Jim Morris has given quite a few speeches in his 33 years as a head coach, but none was tougher than when he delivered Ron Fraser’s eulogy two years ago.
“It would take me hours to tell you all the stories and about my relationship with Coach Fraser,” said Morris, who left a baseball powerhouse at Georgia Tech in 1993 when Fraser hand-picked him to take over UM, a program Fraser spent 30 years building into a two-time College World Series champion.
“I told him when I took the job it was like following Bear Bryant or John Wooden,” Morris continued. “I guess they have their statues. Now, he’s got his.”
Morris, who has added two national championships to UM’s legacy of his own (1999, 2001), stated the obvious Friday when he said it was “a big weekend in Coral Gables.”
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Not only are the 13th-ranked Hurricanes hosting their bitter rivals ‒ the 12th-ranked Florida State Seminoles ‒ in a pivotal three-game series, Fraser’s seven-foot bronze statue will be unveiled in front of Mark Light Field at Alex Rodriguez Park three hours before the 7:05 p.m. first pitch.
The 1985 national championship team ‒ the last one Fraser coached to victory in Omaha ‒ is also being honored.
All-American relief pitcher Rick Raether and several of his ’85 teammates, who will sign autographs shortly after Fraser’s statue is unveiled, will deliver a special ceremonial first pitch by re-enacting the final out of that CWS.
Fraser’s family (including his widow Karen, three daughters and five grandchildren), school president Donna Shalala and athletic director Blake James also will be in attendance. Several Fraser family members, his eldest daughter Cynthia said, will be sitting in the family’s longtime seats directly behind home plate.
Fraser’s daughters and widow spent the past six months working with renowned sculptor Zenos Frudakis to make sure every detail of the coach’s statue ‒ from his hair to his championship rings ‒ looked exactly like the photo on the cover of the team’s 1992 media guide (shot by former Miami Herald photographer and Pulitzer Prize winner Bill Frakes).
The statue, which will feature Fraser in a suit with a bat over his shoulder, will greet fans from now on each time they enter Mark Light Field.
“He’s got that kind of smiling-through-his-eyes look,” Cynthia said of her father’s statue. “That’s what I call it.”
Rick Remmert, who worked with Fraser from 1978 to 1988 as an assistant athletic director and now serves as the school’s director of alumni, said the idea for Fraser’s statue began during the coach’s final season in 1992.
But after Hurricane Andrew plowed through South Florida, Remmert said the idea was “tabled until about five or six years ago” when Remmert brought it back up to the family and the school.
It’s only fitting the statue will be unveiled in a series against the Seminoles. Fraser pitched for them in 1959, his senior year of college, and went 9-1.
As for the current Hurricanes, who haven’t been to the College World Series since 2008, this is the biggest regular-season series left on the 14-game schedule. Winning it or sweeping it could be the difference between having home-field advantage throughout the NCAA tournament or having to go on the road.
UM, leading the ACC’s Coastal Division by 4 1/2 games, is 22-2 at home this season. But the Canes (30-11) have lost five straight series to FSU (31-12) since taking two of three in 2009.
Morris said he’ll stick with his usual weekend rotation of left-handers Thomas Woodrey (4-2, 2.57 ERA) and Andy Suarez (4-0, 2.09 ERA) and right-hander Enrique Sosa (5-3, 4.25 ERA). FSU, second to Louisville in the Atlantic Division, will counter with right-handers Boomer Biegalski (3-3, 3.38 ERA), Mike Compton (1-1, 1.87 ERA) and Drew Carlton (3-2, 3.55).
FSU closer Billy Strode (2-0, 1.74 ERA, 11 saves) is one of the best in the nation. UM’s batting average (.290) and ERA (3.11) are better than FSU’s (.264, 3.11).
“These are the games you come to UM for, to play against your rivals,” UM outfielder Willie Abreu said. “Being FSU, there’s a lot of excitement, buzz around the school. These games are what everyone wants to see.”