(Note: This article is part of a series, by Jeff Dahn, that highlights specific collegiate baseball programs going into the 2011 season. To view the articles on other schools in this series please click here.)
This is a busy time of the year for everyone associated with the University of Miami (Fla.) baseball program. There are golf tournaments and boat outings, fan-fests and alumni games, banquets and fund-raisers – “fund-raisers/friend-raisers,” as head coach Jim Morris likes to call them.
And all those activities took place in the two weeks leading up to the Perfect Game No. 17-ranked Hurricanes’ season-opener against Rutgers on Feb. 18 at Mark Light Field at Alex Rodriguez Park in sunny Coral Gables, Fla.
“I can’t wait to start playing because I’ve had so many things going on,” Morris said in a mid-February telephone conversation with Perfect Game. “We’re ready to get playing.”
The Hurricanes have been ready to “get playing” for most of the past four decades, ever since former coach Ron Fraser – the “Wizard of College Baseball” – led the program to its first NCAA tournament berth in 1971, its first College World Series appearance in 1974 and its first national championship in 1982.
Now set to begin his 18th season in Coral Gables, Morris still appreciates the influence Fraser had on his career and his ability to maintain Miami’s stature as one of the premier baseball programs in the country.
“Coach Fraser, in my opinion, is the most influential coach in the history of college baseball, not only because he won but because he put college baseball on the map with promotions and marketing,” Morris said. “He may have been the most popular coach ever.”
And that’s the man Morris chose to follow.
Morris began his coaching career by starting a program at DeKalb Community College in Atlanta. He left DeKalb to become an assistant coach at Florida State University, and in 1982 he became a Division I head coach for the first time when he took over what was essentially a reclamation project at Georgia Tech.
After three seasons spent getting a foothold at the prestigious Atlanta school, Morris guided the Yellow Jackets to the NCAA tournament in his fourth season (1985). Eight more NCAA Regional appearances followed, but Morris could never quite get Tech to the CWS.
In Miami, meanwhile, Fraser had decided to retire after 30 years; 1,271 wins; 12 CWS appearances and two national championships. Dave Maggard, the athletic director at the time, named longtime Miami assistant coach Brad Kelley to replace Fraser, but Kelley resigned after one season.
New Miami AD Paul Dee opened up a national search for Kelley’s replacement and eventually was able to coax Morris away from Georgia Tech.
“I’m extremely pleased that we’ve been able to attract to the University of Miami one of the most outstanding collegiate baseball coaches in the country,” Dee said at the time of the hire. “Jim’s experience in a major metropolitan market with several professional teams was an important aspect of his background outside his outstanding coaching ability.”
It was all a whirl-wind for Morris.
“There are very, very high expectations when you come in here and I knew it was going to be tough,” he said. “If Coach Fraser hadn’t recruited me personally, along with the athletic director – I didn’t apply for the job – if they hadn’t both personally recruited me, I wouldn’t have come.”
Morris went right to work following in Fraser’s canyon-like footsteps. He led the Hurricanes to the College World Series in each of his first six seasons in Coral Gables, and won the his first national championship in his sixth season (1999). Playing as an independent, Morris’ first six Hurricanes teams – they were national runner-up in 1996 – all won at least 48 games each season.
In all, nine of his first 11 teams at Miami advanced to the big show in Omaha, and 11 of his 17 Hurricane teams have earned a trip. Of the six that didn’t make it, four advanced to a Super Regional.
Counting the nine regional berths in his final nine seasons at Georgia Tech, Morris has guided teams to 26 straight NCAA postseason appearances. But just playing in the postseason doesn’t cut it at “The U.”
“The expectations here are different than a lot of places just because we’ve been to the (College) World Series 11 out of my 17 years,” Morris said. “If you don’t go to the World Series it’s really not a very good season, and it’s not a great season unless you win it once you get there.
“The expectations are just different and what you can be happy with, and going to Super Regional is not something you can be happy with and satisfied with at Miami.”
Miami joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in time for the 2005 baseball season and the wins became a little more difficult to come by. The Hurricanes were a combined 53-36-1 in league play in their first three years as an ACC member before breaking loose in their fourth year in the league in 2008.
“It’s been more difficult, I’ve got to tell you,” Morris said. “When I left Georgia Tech, I had won four ACC championships in a row. It’s a different world now because Virginia and all these other schools are emphasizing baseball now. It’s not easy.”
The ‘Canes won their first ACC regular season championship in 2008 with a 23-5 league mark, and finished 53-11 overall after winning one of three games at the CWS. It’s their most recent Series appearance and left the program with an all-time CWS record of 47-38 (.553).
The ‘Canes’ 23 College World Series appearances rank second all-time behind Texas (33). Their 47 CWS victories rank fourth behind Texas (82), Southern Cal (74) and Arizona State (61).
The 2010 Hurricanes finished 20-10 in ACC play, good for a third-place finish in the Coastal Division behind Virginia and Georgia Tech. Miami then won its own Coral Gables Regional with a 3-1 record before losing to host Florida, two games to none, at the Gainesville Super Regional. It finished with an overall record of 43-20.
The ‘Canes have been picked by the ACC’s 12 coaches to once again finish third in the Coastal this season, once again behind Virginia and Georgia Tech.
