BROCK SOLID

ASU'S BASEBALL WIZARD LOVES TO PLAY HARDBALL. THIS YEAR, HE'S HAD TO.

"I had a genuinely religious experience," he says of the day, which happened to be Good Friday. Some basic truths came to him during a talk with a minister from whom his wife had suggested he seek counsel.

"Some people may look at it as a rationalization for having caused my guy to get hurt. Whatever. For me, in my thoughts, it was clearly real. Real or imagined, Christians would see it as an evangelistic moment, a chance to start over. With some Christians, this starting over lasts, say, a week or ten days."
But Brock stuck with it. For a few years, he became one of the top Christian speakers around, telling the Bump Wills story in testimony after testimony.

"It was kind of a cheap thrill," he says, "going from not being able to talk at all in groups to being able to speak about my feelings. I became a professional Christian, in a sense, something I detest. I've always had a hard time with the 'God has a plan for you' types. To me, it's a personal relationship. So I cut back on all the talk."
Wills recovered, by the way, and went on to have a productive major league career.

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The coach's revelation may have allowed him to feel better about himself. But he steadfastly declined to turn the other cheek when it came to baseball opponents, umpires and, at times, his players. He drilled his team on fundamentals as rigorously as ever, and he could slice and dice them verbally when the moment called for it.

"Winning baseball games was in my blood," Brock says, "and being a Christian in no way made me a winning-doesn't-really-matter kind of coach."
In 1977, the Sun Devils won their first national title under Jim Brock. For that moment, at least, the Devils' coach was at the pinnacle of his profession.

@rule:
@body:Recruiting top-drawer talent to play baseball at ASU never has been a problem. The winning tradition under Brock entices some. The opportunity to showcase before pro scouts lures others. The beautiful ballpark certainly helps. "We have several thousand girls between the ages of 18 and 23 walking around in various states of undress," Jim Brock says. "This is a great recruiting tool."

The coach's candid approach has meshed nicely with his wife's sweet but persuasive personality. Pat Brock makes a point of sitting with potential recruits when they visit Packard for a game. These days, the NCAA doesn't allow a spouse inside a recruit's home during a coach's visit, so Pat Brock often sits in the car outside and reads a book. Recruiting is a fairly predictable chore. You make your pitch, take questions and wrap it up. But it doesn't always work that way.

In the late 80s, a highly touted Southern California player named Todd Steverson expressed interest in attending ASU. This was considered a major coup in light of bonus dollars being tossed at high school stars for signing professional contracts.

Steverson could have gone pro at the time for perhaps $200,000, according to Brock and others. But his dad, Richard Steverson, wanted him to attend a first-rate baseball school, at least for a few years.

It came down to ASU and USC. But Richard Steverson was not the usual parent.
"He was totally in charge, not me," Brock says. "He interrogated me for more than three hours, no exaggeration."
Richard Steverson finally asked the coach to summarize his coaching style in one sentence.

"I'm a hard-ass," Brock told him.
Richard Steverson smiled.
"Then," he said, "my son will play for you."
@rule:

@body:ASU baseball's fortunes ran the gamut in the 1980s, from winning another national championship in 1981 to being put on probation by the NCAA.

In 1985, university officials ran afoul of regulations involving the baseball team's work-study program. The NCAA stripped ASU of 14 scholarships over a four-year period. The paucity of front-line players led, that year, to Brock's only losing season, ever.

On the heels of probation came Nardilgate. A psychologist had prescribed the mood-altering drug Nardil to some of Brock's players. What the coach knew and when he knew it soon moved off the sports pages and into the news section.

Nardilgate damaged the interchangeable reputations of Brock and ASU baseball, and the coach says he thought hard about quitting, as he had after the Bump Wills incident.

But this time, Brock didn't consider himself to blame, and he wasn't about to go quietly. The coach appeared live on a local television newscast and called the Arizona Republic, which had broken most of the stories, a "yellow rag."

Brock weathered the NCAA probation and the Nardil controversy, and was just a little bloodied. In 1988, his Devils finished second in the College World Series, quite a reversal of the unprecedented losing season three seasons earlier.

Other than an embarrassing off-the-field episode a few years ago involving a Sun Devil pitching coach, most reports on the ASU baseball program had focused in recent years on the games.

Until last July.
That's when Jim Brock went to a doctor, feeling run-down and suffering severe back pains.

@rule:
@body:Earlier this season, Arizona State traveled to Palo Alto to play Stanford in a series at venerable Sunken Diamond.

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