Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Statue at Mark Light Field a fitting honor for UM legend Ron Fraser

Former UM baseball coach Ron Fraser is shown at his Weston home in 2001.
Former UM baseball coach Ron Fraser is shown at his Weston home in 2001. for The Herald

It will be late afternoon Friday, on the corner of the University of Miami campus he graced for so long, when Ron Fraser comes back to life and rises to immortality.

The bronze statue that will be unveiled stands about seven feet tall, fittingly larger than life. It depicts Fraser in a suit, not a baseball uniform, but with a bat over his shoulder. It will stand right out front of the charming little 5,000-seat stadium that is South Florida’s Fenway Park, our Wrigley Field.

UM’s baseball facility officially is now called “Mark Light Field at Alex Rodriguez Park,” named for its original donor and its more famous, recent one. No matter. Everybody knows the truth.

This is the House That Ron Built.

The statue should remind everyone who drives past the park or passes through its turnstiles.

“Something was missing. Now he’s standing outside, guarding the house he built,” said Fraser’s eldest of three daughters, Cynthia. “Now fans will see that glimmer in his eye again, that smile. ‘Coach is back. He’s welcoming us into his home.’”

The statue completes Fraser’s legacy in a tangible way, and the honor is exceptionally deserved.

The man’s widow, Karen, his grown daughters, grandkids and other family and friends will join Hurricanes baseball fans at a 4 p.m. unveiling ceremony Friday, a little more than two years after the patriarch passed away, at age 79, after a long, private battle with Alzheimer’s.

“We’re so grateful just to know that Ron is going to be back at Mark Light Stadium,” Karen said. “And knowing that he’s going to be there forever in the place he loved.”

Fraser coached UM baseball 30 seasons, from 1963 to 1992, won 1,271 games, had zero losing seasons, won two national championships and ended his career on a 20th consecutive trip to the NCAA postseason.

I have always regarded Fraser and the Dolphins’ Don Shula as two of a kind in South Florida sports history, by themselves on that top echelon of combined coaching longevity and excellence — each enriched by the company of the other.

Shula and Fraser both became a part of our life’s timeline, a comforting constant. We grew up, or old, with them. They were champions of their sport, but they also championed us. Unblemished by anything but good, they did South Florida proud.

In Fraser’s case the facts, the record, only start to tell the tale.

Fraser lifted Miami baseball from near-extinction, taking over a program so threadbare that Ron in those earliest days would dip scuffed baseballs in whole milk to try to make them appear new. He did more than save the sport at UM, though. He lifted it nationally. It’s why they called him The Wizard of College Baseball.

Fraser was a businessman, a salesman, a marketer, a motivator, an innovator, a carnival barker, a charmer. He dreamed. He cared. In Coral Gables he took an unwatered seed and grew it into a redwood.

He enveloped Canes baseball in a family atmosphere, brought fun onto the field with between-innings promotions, batgirls, a mascot and music. Oh, and winning. Relentless winning. Bells ‘n whistles without winning is a gimmick that grows tired. Winning plus fun is a formula that made Fraser an icon.

Fraser gave so much to his community, left it with something enduring, and, with the statue, his fans and admirers are giving back.

The university supported the statue project a few years in the making, but it was private donations that got the job done and made Friday’s unveiling possible. That alone would have tickled Fraser, a grass-roots guy, a master fundraiser.

The process of seeing the statue realized has been a labor of love and art for his wife and daughters, seeing it from clay to the foundry. The choice of a suit was easy. Fans who only saw Fraser in a baseball uniform might not know it, but Ron would go to work every morning in a suit or sport coat and tie.

Details in the statue were important. “Especially in the eyes and the face, the smile,” said Cynthia, the daughter. After all, this was a husband and father, not just a coach. And this was forever. The family worked with sculptor Zenos Frudakis to make it perfect.

As an example, “The back of jacket pulled up a little bit,” Karen said. “He always would have that portion tailored.”

Seeing the completed statue for the first time was overwhelming.

“It brought me to my knees,” Karen said. “I sobbed.”

Now that remembrance of the man takes its permanent place exactly where it should, right in front of the ballpark that grew from his own imagination.

The statue means Ron Fraser’s legacy is where it belongs, too.

Safe at home.

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