just the beginning of a new relationship, but one that started out on the right foot all around.
“It was fun to watch Clint [take batting practice],” Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti said. “Obviously, you could see a lot of the ingredients there — tremendous bat speed and he hit some balls in places in the ballpark you normally don’t see.
“But more importantly, it was a great experience for he and his family to be able to get to know us better as an organization, because it’ll be a long journey together.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.