Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan on April 4, 1994 · Page 39
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Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan · Page 39

Detroit, Michigan
Issue Date:
Monday, April 4, 1994
Page 39
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Page8E Detroit Free Press Special Section fw.w...,.,lW..twra. Monday, April 4, 1994 Frymans dedication, discipline helped push him to among game's elite TRAVIS FRYMAN, from Page IE Pi I Seven years later, he ponders aloud the enormous fork in the road he faced when Army asked him to come. "That," he said, "was an 18-year-old trying to make a fife decision." J Instead of becoming a soldier, Fryman, 25, has become one of baseball's elite players. His accomplishments place him just below the top trio of Ken Griffey Jr., Juan Gonzalez and Frank Thomas amid the exceptional array of young talent now refueling the game. I With the Tigers, he has become a major run producer and the answer to the team's longtime hole at third base. But he means more than that. With many productive years seemingly ahead of him, with his respectful demeanor and new five-year contract, he can follow Al Kaline and Alan Trammell as the star who embodies what Michiganders cherish. ? A high school tournament back home in Pensacola helped bring him to this point. It came in his senior season, shortly before West Point wanted an answer. Fryman's fundamentals and defense were excellent, but his hitting potential was uncertain. He knew he would be taken in that June's major league draft, though he did not know how high. f ; So he made a decision: If he didn't have an indication he would be picked in the first three rounds, he would accept the appointment to West Point, about three months before the baseball draft. I But in this one tournament, with several scouts watching, Fryman almost never made an out. j "I was ll-for-12, or something like that," he said. The scouts told him he could expect to go in the top three rounds. The United States Military Academy received a polite no. ',. Perhaps a rule set by Randy Putman, Fryman's high school coach, made the difference. Putman forbade his players to go on recruiting trips during the baseball season, and Fryman had to decline an invitation to visit West Point. " "Everybody tells me the best decision I ever made was not going to look at the school," Fryman said. "Everybody tells me, 'If you had gone and seen it, you would have committed right there. It's that impressive.' " Had Fryman gone to West Point, his salary right now as a first lieutenant would be about $30,000 a year. This season, he begins a five-year contract worth $25 million. Roberts, his would-be coach at Army, said: "He made the right choice." ryman the almost-military man provides an insight into who he has always been. The Hiiuuuu y uius iui sumcuue wan d suuiiu uuiiu and intensity who is also courteous and It's easy to picture him as a cadet, standing as ram-rod straight as any sergeant could have demanded, saluting with precision elbow cocked, right hand chopping into his forehead. Above all, he has one trait that would have made him a soldier and perhaps has elevated him to baseball excellence: his absolute devotion to discipline. This is the discipline to practice regularly and properly, in and out of season, the discipline to stay serious. The discipline to concentrate, so the improvements made in practice aren't wasted. His natural fondness for discipline was enhanced by the rules of his household. His father required him to say "yes sir" or "no sir." If he dusted the trophy case, that meant taking the trophies off the shelf and then dusting. It wasn't just a surface dusting. By his senior year of high school, he was playing baseball in such a thorough, precise way that when one college coach went to scout him, he didn't even stay for the game. As soon as he watched Fryman take infield practice, he decided to offer him a scholarship. "I've never been that crazy about playing games," Fryman said. "I love to practice. It's just fun. You can work on what you want to work on. Spring training is a blast for me, spending the whole day out practicing." His most enjoyable experience in a game is reaping the reward of something he has practiced. "That's the most fun about baseball and athletics, or any endeavor," Fryman said. "If you're working on a weak "area, and you find yourself coming through or getting Stronger, you take some satisfaction in that. You're getting better." The discipline gave birth to his career as we know it. The painful birth occurred in the off-season of. 1988-89. $ In 1988, his second season in pro baseball, Fryman did pot hit a homer. In 411 at-bats for Class-A Fayetteville, he hit .234, but does not recall hitting a ball to the warning track. As in high school, Fryman's strengths were fundamentals and defense. At the plate, he felt dvermatched physically. I J "I was getting the bat knocked out of my hands," he said. "If you don't hit, you don't play. I knew I had to get stronger. The only way to do that is to lift weights and to eat." Fryman had scored extremely high on the Army ' physical tests, but he had found himself lacking the strength needed to drive a baseball. For more than four months from a few days after he got home from the 1988 Instructional League, to when he left for 1989 spring training Fryman never left Pensacola. For six days every week, he lifted weights for two hours and took batting practice with Squeaky Parker, a Pensacola-area scout. "And I had to beg him to take Sundays off," Parker said, f Travis hit until his hands bled." Parker volunteers his insights on hitting to