The Miami Marlins have won two World Series titles since the organization's inception in 1993, making them one of just five franchises with multiple championships in that time. Yet the city has another baseball team with an even longer tradition of success and more titles to its credit: the University
The Miami Marlins have won two World Series titles since the organization's inception in 1993, making them one of just five franchises with multiple championships in that time. Yet the city has another baseball team with an even longer tradition of success and more titles to its credit: the University of Miami Hurricanes. Tied for fifth all time with four College World Series championships, the Canes rank second in NCAA history with 25 CWS appearances.
They've also sent 61 players to the Majors throughout their existence. One of those players, Mike Piazza, went on to become a Hall of Famer. Ten have been named All-Stars: Piazza (12 times); Ryan Braun (six); Greg Vaughn (four); Danny Graves, Charles Johnson and Chris Perez (two each); and Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Neal Heaton and Gaby Sanchez (one each).
As of July 2017, six former Hurricanes were active in the Big Leagues: Alonso (Athletics), Braun (Brewers), Grandal (Dodgers), Chris Herrmann (Diamondbacks), Jonathan Jay (Cubs) and Danny Valencia (Mariners). Peter O'Brien and Jemile Weeks played in the Majors last year, but both began 2017 in Triple-A. And two more were just beginning their MLB journeys, as outfielder Carl Chester and pitcher Jesse Lepore were selected in the 2017 Draft, signing with the Rays' and Rockies' organizations, respectively.
Grandal, who was born in Cuba but grew up in Miami Springs, Fla., says he always dreamed of playing for the Hurricanes. "Pretty much everyone that grows up in Miami wants to go to the University of Miami," he said. "Every other university is just a fall back."
The man responsible for making Hurricanes baseball the elite program it is today is Ron Fraser, who over the years established a reputation as "The Wizard of College Baseball." When he arrived in Coral Gables in 1963, he was given a $2,200 salary, a converted shower for an office, zero athletic scholarships and a mandate not to spend any money. Nevertheless, he built a revenue-generating model that other schools would soon follow.
It's hard to say whether Fraser was more successful as a coach or as a promoter. He won 1,271 games over 30 seasons from 1963-92, including two CWS championships (1982 and '85) in his 12 trips to Omaha. He also proved to be a genius fundraiser who drummed up interest in the Hurricanes -- with such stunts as college baseball's first batgirls (the Sugarcanes) and its first famous mascot (the Miami Maniac) -- as well as in the sport as a whole, by convincing ESPN to televise the College World Series starting in 1980.
He also persuaded a Miami businessman and avid fan named George Light to become the principal donor for college baseball's first modern facility, which opened in 1973. Called Mark Light Stadium in honor of George's son, who died of muscular dystrophy, the venue boasted an electronic scoreboard and concrete bleachers. Fraser paid off the remaining stadium debt by hosting a $5,000-a-plate dinner on the infield, with international chefs preparing an 11-course meal amid ice carvings, goldfish ponds and violinists.
"Ron did [for college baseball] what Muhammad Ali did for boxing. Ron did what Arnold Palmer did for golf," said Skip Bertman, an assistant coach under Fraser, who won five College World Series after taking the Fraser blueprint to Louisiana State. "Ron had a vision and he promoted it and he made it work."
The team upgraded its home again in 2009, reopening Alexander Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field after a $3.9 million gift from the local product and 14-time All-Star. Committed to the Hurricanes out of high school before signing with the Mariners as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1993 Draft, Rodriguez has spoken fondly of sneaking into Hurricanes games as a kid. He even worked out at the school's facilities during the offseason once he'd made it big.
And while local kids may long to suit up for the Hurricanes, the allure doesn't end in South Florida. Pat Burrell, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 Draft, came to Miami from California. He went on to set school records for average (.442) and slugging (.886, second in D1 history) and won the 1998 Golden Spikes Award, college baseball's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
Like Burrell, Braun was a Californian who won national Freshman of the Year and All-America honors with the Hurricanes. "I knew I would get an opportunity to play right away for a team that was perennially going to the College World Series," Braun said. "Socially, I knew that I would never have more fun than I had there, and it actually exceeded my expectations. And academically, it's better than it gets credit for. Overall, the experience was incredible."
Burrell and Braun, the fifth overall choice in 2005, are the two highest draft picks in school history. Throughout history, 11 Hurricanes have been selected in the first round, including Zack Collins, whom the White Sox tabbed with the 10th pick in June 2016 and who was selected to represent the organization at the 2017 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game.
But scouts considered their most famous player an afterthought during his lone season at Miami. Coming out of Phoenixville (Pa.) Area High, Piazza attracted no interest from pro or college teams. Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda, the godfather of Piazza's youngest brother, implored his good friend Fraser to let Piazza walk on at Miami. The future Hall of Famer got just nine at-bats and didn't make the Hurricanes' travel roster in 1987, but he did start a serious weight-lifting regimen that helped him develop the strength to set an MLB record with 396 home runs as a catcher. Piazza transferred to Miami-Dade College in '88, after which Lasorda cajoled the Dodgers into drafting him.
While the Hurricanes played little part in Piazza's ascent, both Braun and Grandal credit their time in Coral Gables with developing them into All-Stars.
"The way they run the program, it's pretty close to a Minor League experience," said Grandal, who went from the draft to the Majors in less than two years. "What they put you through as a player on the mental side -- grinding through workouts and practices, and also the way that they teach you how to handle the game, handle yourself on and off the field -- that went a long way."
Braun also fast-tracked to the Majors fewer than two years after turning pro. "College baseball at the University of Miami is a big deal," he said. "On the East Coast, there's just a different level of passion, a different following. Just the intensity of the crowds, playing in front of bigger crowds, playing against quality competition day in and day out, playing in the ACC my junior year, I think it helps the transition into pro ball."
Considering their winning ways, the example they've set for other schools and the players they've sent to the Big Leagues, the Hurricanes are arguably the most influential program in the history of college baseball. And there can be no argument that Miami has the most successful Big League and college baseball tandem in the country.
This article appears in the 2017 MLB Official All-Star Game Program. Read more features on allstargame.com.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.