The Magic of the Light: Mark Light Field embodies Hurricane history

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In the first inning of the first game played at Mark Light Field, back on Feb. 16, 1973, the University of Miami baseball team turned a triple play against the Florida State Seminoles. The Hurricanes went on to win the game 5-1.

How else could the Hurricanes inaugurate their new home? From the fans to the players, the announcers to the coaches, the mascots to the milkshakes, there’s a current of enchantment that flows through the Light.

‘Just don’t get any blood on that turf’

If Ron Fraser is the Wizard of College Baseball, then John Routh is the Wand. The man behind the Miami Maniac from 1983-91, Routh was Fraser’s instrument to light up the crowd every Friday and Saturday night. Fraser envisioned what the Light could be, and Routh brought that image to life.

Occasionally, Routh did distort what Fraser had in mind. After a few routines, according to Routh, the late coach quipped, “’It’s the drugs. It’s got to be the drugs.’”

One of the more outrageous skits involved Routh transforming a portion of Mark Light Field into a ski slope – well, Miami’s version of a ski slope – while the 1988 Winter Olympics took place in Canada. The Maniac had rollerblades on instead of skis, but nonetheless went down the ramp and into the air.

According to Routh, Fraser had one comment when the coach heard about the routine: “‘Just don’t get any blood on that turf.’”

Although he crash-landed, Routh did not bleed on the field. He did, however, receive something that eluded all the members of the American ski team: a gold medal. (Albeit from a Sugarcane.)

The enduring skit from Routh’s time is still the Maniac’s wedding. During a game televised on ESPN in 1985, and donning a tuxedo over the orange costume, the Maniac married Mrs. Maniac in a 14-minute long ceremony that was supposed to take four minutes. ESPN showed the wedding in its entirety to a national audience.

The Maniac can’t get away with such antics nowadays, but he still contributes to the aura of the Light.

“It’s always been a fun atmosphere,” Routh said of Mark Light Field. “All these little groups get together and their thing for Friday and Saturday night is to go to the Light and feel like they’re part of the show, and that’s what the Maniac’s all about too. Letting the crowd feel like they’re part of the show.”

‘How many places can I go to where there’s a milkshake named after me?’

The Maniac was not a solo act. While Routh performed on the field, Jay Rokeach did his best to make sense of the Maniac’s antics from the press box. When the Maniac married Mrs. Maniac, “Rabbi Rokeach” was the one who unofficially wed the two orange fuzz balls.

Rokeach has been entertaining fans for far longer than the Maniac though, having called Hurricanes games for the last 48 years. More than 15,000 days and 1,800-plus games later, the connection between the Light and the up-and-coming, in-game announcer is still going strong.

“This is the place that I’m most at home. This is the place that I enjoy coming to,” Rokeach said.

There’s also the winning. Rokeach admits it would be hard to stay around a team for so long if they weren’t as successful as the Hurricanes.

“If you’re going to stay someplace for 48 years, I would imagine if we were 20-30 every year, that I probably wouldn’t still be here,” he said.

Most importantly, there’s the Mark Light shake. “How many places can I go to where there’s a milkshake named after me?”

The aptly named “JayRo,” which consists of hot fudge, Oreos and chocolate ice cream, is the No. 1 seller at Mark Light Field. The JayRo doesn’t have as much success on the field, though.

In the fourth inning of every home weekend game for the last two years, three mascots – the JayRo, the Omaha Express and the Wizard – race each other on the field. In nearly 40 races, the JayRo has come out the winner twice. And Rokeach wasn’t there for one of them. When the JayRo won its only race this year after an extended losing streak to start the season, Rokeach exclaimed, “Do you believe in miracles?”

The sting of another loss in the race is made worse in the “high-five” fifth inning, where fans at the ballpark high-five the people next to them. Although he admits the crowd seems to enjoy it now, Rokeach wasn’t totally on board with the idea.

“The high-five fifth inning has only been here two or three years, and to be honest with you, I thought it was ridiculous when we started it,” he said. “Marketing came up with it. I had never seen it before. Thought it was pretty stupid.”

