One day in January, 1987, after the Hurricanes lost the National Championship in football to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl, I stepped foot on the hallowed grounds then known as Mark Light Stadium and I met a man who was larger than life, but led you to believe that he was a simple man and that he was no different than you. He took the time to educate anyone that would listen, not only about his beloved Hurricanes, but about the sport of college baseball.
We sat in the dugout and talked about everything from the 6-4-3 double play to how the sport would take off and eventually be seen by millions of households on cable television. In the middle of the interview, Canes middle infield duo of Jorge Robles and Jose Trujillo were working on turning two when Castillo rifled a ball that hit me square in the abdomen and left a mark that still stings. Fraser laughed, but made sure that I had proper medical attention and tended to my every need.
"That kid won't hurt you," Fraser told me at the time. "His arm is not that strong, the other kid (Robles), he'll kill you in a minute. He has a gun."
We both laughed and I tried to be the tough guy although I was secretly wincing in pain. That was my first sports injury as a reporter outside of the time that I got nailed by a nickel-back on a pass in the flat that took the ball carrier right into my knees on the sidelines of a high school game. That is why today I still sit in the stands or the press box.
When I was a senior we were given an assignment to write a first-person story doing something that we loved. Covering UM baseball was my passion and there was nothing greater. I called Coach Fraser and he suggested that I played right field against Florida Southern the next night. I could not embarrass myself that much, so I countered with coaching first base.
Coach Fraser and then-hitting coach Jim Pizzolato dressed me in uniform in and I coached first base. The game was on TV and Bob Griese did the call and made reference to my being a student-journalist and he even saw the reporter's notebook in my back pocket where the sunflower seeds are supposed to go.
I will never forget that experience. We scored a run that inning, but the inning ended when Joe Nelson ran through my stop sign and got thrown out at second. I was barking for him to come back, but I was ignored. He circled first base with a passion and got thrown out at second by a New York mile.
Fraser was not happy and he ripped Nelson a new one.
"When a coach gives you the stop the sign, you stop, do you have that," Fraser asked. "When you are told to stop you stop, no debating the issue. The coach knows best."
That would be true, even though the coach was a 21-year old reporter who knew that Nelson did not have wheels to stretch an infield single into a double. Nelson was embarrassed and tried to tell Fraser that I was not a real coach and that he used his judgment.
He got up early the next morning and had to run some extra laps as a punishment. I felt bad, but I was right and I was the coach. We won the game anyway and I am the only UM assistant coach in history to leave the program undefeated.
That was the kind of man that Fraser was. He was the best coach and humanitarian, along with Bobby Bowden, that I have ever had the pleasure to cover on a daily basis. I have had the pleasure of covering Don Shula for many years and as much as I respect Shula, Fraser was a man that I truly loved. I feel that Jim Larranaga is the closest that MIami has come to Ron Fraser. Time will tell, but that is certainly the way it looks.
Although Ron has left us two years ago, his legacy will love on forever. He will have a statue designated in his honor on April 24, before the Canes play Florida State. As irony would have it, Fraser played ball at Florida State, but never coached there. He was a Hurricane lifer. The Nutley, NJ native literally bled orange and green until the day that he passed.
They say that funerals and posthumous ceremonies are the wrong time to honor someone as they cannot tell how much you loved and respected them. Ron would not have it any other way. He was the most non-ego driven man that would ever want to meet. He was always the opening act in his mind, to the greater good, college baseball and the University of Miami.
A day does not go by where I do not think of that man and what he meant not only to me, but to the players that he coached and all of the lives that he has touched.