How two current Yankees share a wrestling connection
Ex-White Sox Kahnle and Frazier have literally wrestled a 'Demon'
That was a fun meet-and-greet for WWE fans Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier, but as the current ring stars were mingling with other pinstripers, Kahnle and Frazier harkened back to their connection with a former gladiator, one who also happens to be an ex-Yankees prospect and was, until last month, a Chicago colleague: White Sox roving minor-league strength and conditioning coordinator Dale Torborg.
Baseball-wise, the name Torborg might ring more of a bell thanks to Dale's father, Jeff, who spent 10 years as an MLB player and 30 more as a coach, manager, and broadcaster, including a 10-year stint (1979-88) on the Yankees' coaching staff.
Dale also played professionally, spending parts of 1994 and 1995 as a first baseman in the Mets and Yankees organizations, but his name becomes a little more remarkable if you remember his later alter ego: The KISS Demon, one of the stars of World Championship Wrestling in that promotion's final years.
The younger Torborg was a standout first baseman at Northwestern, and he signed with the Mets out of college - but in the 19th and final game of his 1994 rookie campaign, a fastball to the face shattered Dale's orbital bone. He came to the Yankees the following year and dreamed that he would eventually be the one to replace the soon-to-retire Don Mattingly, but after 35 games at the Class-A level, Torborg realized that the previous injury had affected him too much, and he decided to call it quits.
A chance meeting later that year with Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, who himself played four seasons of minor-league ball in the 1970s, led to Torborg getting in the ring, where he eventually joined Hogan and Savage in WCW and stayed until the promotion was purchased by WWE in 2001.
Dale turned his focus back to baseball at that point, joining the Expos as a strength coach in 2001 and eventually making his way to the White Sox in 2004, but he still scratched his ring itch with a few appearances alongside then-White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski in TNA Wrestling (now known as Global Force Wrestling) from 2005-07.
"I ended up getting into the ring a few times, beating up a couple of guys, letting Dale get beat up for me," Pierzynski told the Chicago Tribune in 2016. "I tell people all the time, 'I've played in World Series, I've played in All-Star Games, but I've never been as nervous as I was wrestling. But it was great."
Todd Frazier's wrestling fandom was waning by the time the KISS Demon took center stage and was definitely lapsed for Torborg's later run, but interest was quickly re-kindled when he met Torborg after joining the White Sox in December 2015.
"I haven't watched a lot since I was a kid, but I still can have contests with guys where we go back-and-forth, and have three seconds to name a wrestler - and I gotta be honest with you, I couldn't beat him," Frazier smiled. "But he's an awesome guy, and he actually taught me some tricks of the trade."
Enough to make Frazier appreciate what sports entertainers go through in and out of the ring.
"It's a skill; people can say it's "fake," and yeah, it's a show," Frazier said, "but they still have to put in tireless hours in the ring, and in the gym, to make sure everything is right, because people can still get seriously injured. It's a profession I can respect for sure."
One who feels the same way - and might be able to give Torborg a fight in the name game - is Kahnle, who is still to this day a huge fan of the ring game, and was in elementary school watching while the KISS Demon was battling two of his all-time favorites, Sting and Bret Hart, on WCW programming.
"When I first came to Chicago last year, people were telling me that one of the strength guys used to be a wrestler; I couldn't believe it, so I looked him up when they told me," Kahnle recalled, "and I was like, 'I remember this guy!' He feuded with Sting for a while, so I definitely remembered him."
That could've set any Kahnle-Torborg relationship off on the wrong foot, but luckily, Dale was less Demon and more fun when they two finally met and started talking.
"It was pretty cool to have him around; he'd teach us some moves and loved to tell old stories," Kahnle remembered. "It was really cool to be able to talk to him about anything. Growing up as a fan, you always wondered what went on behind the scenes, and I'd definitely go over to him once or twice a day and just talk shop for as long as we could."
Frazier and Kahnle both consider Torborg a life-long friend no matter where any of the three may go, but while Kahnle would love to be part of the show if the opportunity arose, Frazier is content to let Kahnle or someone else be Torborg's tag partner.
"Oh man, I don't think I could last with any of those guys, I'd have to pump the iron for two years!" Frazier laughed. "Maybe I could just stay on the sidelines and be their manager, just stand outside and hit guys with a chair when the ref's not looking!"
Unfortunately for Kahnle, though, his dream of helping The KISS Demon battle another supernatural force is one that likely won't ever come true.
"I'd love to face Undertaker, but I think I missed my chance."