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January 21, 2013

R.I.P., Ron Fraser: Legendary former Hurricanes baseball coach passes away after lengthy fight with Alzheimer's

[1) It is SUNDAY, JANUARY 20. Bro Bowl! 49ers oust Falcons, 28-24, then Ravens upset Patriots, 28-13, making it a Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh Super Bowl. Find our NFL championship-Sunday playoff post in the blog directly below this. 2) Heat today signed Chris "Birdman" Andersen to a 10-day contract, news that seems irrelevant in the context of the loss in the UM family. 3) Join us on Twitter @gregcote]

1aa1fraserrWE SAY GOODBYE TO RON FRASER, A CANES AND SOUTH FLORIDA SPORTS LEGEND: Fraser's passing was announced just before 1 p.m. today. A statement from a family spokesperson read: "It is with profound sorrow we announce the passing of Ron Fraser, husband, father, grandfather, uncle and coach. He was surrounded by his family, after a valiant and courageous battle with Alzheimer's. Arrangements are pending."

Fraser coached University of Miami baseball from 1963 through 1992, and won College World Series championships in 1982 and '85. He was 79. I had known of Ron's fight with Alzheimer's for years but did not write of it out of respect for the family's wishes.

Click here to watch the 5-minute video from Ron's 1995 induction into the UM Sports Hall of Fame.

My most recent column on Fraser was not quite a year ago, on Feb. 17, 2012. I reprint it here, only slightly edited, with great respect:

The concept of time flying surely requires no additional evidence, but I would offer this: The University of Miami is about to begin its 20th baseball season since the retirement of the program's iconic and great coach, Ron Fraser.

It seems like a proper time to reflect, and to appreciate.

Today's Hurricanes - many not born when the "Wizard of College Baseball" left -- are trying to get back to the College World Series after a three-year absence, and the fact a drought so modest weighs in as so unacceptable and nearly unheard of -- simply reflects the standard Fraser set.
UM opens its 2012 season in a stadium officially and elaborately called Mark Light Field at Alex Rodriguez Park.
The name is all wrong, of course.
It should be Ron Fraser Stadium. Just that.
George and Ethel Light were generous to donate in the 1970s to the creation of the ballpark and name it after their son Mark, who had died of muscular dystrophy, Miami's famed A-Rod more recently donated $3.9 million for major renovations.
With due respect to those donors, though, Fraser gave more than money to UM baseball. He donated his life, 30 years of it anyway, to rescue a program from the edge of being abolished and see it to the nation's top echelon of success. Along the way, he lifted an entire sport with his salesmanship and marketing sense as the single most important figure in college baseball history.
Fraser is Hurricanes baseball, for sure, and although the Light and Rodriguez names should continue to have their place at the park, the only name on the front of it should be that of the man without whom the stadium would not exist at all. There might be legal hurdles to such a change; they should be overcome.
At the very least, UM should build a statue of Fraser in front of the ballpark, a plan that has been in the talking stage for years and should be made to happen without more delay.
Fraser is 78 now and battling serious health issues; he was unable to be interviewed for this column. All the more reason for that reflection, and appreciation. And for that statue.
What Fraser resurrected, shaped and raised has become the greatest constant on South Florida's tumultuous sports landscape. Canes baseball wins. Relentlessly. The streak of consecutive winning seasons now stands at 54. The consecutive regional (playoff) appearances are a current 39 years, an NCAA record. The CWS national titles Fraser won in 1982 and '85 have been augmented by the two championships led by current coach Jim Morris in 1999 and 2001.
Trace all of it to Fraser arriving on campus in 1963, right around the time "Beatlemania" entered the lexicon. He took on a sinking program that had no money, no uniforms, no scholarships and was about to be erased as a failed experiment by the administration. A box of new baseballs was such an extravagance then that Ron once told me he used to dip scuffed, used baseballs in Pet milk to whiten them for re-use.
He departed in 1992 after 30 years and 30 winning seasons, his legacy one of success, marketing genius and a little gem of a stadium that exists only because he dreamed it.
Fraser is UM's Don Shula, a higher compliment I cannot find.
Morris, beginning his 19th season, was a wonderful choice to replace Fraser and has maintained the winning tradition, but he understands the footsteps and the shadow, too. Those exist almost two decades later. No one is more appreciative of Fraser than the man who inherited what he'd left -- the tradition and the burden as well.
"I remember telling Ron, 'Coach, this is like replacing Bear Bryant, ' " Morris recalled. "Coach Fraser is a father figure, and the most influential guy in my coaching career."
Morris reigns over a program now whose baseballs gleam pearly white inside stacks of boxes, no Pet milk needed anymore to give scuffed old baseballs a makeover.
The newest Hurricanes will run onto the home diamond as the ballpark fills, and it doesn't matter what the name on the outside might say, this is The House that Fraser Built, and always will be.
Twenty years later. Imagine that?
Thank you, Ron.

 

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