CARBONDALE — Jason Frasor reached a crossroads after undergoing Tommy John surgery for the second time in 2001.
The 23-year-old righty was pitching for the Detroit Tigers' Class A affiliate, and had just come off a 5-3 season as a starter. Frasor could never seem to get the same spin on his curveball he had in high school, but featured a hard slider and low-90s fastball.
"I'd shown signs of being pretty good, but, again, you're still in A-ball, and I think I was 23 or 24," Frasor said. "The clock is ticking, or at least that's what I'm thinking about, but I do it. With encouragement from my parents. They said 'Come on Jay, what else are you gonna do? Have the surgery and get it done.' I came back and did well, and then I got moved to the bullpen, and that's when my career took off."
Frasor, 39, ended a 12-year major league career in August 2015. The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder appeared in 679 games, all out of the bullpen, and finished 35-35 with a 3.49 ERA. Frasor pitched more than 646 innings in the big leagues, mainly as a middle relief guy, with 615 career strikeouts and 283 walks.
Frasor pitched in his first postseason game in the 2014 American League wild card with the Kansas City Royals, getting the win after getting two important outs. He pitched in three of the Royals' World Series games against San Francisco, giving up four hits and one earned run in 2 1/3 innings. The Royals lost in seven games, ending what Frasor called the best months of his life.
"I got traded to Kansas City, and I get there, and we lost our first four games. We lose our first four games, and I remember telling my wife this team stinks," Frasor said. "And then, all of a sudden, we just won 25 out of 30, something ridiculous, and then, all of a sudden, I'm saying to my wife this is the best team I've ever been on. We win the wild card, we go and beat Anaheim. We're in the World Series. Those two months, September and October, were the best two months of my life. It was the best baseball, and I had my kids and my wife with me, and we were just going from city to city. It was so much fun."
Frasor went to the bullpen after starting 24 games in 2002 with Detroit's High-A affiliate in Lakeland, Florida. Frasor went 5-6 with a 3.54 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 117 innings that year, and never looked back.
"It was more me. I was a one-inning guy," Frasor said. "I was a two-inning guy, tops. It fit me because when I was in the minors, I was a five-and-dive guy. I would throw 100 pitches in five innings, because it was all fastballs and I'd get into high counts. In the bullpen, my velocity went up even more."
Before Frasor reached the major leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2004, he struck out 278 batters at SIU from 1996-99. Frasor, an Oak Forest native who was recruited by longtime Saluki leader Dan Callahan, started 41 games, the fifth-most in school history. His 272.1 innings pitched — he might have set the record if he didn't have his first Tommy John surgery as a junior in 1998 — are eighth all-time at SIU.
Frasor will be inducted into the SIU Hall of Fame Friday night with Gwen Berry, Hubie Dunn, Alexis Moreland, Bianca Stuart and Ray Tabacchi.
Frasor pitched 64 2/3 innings his freshman year in 1996, starting 10 games for the only team he played on at SIU that finished with a winning record. The Salukis finished 29-26 overall and 18-12 in the Missouri Valley Conference (third place) despite Frasor's homesickness.
"Once we started playing, I rememeber, 'OK, I can do this. These guys aren't that good,'" he said. "I don't know what I expected, but I expected guys to be awesome, right? After fall ball I remember thinking 'I can do this. I can hang here.' I just remember getting better, and getting better quickly. It's not like I hit a growth spurt or something, but somehow I got better, and as a freshman, I fit right in and had to pitch in some important innings for that team."
Frasor now lives in Tampa Bay, Florida, with his wife, Laura, his son, Jack, and his daughter, Cameron. He hopes to return to baseball as a coach someday.
"Me and my son take taekwondo classes together. I take my daughter to gymnastics classes. I'm doing all that," Frasor said. "One day I'll be back in the game, because I want to be a coach. I'd love to be a coach. But not yet. I'm enjoying being at home right now, and I'm very fortunate to be able to spend so much time with Jack and Cameron."