“The regular crowd shuffles in”
Growing up in Miami in the 80’s, it felt like a guarantee that the Hurricanes would be up for the national title not just in football, but they’d be in the College World Series too. Miami baseball had actually hit its modern day resurgence before football. If football had the ‘79 Penn State game and the ‘80 Peach Bowl, Miami baseball made the CWS in ‘74, before becoming a regular in ‘78.
Once spring hit I knew we would catch a couple of games at Mark Light every weekend, which meant a Mark Light Shake, Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” and all of the great nicknames Jay Rokeach came up with over the years, and would always tie them into a song like Bobby “Blueberry” Hill. And of course, I had my Miami Maniac autographed picture framed and up in my room pre-Hurricane Andrew.
“To forget about life for a while”
Ron Fraser was known as “The Wizard” and it wasn’t just for winning two national titles in ‘82 and ‘85, or putting Miami in the CWS from ‘78-’82 and again from ‘84-’86 and ‘88-’89, and his last season in 1992. His promotion of the game was wizardlike as well. Creating the Maniac was just part one, but he lobbied ESPN to show the CWS, and did everything in his power to make college baseball a thing both in Miami and all over the country.
My family’s weekends were spent driving from Perrine to Coral Gables to watch the orange and green and I would attribute this to the atmosphere Fraser built. My brother’s fondest memory seems to be my dad sneaking his own peanuts from home in under his Members Only jacket.
There was always something electric about doing the “C-A-N-E-S CANES!” cheer, the milk shakes, and the script M on the caps. While the Orange Bowl and Miami Football have always been known for smaller crowds, the baseball team has always felt like a rowdy group with that guy yelling “raaaaaag aaaaarm!” endlessly for years. Getting a ticket for UF or FSU at the Light was nearly impossible, and everyone piled in to the stadium for nine innings wrapped around the parking lot waiting to get in.
- “The Grand Illusion” from the 1982 CWS
“But it's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete”
Some of Miami’s most talented teams weren’t the ones that won titles. The 1996 squad would be a case in point, as they lost to LSU in a game I wish I could forget. The near perfect season of Robbie Morrison blown apart by giving up the game winning home run to Warren Morris in a storybook ending for LSU.
Miami’s 96-98 squads had MLB mainstays like Jason Michaels, Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Alex Cora, and Bobby Hill in the field and longtime UM pitching coach JD Arteaga, Alex Santos, and closer Morrison on the mound. I skipped school with my dad to watch the regional games and even saw Pat the Bat hit an intentional walk ball for a home run.
"Man, what are you doin' here?"
The ‘Canes have always had star-studded rosters in baseball with names like Joe Grahe and Alex Fernandez in the same rotation, The Wizard and Jim Morris built their rosters with a mix of power, speed, slick fielding, and pitching. Greg Ellena, Greg Vaughn, Burrell, Michaels, Neal Heaton, Alex Cora, Yonder Alonso, and Ryan Braun are some familiar name to college baseball and MLB fans alike. But there was one guy that made me want to be a catcher and power hitter (I was bad at both).
Charles “CJ” Johnson provided some of the most amazing home runs I saw at the Light as he would bomb a fastball or hanging curve (let’s face it, CJ and Cerrano needed Jobu for the curveball) over the parking garage on a windy night in Coral Gables. As a kid, I used a crappy camera and snapped a shot of CJ that I later had blown up and autographed at a Marlins spring training game. I also got to see CJ with a clutch hit in his amazing 1997 season that ended with a World Series ring live.
Side note: my mom said I had to include her crush on Greg Ellena
“It's a pretty good crowd for a Saturday”
Around 9 on a Saturday, which was always about the 8th inning, the PA would blare Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” and it just so happened the 8th and 9th innings were when the Canes baseball team, like the 4th quarter for Canes football, were their best.
Jim Morris had a penchant for finding great 8-9 inning set up and closing duos early on at Miami. Danny Graves was one of the first in the early 90’s, and the submarine pitcher Jay Tessmer served as his set-up man in 1994 where they both had 40 appearances and combined for 24 saves. Tessmer took over the role in ‘95 with 20 saves of his own before Morrison owned 96-98. JUCO transfer Mike Neu and his stutter delivery teamed with starters Santos, Gil and Tom Farmer to bring Miami a surprise title in 1999 with a CWS win over FSU. Morris has had other great closers in submarine pitcher Kyle Bellamy and 7 year MLB veteran Chris Perez.
“Well I'm sure that I could be a movie star”
Miami baseball has always managed to capture the imagination. Where the ‘82 team had the pickoff, the ‘85 team had Ellena, the ‘99 team had small ball... The 2001 team had two unexpected heroes in Charlton Jimerson and Greg Lovelady. Jimerson who came to Miami as a walk-on hit two home runs for Miami as the Hurricanes swept the field and scored 49 runs in 4 games. Jimerson, the CWS MVP, had hit 3 homers all season. Lovelady became the starting catcher in the ‘99 and ‘01 CWS title games due to injury. Lovelady, a walk-on turned leader, is now the head baseball coach at UCF.