Mike Martin remembers the head-to-head meetings with Ron Fraser well.
The coaches faced off at least six times a year from 1980, when Martin was hired at Florida State, through Fraser’s retirement at Miami after the 1992 season. Fraser held a 42-39-2 edge against Martin.
“There were so many unbelievable games,” Martin said.
But 20 years after they last faced off on the diamond, what Martin remembers more is their friendship and Fraser’s ability to market college baseball.
Fraser passed away on Sunday at 79.
“That man to me is the one that is responsible for college baseball being what it is today,” Martin said on Sunday. “He was an innovator. The best promoter our game has ever known. Ron Fraser was a special guy.”
Fraser was known for building Miami into a college baseball powerhouse, winning 1,271 games in Coral Gables from 1963-92. He also guided the Hurricanes to College World Series titles in 1982 and ’85 and drew crowds with raffles, promotions and even served dinner on the infield as a fund-raiser.
But few remember that Fraser attended Florida State in the 1950s and went 5-2 as a relief pitcher. It certainly wasn’t the most distinguished collegiate career, but Fraser earned his degree in physical education in 1960 and three years later was a head coach at Miami.
He was inducted into Florida State’s Athletics Hall of Fame — not as much for what he did in Tallahassee but what he did to put college baseball on the map.
“Florida State is proud to honor a former athlete who became a distinguished opponent,” read his honor upon induction in 1981. “A brilliant promoter and coach, he advanced collegiate baseball at the University of Miami, across Florida and across the nation.”
Said Martin: “I think what really sets Fraser apart is how many guys are so-called ‘average players’ at their university and are in the hall of fame. Ron Fraser is that kind of special guy.”
He won and, of course, that made him special. Fraser never had a losing season and was 833 games over .500 for his career. But he also made college baseball special. Fraser used a variety of promotions to attract fans – especially families – and raised funds for the Miami program. He also continued to pitch the sport to regional and national networks, and college baseball became a weekend staple on channels like the Sunshine Network.
Miami vs. Florida State became a big rivalry. The games were almost always competitive, and Fraser and Martin ensured that the teams continued to play a home-and-home series in Coral Gables and Tallahassee in the 1980s and 90s (because the schools are now both in the ACC, they play just a three-game series annually).
As the sport grew in popularity, Miami-Florida State became one of the nation’s biggest college baseball rivalries. Weekend matchups between the teams were always big draws. Fraser’s teams were always poised, Martin remembered.
“He got the best out of the players on the field,” Martin said. “He pushed a lot of the right buttons.”