By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"Dad grew up in an era when you don't survive cancer," says Cathi Brock, a division manager at a large Valley floor-covering firm. "He was sure he was going to die."
But Brock survived the surgery and the precarious days afterward. When he was well enough, his doctors told him a year of chemotherapy would be wise.
The thought of the strength-sapping treatments depressed him. But the thought of the disease beating him chilled him more.
No one would have blinked if Jim Brock had put his beloved Sun Devils uniform in mothballs and fought his biggest battle in private.
But coaching had been like breathing to him--it's all he'd wanted to do since he was a sophomore at Phoenix North High School in the 1950s. He could coach in his sleep, and sometimes he did, awakening from fitful dreams after defeats to relive mistakes made, opportunities lost.
Now in a fight for his life, Brock realized, dammit, he wanted and needed to coach again, more than he had for years.
"Cancer has taught me a lot," Brock told New Times during a grueling season in which he allowed this newspaper unlimited access to his baseball program.
"It obviously hasn't taught me how to be a good loser. But I feel positively about the game and my place in it. I've found out that many people feel positively about me coaching for some reason, and that such things matter to me. I don't think I really knew that before."
Pat Brock backed her husband's decision. She had been with JB, as she and his friends call him, during every step of his 40-year coaching career.
"JB needs dragons to slay and people to lead," she says. "The ball field is where he does it best. That's where he wants to be, and that's where he should be."
@body:The words "It's just a game" have never and will never cross my dad's lips.
--Jim Brock Jr., an attorney in the Bay Area
Coach Brock felt better than he had expected when ASU opened its season on January 27 against New Mexico State.
Sure, the coach was thinner, paler and slower-moving than before, the results of his illness and the chemotherapy treatments he endured every Monday. He dreaded those days, which left him nauseous, feverish and exhausted.
But Brock has persevered at practices and at games, doing that little face-high handclap of his and urging his players to push their games forward, inch by inch.
He has also proved himself as adept as ever at inflicting what he calls "immediate negative reinforcement" upon his troops when he felt it necessary.
Ask pitcher Noah Peery and outfielder/designated hitter Sean Tyler. The coach ordered ace reliever Peery--the Devils' heart and soul--to run ten miles per day for four days after Peery twice taunted another team from the mound.
And Brock angrily sent the good-natured Tyler to the showers one night for not showing proper team spirit during a tight game against the UofA.
When an ump booted Brock out of an early-season game against the University of New Mexico, things seemed right at Packard.
But cancer is as unpredictable as a knuckle ball.
That became painfully apparent in March, when Brock's liver malfunctioned. A blockage of still-undetermined origin--it could be scar tissue or it could be a new tumor--led to jaundice, symptomatic of liver failure.
Doctors ordered a new series of tests and increased doses of chemotherapy. The tests so far have been inconclusive, and it's still uncertain whether the cancer has returned.
The recent ordeals have taken much of the starch out of Brock. But he has missed only one game all season, against the University of Michigan on March 18. He went to Packard that evening, but left for home before the first pitch, spent by the chemo.
From the stands, Pat Brock kept her husband informed with a play-by-play account from her cellular phone--Jacob just got a hit, honey. He has the most beautiful swing in the world. . . ."
Brock has been relying heavily on pitching coach Bill Kinneberg and hitting coach John Pierson, his excellent top assistants. Though Brock has long given his aides leeway, this year he's had no choice.
ASU's season has been a rousing success, even with injuries to several key players. The Sun Devils are 39-16 going into this weekend's regional tournament in Knoxville, Tennessee, with the College World Series within their grasp.
Brock is proud of his team's achievements and effort. As evidence of the latter, he points to, of all things, a May 15 loss to Stanford in a wild game that decided the Six-Pac championship.
"That was Sun Devil baseball," the coach says, "though you won't hear me saying this about many losses. Stanford scores four on us in the top of the tenth. Many teams would have died right then. We come back and have the winning run on first when it ends. We fought and fought."
ASU did not battle with more tenacity than their head coach has mustered against a far more powerful opponent.
Brock is a man for whom dark, pessimistic thoughts have always been the norm. It well serves his need to grouse. Recently, though, as his health has suffered, the coach has been laboring to put into practice a concept he's addressed for years.