In life, and in death, Ron Fraser’s spirit has loomed over Mark Light Field for six decades. Now, a seven-foot bronze statue befitting the larger-than-life University of Miami baseball coaching legend watches over the Hurricanes program and greets fans as they enter the gates to the ballpark he built and called home.
A crowd of several hundred – including UM dignitaries, Fraser’s family, former and current players, former assistants, and fans – gathered at the corner of Ponce de Leon Blvd. and San Amaro Dr. on a sweltering Friday afternoon to witness the unveiling of the sculpture.
After the speeches, when Fraser’s grandchildren pulled the cover off the statue, cameras clicked and tears rolled. Players from the 1985 national championship team posed for pictures with their former skipper. Many of the fans arriving for Friday night’s game against Florida State stopped to take selfies.
“Papi is home, welcoming fans into the gates, just as he should be,” said Fraser’s daughter, Liz, who was still teary-eyed a half hour after the ceremony. “It looks so real. It’s like he’s here. It’s so amazing how [sculptor Zenos Frudakis] captured his smiling eyes. That’s him. His smirk, smile, his eyes, the wrinkle in his earlobe. It’s nice to have him here, where he belongs.”
Fraser coached the Hurricanes for 30 seasons from 1963 to 1992. He won two national championships, went to 20 straight postseasons, and did not have a single losing season. His legacy extended far beyond the baseball diamond. He was a creative, tireless promoter, and the traditions he instilled continued after his retirement and his death two years ago.
“It has been a long process to bring Coach back to the ballpark,” said Rick Remmert, the former assistant athletic director, who now is UM’s director of alumni. “When I saw it delivered Tuesday, when I pulled off the tarp, I had a moment. I felt like Coach was there, I was in his presence again. It was pretty cool. This is his ballpark, you’d think he’d be here, and now he is. People can now say, ‘Meet me at the Frase.’ ”
Among the former players who attended the ceremony were Chris Sarmiento, Julio Solis, Rick Raether, Joe Raedle, Joe Nelson, Chris Magno, Greg Ellena, Doug Shields, Rick Kosek, Bob O’Brien and Chris Hart.
“Coach Fraser was a very important part of a lot of our lives,” said O’Brien, who lives in Fort Pierce and coached junior college baseball for 23 years. “For me, he was a father figure. I had lost my dad when I was 10 and my stepfather when I was 17. So, when I came here I didn’t have a father figure and he became that for me. It’s the same for a lot of guys.
“You learn life lessons on the ballfield because you fail more times than you succeed, so it’s good to have a mentor like he was. We love and miss Coach Fraser, and it’s great to see that statue, and imagine the stories that will be told around it.”
Hart said: “They’ve got nice weight rooms here now, and nice locker rooms. We came here because Ron Fraser was here. Our facility was not that great, but our coach was.”
Outgoing UM president Donna Shalala praised Fraser’s “genius at building a buzz.” Hurricanes baseball coach Jim Morris’ voice cracked as he remembered his mentor, calling Fraser “the most influential person in the history of college baseball.”
Frudakis, the sculptor, realized this was no ordinary man he had immortalized.
“It was apparent to me right away that he was more than just a coach,” he said. “He helped shape players’ characters, and I am honored to have shaped him.”
John Routh, the longtime Miami Maniac mascot, beamed. “It’s an emotional day for all of us who worked for him to see him bigger than life, which he was back then. If he were here right now, he’d have a big smile on his face and he’d say, ‘How many people we got out here? They comin’ into the ball park? They buyin’ hot dogs?’ This was what he was all about, entertaining people.”