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January 20, 2013

Fraser welcome in baseball diamond in the sky

Even in passing, Ron Fraser's timing seems impeccable.

Earl Weaver, his long-time friend and highly successful manager of the Baltimore Orioles, died Saturday at age 82.

And Stan Musial, Hall of Famer with the St. Louis Cardinals who came to Fraser's aid when he was building the Miami Hurricanes' baseball program from rags to college baseball royalty, also died Saturday at age 92.

What a welcoming line for Fraser at the baseball diamond in the sky or whatever was awaiting Fraser in the hereafter.

Fraser, rightfully known as The Wizard of College Baseball, died Sunday at age 79. No doubt there's a lot of story telling going on among this trio, and Fraser has countless great ones to share.

There's the $5,000-a-plate gourmet dinner on the infield at Mark Light Field, the Evening with Ron Fraser fundraiser complete with a harpist in white tuxedo, strolling violinists, and five-star chefs serving a 10-course meal.

There's the Grand Illusion or Phantom Pickoff, the greatest trick play in the history of the College World Series.

There's the time he called on Musial and Major League broadcaster Joe Garagiola to host a fundraiser. And the time he coaxed Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams to ride out from center field sitting in a giant baseball glove to attract fans to The Light.

He could talk about the time in the early days at UM when a woman called and said she had 12 grandchildren and asked what time the game began, and Fraser replied, "When can you get here?"

Fraser could needle Weaver about the day the Hurricanes defeated the Orioles in their annual exhibition game. Or talk about the night the San Diego Chicken entertained fans and players.

Or the time just before he became the Hurricanes' coach and appeared on the television show "What's My Line?"and stumped the panel.

There was the time when his friend and New York Yankee great Joe DiMaggio called with some batting tips for a Hurricane he had watched in a pre-season practice. There was the game Sam Sorce played all nine positions. And there was Bathing Suit Day, when Fraser said, "It's not true that people with binoculars are allowed in free. We charge them double."

And in the early days of ESPN, Fraser spent several days in Bristol, Conn., successfully lobbying for coverage of the Canes against the nation's premier program at the time, Southern California. It turned out to be the first college baseball ever on national television, and Miami swept all three games.

Tales of success on and off the field.

Fraser not only put Hurricanes' baseball on the national map, he put all of college baseball into the national limelight. He was years ahead of his peers.

And Ron Fraser baseball wasn't just glitz and glamour. He was an astute coach who hired talented assistants, including former Hurricane Skip Bertman, who went on to win several national titles at LSU.

Fraser's teams played sound fundamental baseball and won with solid pitching and fielding and constantly putting pressure on the opponent. In his 30-year career (1962-92) his teams amassed a 1,271-438-9 record and made an NCAA-record 20 consecutive post-season appearances.

They made 12 trips to the College World Series and won national championships in 1982, the year of the Grand Illusion, and 1985, the year the Canes were known as "America's Happiest Team."

A personal anecdote regarding the day Fraser made me both happy and a little embarrassed: One year when I was covering the Hurricanes for the Miami Herald, I rode on the plane with the team to Tallahassee for the NCAA Regional. As Ron and I were standing next to each other at the car rental counter, the Hertz representative told me they were out of the midsize car I'd requested and said they would upgrade me to a Pontiac or a Cadillac at no extra charge.

Fraser poked an elbow in my ribs and said, "Take the Cadillac." Typical Fraser.

I did, but when I got to the ball park I felt embarrassed, thinking other writers might see me in the parking lot and wonder if I'm trying to put on airs, or whatever. And Fraser had a Toyota.

A sportswriter in a Cadillac and the Wizard of College Baseball in a Toyota? No way. I asked Ron if he'd switch cars and fortunately he agreed.

Former players and staff will be sharing anecdotes this week as the tributes come in for Fraser. They're all well deserved.

So is the Ron Fraser Wizard Fund. UM has created the fund to honor him with a bronze statue to be placed at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field. To donate Click this link or contact Rick Remmert, UM's Director of Alumni Programs, at 305-284-9517 or by e-mail: r.remmert@miami.edu.

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