At one point before Alzheimer’s disease began taking its toll, Ron Fraser saw a poem he liked, copied it down and put it in his briefcase — a message he hoped would be delivered at the right time.
Monday morning, as the late father of University of Miami baseball was being remembered and honored with eulogies and music, his three daughters shared the poem with a congregation of hundreds who gathered for Fraser’s funeral Mass at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Southwest Ranches.
The title of the poem Fraser had intended for his daughters to see once he was gone: I’m Free.
“Karen [Fraser’s wife of 24 years] found it. It talked about being free and don’t grieve for me and that while there are things I’ve left undone, God wants me and I’m with him now,” Fraser’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth Fraser Kraut, said fighting back emotion.
“It was left for us from Popie to help us deal with the grief of losing him. We hoped it would help the congregation get through their grief — because we are all family. I can’t even express to you in words how wonderful the outpouring of support has been."
Fraser, who died Jan. 20 at age 79, will continue to be honored in the coming weeks.
UM has planned “A Celebration of the Life of Ron Fraser” for Feb. 23 on campus, with another event scheduled later that night during a baseball game against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The Ron Fraser Wizard Fund plans on honoring the Hall of Fame coach with a bronze statue at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field, and current UM coach Jim Morris said the program is committed to dedicating the season to Fraser in other ways not yet announced. Kraut said a private burial service will eventually take place in her father’s hometown of Nutley, N.J., in March or April.
Monday’s two-hour Mass — as well as Sunday’s eight-hour visitation — provided an opportunity for those closest to him to share stories and remember the man who was dubbed “The Wizard of College Baseball” and served as a father figure for many.
UM Sports Hall of Famer Mike Fiore, part of Fraser’s second and last national title team in 1985, was the first of five men who delivered a eulogy Monday. The others: former priest Leo Armbrust, longtime friend and UM’s Director of Alumni Programs Rick Remmert, Morris and family spokesman and TV personality Tony Segreto. Fiore, now the vice president for the agency of famed baseball agent Scott Boras, called Fraser a “life coordinator.”
“The family asked me to speak about him as a coach and what he meant to players like myself,” Fiore said of the morning service. “I told one story today about how one time when we were playing Florida State my freshman year, down one run, late in the game, I’m standing on third thinking: ‘Do I let the ball go through? Do I run home if the ball gets past the catcher?’
“He walks up to me and looks at the crowd of six, seven thousand and says, ‘How many hamburgers and hot dogs do you think we sold tonight?’ It was his unique way of alleviating stress from me, his way of saying, ‘I trust you, trust the way you play, go ahead and react.’ That was the greatest thing about Coach Fraser — he always made you feel comfortable.”
Fraser, who amassed a 1,271-438-9 record at UM and coached the Olympic team after retiring following the 1992 season, began coaching at UM for $2,200 a year. He took a cow pasture for a field and raised the money for a ballpark with fundraising and marketing genius.
Remmert recalled how when Fraser first became coach of the Hurricanes he took a second job as athletic director of the Coral Gables youth center and borrowed equipment because UM didn’t have any. The team’s first uniforms, Remmert said, Fraser got through a U.S. Military Academy connection.
“They took the A, R and Y off [the uniforms] and left the M on,” Remmert said. “That’s where the famous M came from. ...
“He saw the modern game of college baseball and what it could look like. [Former LSU coach] Skip Bertman said Ron was 30 years ahead of his time and proved to athletic directors baseball could be a revenue sport.”