Pensacola-area players. He is that rare teacher someone who can tell a player not only what to do, but make him understand why he should do it. He threw so much to Fryman, he went home every day and iced his arm. Fryman had no equivalent of Parker in the weight room, no fitness guru. He designed his own workouts. "I just started reading books and magazines and trying workouts," he said. "I bought every muscle-and-fitness magazine on the shelf. I bought a couple of books oh weight-lifting. I would copy workouts down that I thought would be good to do and go do it. - "I was disciplined enough to stay in the weight room and stick fhough it I put on 15 pounds of muscles that year." Frjwnan, who now Weighs about 195, admits his desire if" I Scout Squeaky Parker worked with Fryman. ,i , r ( 1 ' ;f; k I i LJ 1 1 , AW t r.k ! if tr: , t Il jH . , it . I . if it I f v- (' J i 'lis.' X.,-' .V . : ' 1- ' STEVEN R. NICKERSONDetroit Free Press Tigers third baseman Travis Fryman stands alone when it comes to discipline and dedication. Fryman, who nearly went to West Point, prefers practice to games. "I love to practice," Fryman said. "It's just fun." Parker, a veteran scout, had seen Fryman during the Instructional League that fall. He told him to give him a call when he got back home, and they would work on hitting. Fryman called him within a day or two after returning to Pensacola. "That was a turning point in my career, the combination of lifting weights and Squeaky helping me with hitting that winter," Fryman said. "I had a one-track mind for that winter, and it paid off. The next year was.'89, and I started to make progress." When Fryman reported to spring training, some people in the Tigers' camp thought he must have used steroids during the winter. On the first day of batting practice, he hit a couple-of balls to the warning track in rightfield the opposite field. The work with Parker and the weights remained visible all season. He hit nine homers at Double-A London and led the league with 30 doubles. The next year, at Triple-A Toledo, he had 10 homers and 22 doubles at midseason. He was named to the Triple-A All-Star Game, but had to cancel the trip. He had been called up to the Tigers. "From the time I started lifting weights and working with Squeaky, it seemed like no time before I was in the big . leagues," Fryman said. "Things have just snowballed since then." Two years after reaching the majors, he played in the 1992 All-Star Game; he repeated the trip last season. To someone who began following him when he reached the majors, his success might seem quick and easy. "I understand that I was given a lot of ability," Fryman said, "but it kind of rubs me the wrong way when people say, 'He's more talented or more gifted than the next guy; he maybe hasn't paid his dues.' I feel like I spent a lot of time. I scuffled for a couple of years, and I had to have a gut pheck." ecil Fielder often is the life of the clubhouse before a game joking with teammates, yelling playful insults, maybe getting into a card game. When the Tigers go out for batting practice, Fielder also can make the field his stage cajoling teammates, slapping hands with friends on the other team, smiling often. Fielder even kids around at first base with umpires. Clearly, his stay-loose-and-easy approach works for him. Most major leaguers conduct themselves with some dose of Fielder's pregame levity. They don't summon their intensity until just before the national anthem. The game is too mentally grinding, and the season too arduous, to be fully serious in the hours ltiing up to the first pitch. JULIAN H. GONZAUZZDetroit Free Press Fryman, who struggled at shortstop during the first half of last season, is working hard toward becoming an outstanding defensive third baseman. ON TARGET TIME G AB R H HR RBI AVG 1993 151 607 98 182 22 97 .300 Career 527 2055 282 570 72 311 .277 Projected 2180 8500 1166 2358 298 1286 .277 Projected totals are lor 8,500 at-bats, about a 15-year career flagged at times that off-season. What kept him going? "It was the way I had embarrassed myself those first two years in the minors," he said. "I've always been a pretty good ballplayer. Growing up, I made every all-star team. But when I was about 13 or 14, the other guys started growing and I didn't. I would still make the all-star team. But one year I had to play second instead of short. And I was hitting eighth or ninth. "It was embarrassing. I felt like I was fundamentally better than them, but they were just stronger than me. The fuejfor maintaining that winter is that I knew how poor I waiind how bad I was those first couple of ters. " C A few lockers down from Fielder in the Tiger Stadiuni clubhouse sits the exception. Fryman is almost always the team's most reserved player before a game. While chatter and laughter and music fill the room, Fryman sits facing his. locker. He is often reading an outdoors magazine. ! During batting or infield practice, he seldom talks oil smiles. He believes the saying that "practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect." J" Fryman says little during games, too. He has always , been this way. His Little League teammates would talk to their parents through the screen. Travis' father had a rule; No talking on the ball field. He wanted his sons focused. In most of his Little League photos, Fryman has a smirk. He recalls only one in which he smiled. "When it comes to baseball, I've never allowed any distractions," he said. "Even as a kid, I wanted to do good at baseball. I didn't like losing. I can't explain why, but I know I can't take baseball nonchalantly and still do well. I feel like it takes every bit of concentration I