On August 28, 1963, I was in Washington, D.C. and witnessed MLK’s famous speech about the social injustice of racial discrimination. I had played baseball for the last 3 years for a predominately African-American team, (only 5 of us were Caucasian) and had experienced many of those injustices first hand, as we traveled around the Mid- Atlantic states, particularly on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. My love for baseball and my teammates brought me to D.C. that day. Our nation would never be the same.
In another week baseball would introduce me to another future legend, Coach Ron Fraser and the University of Miami. I enrolled at the U and walked on to a baseball program that didn’t offer scholarships. That shortened my baseball career; I ran out of money in less than one year and went home to NJ. But, my love for the U brought me back and I graduated in Jan 69. I wouldn’t trade that year, 1963, for anything.
The fall of ’63 was also Coach Fraser’s 1st year at the U, and Miami baseball would never be the same. Coach Fraser – single handidly – put the program on the map through hard work and endless promotions, utilizing people like Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Joe Garagiola to help promote baseball at the U. It was Coach Fraser’s marketing and promotion expertise that would earn him the title “the Wizard of College baseball”.
Over 30 years,Coach Fraser compiled a record a record of 1271 wins vs. 438 losses, retiring as the winningest coach in college baseball. His teams won National Championships in 1982 and 1985. The 1982 championship was the first for any NCAA Division 1 team in the State of Florida. Coach Fraser has been inducted into seven halls of fame, named coach of the year 24 times and his teams made 12 College World Series appearances.
How did Coach Fraser get to the U from FSWHO? After coaching the Dutch national team, Coach appeared on the show “What’s My Line” (you have to be really old to remember this show). He stumped the panel; they couldn’t guess what his profession was. Jack Harding, the Miami Athletic Director was watching the show and decided that Ron Fraser should be the baseball coach at the U. The coach said he was thrilled to get the job, but it only paid $2200. He got paid every six months. (Relate this to our discussions of Randy Shannon’s recent contract negotiation). The coach got a second job at the Coral Gables Youth Center. He worked there in the mornings and at the U in the afternoon. The rest is history.
Here are a few (very dim) things I personally remember about baseball at the U in the fall of 63:
- We played at the same location, but the playing field was terrible, and there were not many seats, only the players cared about baseball at the U
- Freshmen couldn’t play varsity
- Our uniforms were wool and baggy, the worst I had ever seen. They were hand-me downs from some other team
- There were no minorities on the team, a real shocker to me
- Coach Fraser was only a few years older than his players (7 years older than me)
- There were always rumors that the baseball program was going to be contracted, which probably would have happened without Coach Fraser
- I only remember one teammate, Don Valentine from Palmetto High, that’s ok, I’m sure they don’t remember me! It was 47 years ago!
- For a kid from NJ, (Coach Fraser was also from NJ), it was like going to spring training, palm trees and warm weather. It was paradise! The equipment and overall facilities were substandard, but I was playing baseball in Florida, just like my big league idols!
- Coach rinsed the practice balls in milk so they would look white.
- Practices were always set up like a full game. Varsity played the freshman, and we sometimes won. Sometimes our freshman team would play against a local high school all-star team coached by Skip Bertman. Skip, of course, eventually coached at the U and LSU. He is a college baseball legend,
- When Coach Fraser had played at FSU, Dick Howser was a teammate. Dick was playing for the KC Athletics at the time. So, it was a great thrill for me when Dick came to our practices, because I had grown up in NJ rooting for the Philadelphia Athletics before they broke my heart and moved to KC.
- Another friend of coach Fraser’s was Charlie Lau. The premier hitting coach in MLB at the time. One day at practice Coach asked me to pitch to Charlie, while he demonstrated how to hit down on the ball, and no matter where the ball was in the strike zone, he could it hit up the middle. After hitting 20 baseballs back at me, I asked Coach Fraser if Charlie hadn’t made his point. If you have had that many balls nearly miss your head, you never forget it.
- My pitching coach’s last name was Sanders. He probably doesn’t remember mine either.
- The varsity catcher, Paul (?) came after me with the bat after I had brushed him back a few times. Well, actually I threw the ball behind him, because I didn’t like him! Fraser sent me home for the day. . . at the time, I had been playing in summer leagues against ex minor and washed up major leaguers. The guys at the U were kids to me. That’s just the way the game was played back then. I can assure you they did the same thing to me when I came to bat. But still it was fun.
- After practice, I would go watch football practice and watch them fight. A friend from my hometown was on the team, that’s how I got to the U. I actually had more friends on the football team, than baseball, probably why I can’t remember them.
Thanks for letting share a few of my memories. Most of my memories have faded over the years, but every time I see or read about Hurricanes baseball, I am glad that I was there in the fall of 1963, Coach Ron Fraser’s 1st year. Who knew at that time what was to follow.
Ron Fraser is Miami Hurricanes baseball.