One annual rite of spring for Ron Fraser’s Miami Hurricanes was an exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles.
Before one such meeting in the days when Miami Stadium was the Orioles’ spring training home, Fraser summoned his third baseman.
“Coach Fraser said, ‘Hey Pags, you’re having a little trouble with the bunt play. Go talk to that guy over there’ …Brooks Robinson,” Mike Pagliarulo said Sunday night after learning of Fraser death earlier in the day.
“I talked to Brooks and in one day he teaches me how to make a bunt play. I was good at it ever since.”
Pagliarulo enjoyed an 11-year major league career that included winning a World Series ring with the Minnesota Twins in 1991. The road to the majors for the Medford, Mass., product began in earnest when he decided to attend Miami (1978-81) to play for Fraser and assistant Skip Bertman, who went on to his own remarkable career as Louisiana State coach.
“The first thing Coach Fraser said to me when I got there was, ‘Listen, you’ve got hands of stone — we need to fix that. We need to soften those hands up,'” Pagliarulo said. “He himself took a bucket of balls and hit me balls every day. The manager of the team was doing that for me, and I wasn’t even the starting third baseman at the time!”
Pagliarulo, who recently accepted a job as batting coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis, learned what it took to play and succeed at one of the nation’s top programs.
“‘Pagliarini! Hey Spaghetti!’ He couldn’t say my name for a while,” Pagliarulo said with a laugh. “We had a lot of fun, but he was hard and he demanded a lot — pretty much like the Yankees when I played with the Yankees. You’re going play and going put out, or you’re not going to play or play for me.’
“He demanded a lot and he gave you a lot on return. And I was all right with that.”
There were other benefits in playing for Fraser.
Pagliarulo recalled how the coach seemed to know everybody in and out of baseball. He would go fishing with Hall of Famer Ted Williams, then ask the Splendid Splinter to talk to the Hurricanes.
When the Super Bowl was played in Miami, Fraser asked his players if they wanted jobs selling programs at the game.
During Fraser’s 30-year career at Miami, the only major league presence in South Florida was for spring training. After the Birds flew north, the Hurricanes filled a void.
“There was no professional baseball team in Miami then, and Coach Fraser believed Miami not only should have a baseball team, it should have a great baseball team, and we were it,” Pagliarulo said. “He was a genius. He was the reason college baseball is on TV today and he’s the reason its gets the exposure it gets — there’s no doubt about that.
“There’s not a statue big enough that they could put in front of that stadium for Ron Fraser. What he’s done for the NCAA and college baseball he could have done at the pro level for any organization — there’s no doubt in my mind.”