Freshman Feature: Mark Fraser Hopes To Make Big Contribution
“You didn’t look like a deer running to first base.” In most cases, such a remark would not be too promising a sign for a potential college baseball recruit. Yet for Mark Fraser, Cornell Coach Tom Ford’s quip was understandable. After all, just a few days earlier during 17U play at a Perfect Game Showcase, Fraser had pulled his hamstring running out a double, rendering his normal running motion down to an awkward limp. In his summer league, Fraser’s teammates made a similar judgment error. As Fraser recalls, “the first day that I showed up, they didn’t know if I was athletic or not, so after one inning of play, they all just started calling me ‘Big Goof.’” It didn’t take long for Ford or Fraser’s summer squad to realize that almost the exact opposite was true.
In person, Cornell’s Mark Fraser is indeed quite intimidating. Listed at six feet, five inches, the broad-shouldered Fraser looks to be even taller. Yet don’t let the freshman’s size fool you; Fraser is soft-spoken, polite, and endearingly funny. While he may be built to excel at other sports, Fraser “has always loved to play baseball.” The freshman’s passion for America’s national pastime can be traced back to playing outside in his backyard as a kid. As his parents slow-tossed him whiffle balls, Fraser would time his swing to send the pitches straight back from where they came. According to the San Jose native, his attempts to bean his parents with whiffle balls were clear signs of a kid “trying to work it up the middle at an early age.”
After spending the majority of his childhood in sunny San Jose, CA, Fraser moved across the country to play his final two years of high school ball in Georgia at Savannah Christian Prep. The transition, however, wasn’t that simple. Like most things in life, it involved skill, certainly, but also, a little bit of luck. After looking at property in Georgia, the Frasers were going to make a quick pit stop at a nearby batting cage where Mark could hit, before heading back to the West Coast. Fortuitously, Fraser ran into a local baseball coach who happened to be at the cage, and after an hour of watching the young stud pulverize poor batting cage balls, he was convinced. He phoned the head coach at Savannah Prep, and soon after, Fraser received an offer.
The summer after his sophomore year, Mark Fraser’s baseball career “exploded” in Georgia. “It wasn’t that the competition was less,” Fraser pointed out, “but I made a big jump in my ability to play at the time.” Fraser carried his momentum into the following season, and by the summer before his senior year, the high school stud was being recruited heavily by several schools. Frankly, this was no surprise: the slugger batted .458 for Christian Prep in 2015 and was named to the all-region and all-city teams in each of the two years he was in Savannah. Fraser’s versatility—ability to throw strikes on the mound, hit for average at the plate, and scoop wild throws at first base—made him an attractive recruit for Cornell Coaches Tom Ford and Scott Marsh. While taking a tour of the campus with his future coaching staff, Fraser fell in love with what Ithaca had to offer. After a Showball Showcase in Florida, Fraser was given the chance to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and attend Cornell University.
So far, while Fraser is enjoying getting to know his new teammates and coaches, adjusting to college-level play surely takes times, “when you get to college, there really is a jump where you are expected to make all those harder picks, be able to lay out and catch the ball and tag the runner, things that definitely I’m having fun adapting to.” Fortunately for Fraser, having a head coach like Dan Pepicelli undoubtedly eases the transition. “He has the experience of being in such a competitive league that he can definitely play at a smarter level of baseball,” Fraser noted about the former Clemson skipper, “and then he also sets that standard for us.”
In describing his game, Fraser was careful to stress that he hits for contact: “my size may make you think that I’m a guy who bombs or nothing, but I actually really focus on hitting line drives, and working the opposite way.” On the mound, Fraser utilizes his height to amplify the downward angle to the hitter, forcing batters to roll over on pitches and ground out. And at first base, Fraser is “able to be a wall,” often saving his grateful teammates from needless throwing errors.
Off the field, Mark Fraser is perhaps even more impressive. Graduating first in his high school class, Fraser was presented the Headmaster’s Award for having the highest GPA on the Savannah baseball team as a senior. At Cornell, Fraser is enrolled in the academically rigorous College of Engineering. While Fraser admits the work is challenging, he sticks with fellow freshman baseball player Josh Arndt to “get through engineering.” When he’s not studying, Fraser can be found gaming or watching TV. And yes, not only has he heard of the popular TV sitcom Frasier, but this Fraser is also a big fan (“Kelsey Grammer does a great job”). His re-enactment of Niles during the famous “Three Valentines” episode is spot-on, even if the athlete’s sound effects are slightly subdued.
Fraser is confident that the 2016 squad can move forward from last year’s 13-27 season. As for his personal goals, the pitcher/first baseman expects to “make a big contribution on the mound and at the plate.” So, when Cornell finally takes Hoy Field for the first time this Spring, come out to watch Fraser and the rest of the Big Red play. And of course, a healthy Fraser won’t be hard to spot; just look for a deer running to first base.