Travis Fryman has a new career, even if he’s hesitant to admit it. A five-time American League All-Star at third base during 13 big-league seasons (1990-2002), the 39-year-old Fryman is now the manager of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, Cleveland’s affiliate in the short-season New York-Penn League. Selected by Detroit in the first round of the 1987 draft, Fryman went on to spend eight years with the Tigers and five more with the Indians, hitting .274/.336/.443 with 223 home runs. Known for having one of the best arms in the game, Fryman came up as a shortstop before moving to the hot corner, where he won a Gold Glove in 2000.
David Laurila: You’re just over a month into your managerial career. How has it gone so far?
Travis Fryman: Well, I haven’t really even thought of it as a career, but it’s been a great experience. We’re seeing some improvement out of our ballclub and from our players; we’ve got a nice group of young men that work very hard. They’re very sincere in their desire to become better players, and they give us a great effort, so it’s been a very enjoyable experience thus far.
DL: What do you bring to the table as a manager?
TF: Passion and perspective. That is the way I’d put it. I love the game, and have always had a lot of passion for the game; it’s been one of the driving forces of my life, from childhood even through today. So I have that, and I have perspective. I feel that I have a good grasp of what is important in life, and what’s not, and very often that’s lost in this game. I think that is what I bring to the table.
DL: What have been the biggest challenges thus far?
TF: Patience on my end, mostly. You can see what these young men are capable of, and you want to see them make improvements, so I need to understand, and remind myself, that this is a difficult game to play, and the learning curve is large and it is steep. They’re going to make some of the same mistakes over and over again, and then we should eventually see those mistakes lessen.
DL: Nost short-season teams have a large number of Latin American players on the roster. How has the communication process gone for you in that respect?
TF: We’re actually not too weighted on that side; we’re a fairly balanced ball club. All of our Latin players that I’ve spent time with over the last year and a half-I worked in the organization last year as a special instructor-I’ve had a good relationship and rapport with; I understand how to communicate with the guys who are here, because I’ve spent time with them. And I have a great coach in Anthony Medrano, who I knew as a player, and he helps a great deal with the communication as well. But we have an excellent group of young men, both American and Latin.
DL: What does the Indians organization do to help young Latin American players, not only with language, but also with issues of cultural acclimation?
TF: We do a tremendous amount. I don’t know if other organizations do it or not, but we have an entire Latin American program in our organization. We have English classes which they take, and each home stand we have cultural awareness classes, not only for the Spanish players, but also for the coaches. During spring training we have different workshops and things that help make us aware of some of the unique challenges that they go through, and we also provide different seminars and lectures. So, again, we have a great staff that works with them and helps us with the communication. The Indians organization also has a psychology department which spends a great deal of time interacting and communicating with both the American and the Latin players.
TF: From Chris Chambliss you learn class and professionalism. He’s one of the classiest men I’ve ever met in the game. He has a great perspective on life and what is important, and he’s a great example of what it means to be respectful. So I certainly valued my time with Chris, and I have a lot of respect for him. From Leon Roberts I learned the value of having confidence in your players. Playing under Leon in A-ball, I was hitting .234 with no home runs, and he told me that I’d hit 20 home runs in the big leagues one day, and to just keep working. I almost laughed when he told me that, but he ended up being right.
DL: Did Roberts help you develop your power?
TF: You know, I don’t think so. The Tigers organization was maybe a little behind the curve back then in terms of player development, so I don’t remember much in terms of instruction. I remember more about him having confidence in me as a player and allowing me to play and to make mistakes. He understood that was part of the learning process, and I learned that from him. He was certainly a very hardworking coach, and I appreciated that a great deal. Even Tom Gamboa, who I played for in Triple-A, he’s a great worker. So I’ve always had coaches that were willing to work. From an instruction standpoint, Darrell Evans helped me a great deal, as did a scout from another organization, a guy named Squeaky Parker. He was with the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants, and I used to work with him in the offseason; he really helped me a lot with my hitting.
DL: One of your players here is Lonnie Chisenhall, the organization’s first-round draft pick this year. Do you see any parallels between Chisenhall and a young Travis Fryman?
TF: I’ll tell you what-he’s a much more advanced hitter than I ever was, especially at that age. He’s a very gifted young man. I was stronger defensively; he’s stronger offensively. I think the comparisons come from the position he’s being asked to play this summer, with some talk about a position change in his future. But that’s coming from other people, not from anyone in our organization, at this time. So I can relate a little bit to being an early pick, but there’s so much more attention on young players today, and in that respect it’s a little more difficult. He’s also coming out of a situation where he’s had some attention brought upon himself from some choices he made in the past, and that, I think, adds a little bit to the transition for him.
