Monday, May 26, 2008
When I moved to South Florida in 1986 from suburban Chicago, I had no profesional baseball team to adopt. At the time, the Dolphins were the only pro sports team in town. This was before the Heat, Marlins or Panthers existed. So I continued to root for the Cubs, even though I no longer considered myself a Chicagoan. But it didn't take me long to find a local baseball team to embrace. That team was the University of Miami Hurricanes, coached by the great Ron Fraser.
Back then I had never seen a college baseball game before. The "ping" of the aluminum bat still sounds funny to me. But I've always loved baseball and decided to check out a game at Mark Light Stadium and quickly fell in love with the Canes program. It was baseball the way I liked it--good pitching, lots of aggresiveness on the basepaths and good fundamentals. Mike Fiore was the Canes best player at the time. And from that time, I've been a diehard Canes baseball fan.
So I've decided to make a list of who I believe are the best UM baseball players to play their respective positions. The list wasn't easy. There have been a lot of great players who've contributed to a program that's won 4 College World Series titles. Most of the players listed are guys I've seen play in person. But there are a couple who were stars at UM before I followed the program. So here we go, here' my all time Canes baseball team.
All Time Miami Hurricanes Baseball Team
1B Yonder Alonso
2B Jemile Weeks
SS Alex Cora
3B Pat Burrell
LF Mike Fiore
CF Doug Shields
RF Jason Michaels
DH Phil Lane
UTL Ryan Braun
C Charles Johnson
SP Neal Heaton
SP Alex Fernandez
SP J.D. Arteaga
SP Cesar Carrillo
RP Rick Raether
RP Danny Graves
UM catcher Yasmani Grandal and pitcher Kyle Bellamy celebrate the Canes first ACC championship.
In the amazing history of the University of Miami baseball program, the Hurricanes have won just about every kind of trophy and championship you can imagine. But there was one piece of hardware still missing in the trophy case--an ACC championship. Sunday afternoon, the Canes filled that void by beating Virginia 8-4 in the ACC Championship Game at Jacksonville.
When you think about it, UM baseball is by far the greatest sports dynasty South Florida has ever seen. It's a dynasty better than Don Shula's Dolphins. It's better than Canes football. It's better than Miami High, Coral Gables or Northwestern High football. Canes baseball stands alone and here's why.
* No losing seasons since 1957. Think about it. That's more than a half century of winning baseball. It's a string of unparalelled consistancy that's unmatched.
* 36 consecutive NCAA postseason appearances. Every season since 1974, the Canes have reached postseason play. That's an NCAA record. Even super powers like Nebraska football or UCLA basketball have had an occasional bad season here or there. Not Canes baseball. A bad year for UM baseball is losing in the regionals.
* 22 College World Series appearances. Only USC and Texas have made more appearances.
* 4 National championships. Although UM football has won one more championship. Canes baseball is more impressive because you have to win the championship on the field. Football national championships are often awarded by sportswriter polls with no playoff system. Consider this, FSU has made a bunch of CWS appearances and never won a national championship. It's much tougher to win a baseball national title.
UM baseball is even more remarkable when you consider its recruiting disadvantages. College baseball is the toughest sport to recruit. You not only have to recruit against the top schools, you also have to recruit against Major League Baseball. Most of the very best high school baseball players sign with professional teams when they graduate. Also, there are far fewer scholarships available for college baseball. Many college baseball players are on partial scholarship. When you consider the huge tuition at UM, it's even more amazing what the baseball program has accomplished.
In his previous 14 seasons as UM head coach, Jim Morris has guided the Canes to 10 College World Series appearances-winning two national championships. But this year's team may be his best. The Canes are currently 47-8 and were ranked #1 in the nation for most of the season. Three junior stars: Yonder Alonso, Jemile Weeks and Dennis Raben are ranked among the top prospects for the upcoming Major League Baseball Draft. Freshman pitcher Chris Hernandez is a perfect 11-0. Shortstop Ryan Jackson may be the best defensive player at his position in the country. In other words, there aren't many weaknesses in this group.
Whenever I hear of a dynasty, I think of an organization that has sustained a standard of excellence for a long period of time. The Canes baseball machine is the epitomy of that definition. Don't look for that to change anytime soon.