“Every year I catch myself saying the same thing – we’re a young club, we’ve got some good athletes,” Morris said. “But it seems like every year we are young because a lot of our guys sign. Not many of our juniors stay for their senior year, and this year especially we lost a lot of guys that signed pro.”
Miami returns six position players who saw action in at least 51 games last spring and five who played in at least 61 of the 63 games.
The top returner is junior third baseman Harold Martinez, a preseason all-American who Perfect Game projects as a high 1st-round pick in the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft. Martinez hit .295 with 21 home runs, 10 doubles, 69 RBIs and 48 runs scored.
Other top everyday guys back include senior outfielder Chris Pelaez (.314, 11 HRs, 53 RBIs), junior outfielder Nathan Melendres (.301, 9 HRs, 35 RBIs, 14 SBs) and sophomore shortstop Stephen Perez (. 255, 8 HRs, 38 RBIs, 24 SBs). The ‘Canes return 79 stolen bases among seven players.
Morris will have to rebuild his starting pitching staff after losing four pitchers who accounted for 51 starts in 2010. Sophomore left-hander Stephen Ewing made five starts last spring, tops among all the returning pitchers. Junior left-hander Daniel Miranda is back after going 5-3 with a 3.23 ERA and a team-high five saves in 34 relief appearances. He struck out 59 in 47.1 innings.
The Hurricanes will also rely on a strong incoming group of freshmen. There is no shortage of talent in South Florida, but there are challenges.
“We’ve got a lot of advantages (starting with) the fact that we have really, really good players within 30 minutes (from campus),” Morris said. “If we can control Dade and Broward counties and mix in some guys from outside – I can mention a lot of guys we brought in from outside – but 80 percent of our team is from within 30 minutes.”
And then there’s that southeast Florida sunshine.
“We have good weather. You can go outside every day, basically,” Morris continued. “The only thing we do indoors is dress because the weather’s good all the time.”
Morris also knows he has a highly respected academic university to sell. The University of Miami is a small, private school with an undergraduate enrollment of just under 10,000 students, and it’s ranked the top academic institution in the state of Florida and top-50 nationally.
It is also pricey; it can cost in excess of $50,000 a year for an undergraduate education.
“It’s different than most people think,” Morris said. “It’s got a lot of great advantages but it’s got some challenges along with it. It makes it very difficult from the financial side. People have to want to play at Miami.”
Morris is 776-298-3 (.722) in 17 seasons at Miami and has won 1,280 games in 30 full seasons at Georgia Tech and Miami (an average of 43 wins a season). Now 61 years old, he really doesn’t enjoy the rigors of recruiting much anymore, although he does like attending the Perfect Game events that are staged close to his Florida home.
“I love going to those events and seeing all the bests players at one site out there competing against each other,” he said.
And Morris certainly doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and to be honest with you, it’s my life,” he said. “The expectations are there and I expect to (live up to) those expectations. Most of my time is consumed with doing something to continue to compete at this level … here at the University of Miami. We’re working hard and we expect to get to Omaha every year. I accepted that (challenge) when I came here and it’s still there.”
What follows is a list of players on the 2011 Miami roster who either participated in Perfect Game events or created Perfect Game profiles while they were still in high school. Click on a player’s name to view his complete PG profile:
Sam Abrams – PG WWBA/PG BCS
Michael Broad – PG World/PG National/PG WWBA/PG BCS
Dale Carey – PG National Underclass/PG WWBA/PG BCS
Zeke DeVoss – PG National Invite/PG National Underclass/PG WWBA/PG BCS
E.J. Encinosa – PG World Showcase/PG National Underclass/PG WWBA/PG BCS
Steven Ewing – PG WWBA/PG BCS
Brad Fieger – PG National Underclass/PG WWBA/PG BCS
Corey Janson – PG National Underclass/PG WWBA/PG BCS
Cade Kreuter – PG National Showcase/PG Aflac Showcase/PG BCS
Harold Martinez – Aflac All-American Classic/PG World/PG National/PG WWBA/PG BCS
Colin McMahon – PG WWBA
Nathan Melendres – PG National Underclass/PG BCS
Travis Miller – PG SE Top Prospect/PG WWBA
Daniel Miranda – PG WWBA/PG BCS
Chris Pelaez – PG National/PG Sunshine East/PG-BA
Stephen Perez – PG National/PG Aflac/PG WWBA/PG BCS
Bryan Radziewski – PG National Showcase/PG WWBA/PG BCS
Sam Robinson – PG WWBA
Rony Rodriguez – PG WWBA/PG BCS
Shane Rowland – Aflac All-American Classic/PG National/PG WWBA
Michael Rudman – PG National Underclass/PG WWBA
Javi Salas – PG National Underclass/PG WWBA
AJ Salcines – PG National Showcase/PG WWBA/PG BCS
Julian Santos – PG National Showcase/PG WWBA/PG BCS
Adam Sargent – PG WWBA/PG BCS
David Villasuso – PG WWBA
Eric Whaley – PG National/PG Sunshine East/PG WWBA/PG BCS
Scott Wiebel – PG National Underclass/PG WWBA/PG BCS
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