On a gorgeous winter evening made for milk-shake slurpers, baseball aficionados and Hurricanes fans of all ages, the University of Miami four-time national championship baseball program signaled that Opening Day is near with its annual Fan Fest & Alumni Game.
The Saturday celebration at Mark Light Field drew the 2017 Hurricanes, hundreds of fans and dozens of former greats looking forward to the Canes’ home opener against Rutgers at 7 p.m. Friday.
“It’s fun to see a lot of the same people year after year,” said UM coach Jim Morris, as he and his players signed autographs before the game. “It means it’s baseball time. It’s great seeing alumni and catching up with everyone.”
The Hurricanes, 50-14 in 2016, went 0-2 in the College World Series after earning the No. 3 national seed last season. They were represented by alumni young and old, including Larry Adams, who celebrated his 90th birthday on Saturday.
“Are you kidding me?” said Adams, who stood near home plate socializing with his UM brothers. “I wouldn’t miss this for anything. Just look at all the love flying around here.
“To watch the alumni just as excited as we were when we played is so amazing. I love the smell of that hot stuff they rub on their elbows.”
Six standouts from last year’s College World Series team attended, all of whom UM coach Jim Morris surely wishes were still active Hurricanes: former right fielder Willie Abreu, now with the Colorado Rockies organization; former catcher and 10th overall draft pick Zack Collins, with the Chicago White Sox organization; all-time UM saves leader Bryan Garcia, with the Detroit Tigers organization; former shortstop Brandon Lopez, with the Minnesota Twins organization; former pitcher Danny Garcia, with the Seattle Mariners organization; and former outfielder Jacob Heyward, with the San Francisco Giants organization.
“It’s the most beautiful thing when you see former UM players and the tradition we have here,” said former second baseman Paco Figueroa, 33, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ hitting coordinator for the minor leagues. “We take a lot of pride returning. Our family is No. 1.”
Among the other stars were David Thompson of the New York Mets organization, Ricky Eusebio of the Mariners organization, Dale Carey of the Washington Nationals organization, Garrett Kennedy of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Chantz Mack of the Mariners organization —and former Florida Marlin World Series champion Charles Johnson.
The current Hurricanes, who defeated the alumni 9-2, return four preseason All-Americans — starting pitchers Michael Mediavilla and Jesse Lepore, infielder Johnny Ruiz and center fielder Carl Chester.
Morris said that former star sidewinder Cooper Hammond (Tommy John surgery) and pitcher Enrique Sosa (shoulder surgery) are still recuperating and expected back later in the season. Sosa should be back sooner than Hammond.
First baseman Chris Barr had back surgery in December and is questionable for opening day, Morris said.
Center Fielder and speedster Chester had surgery to repair a broken foot sustained in the postseason, but is back playing.
And Ruiz, who has a strained arm and was the designated hitter Saturday, “may or may not play” against Rutgers, Morris said. “It’s nothing serious,” the coach said, “but we’re being very careful with him in the beginning of the season, trying to get him well.
“He’s our most productive returning position player.”