If you’ve been paying close attention near the end of Saturday games, you’ve heard Rokeach’s own late-inning custom. Per Rokeach’s insistence, the team plays Billy Joel at nine o’clock every Saturday night, the time in “Piano Man” when “the regular crowd shuffles in.”

As far as the other musical choices go, “I sort of have to bite my lips and see what they play in certain instances,” he said.

Despite the questionable tastes of those in charge of the music now, Rokeach, just as he always has, still enjoys calling games at Mark Light Field.

“It’s been 48 years of a lot of fun,” Rokeach said.

‘My son, like me, fell in love with everything UM baseball that first time’

In between updates and mispronunciations of names from Rokeach, you will likely hear a chant from the fans, and if there is one going, you can be sure Lazaro “Laz” Arribas is yelling out the familiar words.

“Rag-arm,” and “walk him” are fine sayings, but the undisputed king of the chants at the Light remains the deflating, “left, right, left right, sientate!” that rains down from the stands when an opposing player strikes out. The chant did not originate at Mark Light Field or even at a baseball game, though.

“It came from a basketball game believe it or not,” Laz said in an email. “They left, right, left’d someone back to the bench at a b-ball game and I thought that was better suited for the Light and it took off.”

Laz is one of the many diehard fans who frequently attends games, as he has been for around 35 years. For him, there’s a distinctive intimacy at Mark Light Field that can’t be found elsewhere.

“Mark Light [Field] is special because it is family. It’s much more personal than football or even basketball,” Laz said. “You not only know players’ names but their parents’ names and faces.”

Fittingly, Laz’s favorite moment in three decades of going to games revolves around family. “Had to be the day I took my son there for the first time,” he said. “My son, like me, fell in love with everything UM baseball that first time.”

‘There’s just not enough time to make more than we make’

The real star of Mark Light Field isn’t a player or a coach but the man behind the Mark Light shakes, Mitch Freedman. Freedman started at Mark Light Field in 1986 but didn’t start selling shakes until the next year. If parents bought ice cream for their kids in the first inning instead of the seventh in 1986, the shakes might not even exist.

“In those days people used to buy food early and ice cream late,” Freedman said. “We tried to come up with something that would entice people to buy more ice cream earlier and we came up with milkshakes, and it’s been going ever since.”

While today you have to get a shake before the game starts or face the ever-expanding line, that wasn’t always the case.

“Today, we do hundreds per game. When we started out we did maybe 10, 20, 30,” Freedman said. “There’s just not enough time to make more than we make. People that guess a thousand or two thousand, they’re way off. It just looks like we make that many.”

The shakes have garnered national attention recently, notably a lengthy discussion on them during an ESPNU broadcast of a game against Virginia two years ago.

“I always like to say I’m an overnight, 31-year success,” Freedman said.

‘The Magic of the Light exists’

As Rokeach puts it, “success has always been here.” The team has done a lot of winning over the years.

In 44 seasons – including the current one – the Hurricanes have won 1,493 of the 1,866 games played at Mark Light Field, good for a .800 winning percentage. According to CollegeBaseballInsider.com, the home team usually wins 60 percent of the time in Division I college baseball.

Losing multiple games in a row is an especially uncommon occurrence at the Light. The team has dropped consecutive games either one time or not at all in 25 of the 44 seasons at Mark Light Field. In the nearly 2,000 games played at the Light, the Hurricanes have only lost four of them consecutively twice. Miami has never lost five in a row at Mark Light Field and didn’t even drop three straight until 1982, the first of the Hurricanes’ four championship seasons.

“I just think that this place has a certain magic to it. We always refer to it as the ‘Magic of the Light,’” Rokeach said. “There’s nothing to solidify it. It’s just that I think the Magic of the Light exists and that this place does have a certain aura to it.”

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2 Comments

  1. Ken Lancaster on

    Well done, Well said!!
    A great place to bring the kids and enjoy baseball the way it is meant to be.
    1st game in a lawn chair along the third base line.

  2. Jose Morales on

    Could have picked a dozen other fans besides Mr. Arribas to interview for this story.