And now, the end is here
And so I face the final curtain
Around 1,000 family, friends and fans touched by College Baseball Hall of Famer Ron Fraser gathered at the University of Miami’s Knight Sports Complex on Saturday afternoon for A Celebration of Life ceremony.
Fraser, who passed away Jan. 20 in his Weston home at the age of 79, coached for 30 years at UM where he amassed a 1,271-438-9 record. An NCAA Coach of the Year three times, Fraser led the Hurricanes to national titles in 1982 and 1985, reaching the College World Series 12 times.
“There’s Gandalf and Harry Potter … but no one holds a candle or a wand like ‘The Wizard of College Baseball,’ ” University of Miami president Donna Shalala remarked in an opening statement.
When the job opened in 1992 upon his retirement, then-Georgia Tech coach Jim Morris first received a call from Fraser, who would later pick him up from the Fort Lauderdale airport and bring him to his home.
Morris remembers calling it an “impossible act to follow,” like succeeding John Wooden at UCLA or Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama.
“ ‘If this works out I had to know I was your guy,’ ” Morris told Fraser. “ ‘If I take the job when I’m standing at the podium, you’re standing right beside me and have your arm around me saying this is my guy now.’ ”
In the hospital with an aneurysm, Fraser still kept his promise. An ambulance brought him to the announcement, where he sat in a wheelchair by Morris’ side.
“He was always there and I knew he was always there,” Morris said.
Decades later on a Saturday afternoon, more than 20 former players stood in Fraser’s honor when master of ceremonies and longtime baseball public address announcer Jay Rokeach asked to pay tribute to the man who played an instrumental part in their lives.
Former major-leaguer Charles Johnson, who called Fraser a “great bridge builder,” recollected a time when Fraser wanted to see him in his office before the start of Johnson’s sophomore season, demanding the catcher to be a leader behind the plate.
“Ron built from the bottom,” Johnson said. “He built it right. He put the structure together and did it right.”
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way
In the early 1970s, Fraser stood on a field without any stands surrounding it. He turned to assistant coach Skip Bertman and said, “I think we can compete here.”
And they did just that, saving a baseball program close to being cut for budgetary reasons. Fraser’s blueprint — creating his own advertisement team and marketing unit — inspired coach Howard Schnellenberger when he took over the football program.
Schnellenberger, who would lead the school to its first football championship in 1983, was admittedly stunned and scared by a lack of assets from the university. Fraser taught him to not shy away from personality and all things “unabashed” and “outlandish.”
“He gave me courage and understanding that Miami was different than Alabama and Kentucky and that we had to do it differently,” Schnellenberger said. “He laid the groundwork and showed me how to do it.”
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!
Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda stepped away from spring training to speak of the friend he kept in touch with until the day died.
Lasorda called Fraser “without a doubt one of the greatest baseball coaches in the world,” yet found greater stock in the person the Wizard was off the field.
“He developed a lot of players not just for Major League Baseball but for life,” said Lasorda, who first met Fraser in 1952. “After leaving him, players knew what it was like to get into the big world and be able to face it.”
One of Fraser’s favorite songs — Frank Sinatra’s My Way — served as the soundtrack for an opening multimedia montage of his baseball career and personal life. It set the tone for a two-hour ceremony commemorating a life that touched so many people.
“He felt that about his life and career,” said Karen, Fraser’s wife of 24 years. “That’s what he did — things his way. It’s very fitting that [Director of Alumni Programs] Rick [Remmert] played that because I know Ron is very happy listening to it.”
Yes, it was my way.