have. "Even though some people say, 'You've got more ability than other guys, that's why you do well,' I don't think that's the case. I do have ability. But I think that, combined with concentration, is what has allowed me to do well. t "I can't do what Cecil does and kid around with guys on the field. I can say hello to guys I know, but I can't joke and kid around much. ; "I like being that way. That's how I like to play. I've been accused of not having fun at it. But I love baseball. So I have fun, but it's only fun to me if I do it the way I want to do it." Fryman does not think he will change, either. "That's part of who I am, so why should I change? I don't see any reason why. I don't think it's wrong to play that way. It's not arrogance, or that I don't want to talk to guys on the field sometimes, or joke and kid around. But it's how I've got to play to do well. And if I laugh and joke and kid around and don't have a good game, I'm going to think it's because I wasn't concentrating enough. And I don't want that looming over my head. ; "Some guys have more outward personalities, like Cecil, and can still work. Tram is more relaxed, but he's a very focused player. We all have our own personalities that we play to. And that's one of the neat things about pro j baseball all the different personalities on one team, the different ways of going about your job." 1 1 Fryman's discipline continues after the game. He is one of the few players who lifts weights then, sometimes , spending more than half an hour in the weight room. Most of his teammates are gone by the time he finally enters the clubhouse to get out of uniform to eat and shower. He remembers how weight-lifting transformed him in the winter of 1988-89. He doesn't dare stop. Fryman also doesn't forget how quickly he became rich. As a high school senior, he didn't order a yearbook because he knew his father, who had been divorced, was short of money. In his first year of pro ball, he rode a 10-speed bike to and from the park. He 2 didn't have a car. In the winter of '88-89,; when he tried to gain weight, he ate at home because he couldn't afford to eat out. Now he has a $25 million contract. But with his devotion to discipline, it's hard to see how the money will subtract from his intensity. If anyone brings up his new wealth, it won't be Fryman. He thinks money is discussed too much in the clubhouse. The only change the $25 million might make in him is, well, it might make him a little more embarrassed. Embarrassed? ; "Friends of mine, older guys who work for a living, don't want to see a guy who plays baseball, makes great money, and is very nonchalant about his work, too," Fryman said. "The least you can do is take your game seriously and work at your game. Have respect for those people who do work for a living who pay to come to the park. They do deserve at least an effort. "And I'm embarrassed to think that I just play a game for a living. So at least if I can work at it, I feel like I do something." Fryman said this in Pensacola, about a week before he left for spring training. He was sitting in a barbecue .', restaurant, the kind of place you can go in your work ' clothes. He could gaze across the highway and see the field where he had his first organized Little League practice ; when he was 5. Fryman and his wife, Kathy, recently bought their first home in the Detroit area. But in the off-season, they will continue to live in Pensacola. The warm winter weather is not the main reason; Fryman wants to remember where he came from. Now, sitting in the restaurant, his plan was being fulfilled. He was looking at himself with the Pensacola perspective, and it was humbling. "It's embarrassing sometimes to say that you play a ; game and get paid for it," he said. "When you make great money and even if you make the minimum ($109,000), it's more than people around here are going to make with the exception of a few. And what's baseball worth, really and truly, if you come right down to it? It's a worthless thing. It's just a game. It's for entertainment only. You don't have a skill that you would need. It's not a real-world-type thing." Fryman had contact with the real world when he was less than 2 years old. His mother brought him to the bank where his father worked in Kentucky. Travis put his hands on an electric typewriter. Bill Fryman, who wanted to give his son every chance to be a ballplayer, looked at that and thought, "Do I want my son growing up and coming to a bank or a sweaty gym?" So the family moved back to Pensacola, where Bill Fryman could resume his career as a high school basketball coach, and where the sound amateur baseball programs would enhance Travis' chances of becoming a pro baseball player. When Travis was 5, he entered Little League. Now, 20 years later, he was sitting in the barbecue place, looking across the highway at that field where it all began. "As you can see, that's not the smoothest of places to play," Fryman said. "It was the first organized day of -l practice in my life, and a ground ball bounced off a dirt clod and hit me in the mouth. It knocked my bottom tooth loose. My tooth went through my bottom lip." His father saw the blood and thought, "My wife will never let him play baseball again." He couldn't take Travis home with blood all over him. So Bill Fryman wiped the blood off his son's chin and told him to go back out and try again. - Travis Fryman didn't let up then. He didn't let up that winter of 1988-89, when he made himself into a hitter. Don't expect him to let up now. Free Press sports writer John Lowe begins his ninth , seasoisovering the Tigers. kH

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