DL: What was your transition like for you going from shortstop to third base?
TF: Well, mine took place in the big leagues. I never played a day at any position other than shortstop until my second day in the big leagues. That’s when they asked me to play third, so I learned on the job. Again, I think you learn patience from your coaching staff, and looking back now, I made a lot of mistakes as a young player. But I was allowed to make them, and I was expected to learn from them. I don’t ever remember a time when a coach expressed negative feelings toward me because of my mistakes; I just think they were very patient with me. But third base is a pretty difficult position to learn, and it’s a position that’s unique. There are things that everyone needs to do, and do well, to play third, but I don’t think there’s just one way to play third in order to do it successfully. You need to give people time to get a feel for the position.
DL: A lot of people probably don’t realize that you played more games at shortstop than at third base your first four seasons in Detroit. Do you feel that you could have remained at the shortstop position?
TF: You know, I could have. In my mind, when I think about the game, and positioning, and where you go, it’s always from the perspective of a shortstop. When Sparky moved me the last time it was because I had intentionally put on a little bit of weight to get a little stronger and try to hit for more power. That affected my defense a little bit, and I had made more errors than you’d like to see a shortstop make in the first half of that particular year, which was 1993. He moved me after the All-Star break, but I could have leaned out a bit more and picked up the foot speed that I would have needed to be more than adequate at short.
DL: Your rookie season in Detroit, one of your teammates hit over 50 home runs.
TF: A pretty good one, yes-that would have been Cecil Fielder. Cecil was a tremendous teammate, and it hurts my heart see some of the decisions he’s made. But he was a great teammate who cared a lot for the guys he played with, and he was very generous; he was always very gracious. And, of course, Prince was always hanging around our clubhouse, so it’s neat to see all of the success he’s having out on the field today. But again, I have great memories of Cecil and our time together, and his graciousness as a teammate.
DL: Your first big league hit was a home run, and later in your career you hit for the cycle. Which was the bigger thrill?
TF: Honestly, I rarely think about either one of them. I get asked from time to time about both, but I don’t remember or dwell upon those kind of things too much. I was very much an in-the-moment type of player; I didn’t care about yesterday, only what I had done today. For me, the at-bat at the time was always the biggest thing for me. My most memorable experience, in all sincerity, is probably… you know, there’s a lot of them. I love my memories of Sparky Anderson in rain delays, seeing him fire up his pipe and start telling Big Red Machine stories. Those were pretty special for me. To get a chance to play in the postseason, after I got to Cleveland, was pretty exciting as well.
DL: Can you say a little about Tiger Stadium?
TF: It’s special. I love the old stadiums, and that’s where I cut my teeth, so I hate to see it go. I think that there’s something great about being a part of an organization that has that kind of history. Yankee Stadium is going this year, and I’m sure that Fenway Park’s days are numbered; Wrigley’s are as well. They all are. Bo Schembechler said when he worked for the Tigers, “If you ever go to Rome you need to see the Coliseum. It’s an awesome place, but they don’t play any more games there.” So I love Tiger Stadium; it’s a special place for me.
TF: They’re very different. Tram is maybe the most professional teammate I ever had. He was a stickler for details and team fundamentals and the little things. The best piece of baseball advice that I was ever given came when I was a rookie. Sparky called me in and said, “Travis, do you see that gentleman out there?” and he pointed to Alan Trammell. He said, “Watch him, and do what he does, and you’ll be just fine.” Omar Vizquel is the greatest shortstop I’ve ever seen, or been on the field with, defensively. He is an anomaly as far as I’m concerned, with what he can do physically on the field with his athleticism. Honestly, in my opinion both should be in the Hall of Fame. Omar should, because no one has ever played the game better defensively other than, you could argue, Ozzie Smith. And I’ve always felt that Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker should be inducted together. They were a double-play combination that played 19 years together as teammates, and no pair in history has ever turned as many double plays, and no pair ever will.
DL: Two-word question: Ernie Harwell?
TF: He’s a good friend to this day. I see him and his wife, Lulu, annually. They’re tremendous, and he’s just someone I look up to and respect a great deal. He’s a great example for me in life. We share a common faith, and he’s been a good friend and a great encourager to me over the years.
DL: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to close with?
TF: I love the game of baseball. It’s a wonderful game; it really is. I think this is a special time in the history of the game, as it becomes more international, but because of that, I think that it’s very important to those of us who have been exposed to what the game was like, and believe that there are certain ways that the game should be treated and played-I think that there’s a responsibility to pass that on to others. That’s one of the reasons that I’m here coaching today.