Former Canes return to help kick off new season

Zach Beeker//The Miami Hurricane
Senior Rony Rodriguez swings for the ball at the alumni game. Zach Beeker//The Miami Hurricane

For a while it looked as if dark skies would ruin one of Miami baseball’s oldest traditions, but as the afternoon wore on and the rain clouds cleared, Fanfest and alumni game festivities carried on without interruption.

Former and current Hurricanes descended on Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field for the unofficial start to the 2012 season, participating in autograph sessions and other activities in what is a yearly event for fans and players in the University of Miami baseball community.

“There’s a reason why major leaguers come back and play the alumni game,” said St. Louis Cardinals’ minor leaguer Danny Miranda, who was participating in the event as an alumnus for the first time. “There’s a reason why they come back to the University of Miami. As a player, that hits you. You’re part of a program, a prestigious program.”

All four national championship trophies were on display in the ballpark’s lobby, along with bounce castles for kids and a face-paint artist just outside the Miami locker room.

The current Canes got the best of their predecessors, beating the alumni 10-1 in nine full innings of play.

Despite the game being an exhibition, coach Jim Morris saw value in getting his team onto the field in a non-practice situation.

“You get the guys to play in front of people under the lights, it makes it a little bit different,” he said. “You get to have an actual game where you can use all of your signs, move people around and just put your system in place.”

Seniors Eric Erickson and Eric Whaley each pitched three scoreless innings for Miami. The alumni broke through on the scoreboard in the top of the ninth inning, scoring their lone run to save face against the younger Canes.

The day’s events also featured a homerun derby contest. Danny Valencia of the Minnesota Twins and Jemile Weeks of the Oakland Athletics represented the alumni, while seniors Peter O’Brien and Rony Rodriguez batted for this year’s Hurricanes.

The final round came down to O’Brien and Valencia, with the big leaguer edging out Miami’s catcher five homeruns to four.

O’Brien was participating in Fanfest activities for the first time after transferring to Miami from Bethune-Cookman.

“A lot of people came up to me and introduced themselves and wished me good luck, so it’s nice to know I have the support of everyone here,” O’Brien said.

Weeks, who made his major league debut in 2011 and finished with a .303 batting average for Oakland, looked back on what the alumni game meant to him when he was a second baseman for the Hurricanes.

“You get a chance to see some of the guys that were in your shoes and then they went on to become big leaguers and guys that you watch on TV,” he said. “For me to give back on the same level, I love doing that.”

Miami will open up next weekend against Rutgers at home. Last season the Hurricanes took two of three games from the Scarlet Knights in what has become an annual season-opening series for both teams.