By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
It's a place where the music of 10,000 Maniacs--not James Brown--plays softly between innings, and where students sip designer coffee, read philosophy and occasionally watch the boys run around on the diamond.
Coach Brock isn't feeling well. When he's in the sun too long, Pat Brock explains, it's like he's frying from the inside and the outside. That's chemo for you, she says.
A half-hour before the first pitch, the father of an ASU player leans over the railing near the visitors' dugout and calls out to Brock.
The player, a front-liner, had gotten sick with stomach flu at the hotel shortly after ASU landed in the Bay Area. As a precaution, Brock had trainer Lance Michel take the player to a doctor. The doctor told the player to drink plenty of fluids and prescribed some medicine.
"Brock, you get over here right now," says the dad, a short, barrel-chested man in his late 40s. "I'm gonna kick your ass. You saw me standing over there and you didn't say anything about my kid being in the hospital."
Brock glares back at the irate dad. "I didn't even know you were here," he says, seemingly unruffled. "It's not serious."
"You've done this to other players before, run them into the ground," the man continues. "I'm gonna kick your ass."
Brock bites his tongue and walks away.
A few minutes later, the ailing player shows up with trainer Michel. In a 14-inning ASU win, he gets three hits and plays sterling defense.
Brock is still steamed when he meets with his staff in Tempe a few days later.
"The guy feels [his son] isn't being treated right," he says, "and he tells every scout his son is getting screwed. Unfortunately, we're not coaching a team of orphans. The guy is absolutely a destructive parent."
Brock turns to his recruiting coordinator, Scott Goldby.
"Okay, Scott, what do you think we should do in this situation?"
"I've been to his house for dinner," Goldby says of the player's dad. "This is hard. We're friendly. He screwed up, but I like him."
"Thank you for that input," Brock says, in such a way that everyone knows what's coming next. "I want to do everything we can to ensure that he does not exist as far as ASU baseball is concerned. You will not have dinner at his home. You will not talk to him. He is an enemy of this program."
Goldby nods. The discussion is over.
@body:"After the shock, you want to know exactly what the odds are," Jim Brock says of learning last year he had liver and colon cancer. "You want to figure out how many in the Valley have had 80 percent of their livers removed and survived. But if the odds are bad, I'm thinking, do I just quit? So much of what happens after cancer is attitude."
Things change irrevocably in any family when serious illness strikes, and the Brocks were no exception.
"The family dynamics got really interesting," Cathi Brock recalls. "I'm like my dad, more pessimistic. My brother is like my mom, the eternal optimist. Dad got withdrawn and quiet at first--he was worried about Mother. The worst part is the mental pain."
In a separate conversation, Jim Brock Jr. says the family--for whom disagreements had never been considered off-limits--melded in those critical first days after the diagnosis.
"We became like tanks rolling over whatever was in front of us--medical doctors, you name it," Brock Jr. says. "It was the classic Brock family tactic, a scorched-earth policy. Maybe it was a coping mechanism, I don't know, but we pulled together, and we're a real unit now."
In a sense, the Brock family in crisis became like one of the coach's teams--aggressive and unrelenting. They read books on cancer, pulled strings to secure better and better medical help and refused to quit when things looked especially grim.
"You have to take responsibility for your own treatment," Jim Brock says. "We learned quickly to get other opinions, to use our intellects, because knowledge would increase my odds of making it. Cancer isn't a planned learning experience that I would necessarily recommend, but it's a learning experience, nonetheless."
Brock has done more than a little homework on his disease.
"Let me talk straight about this," he said on a bus ride early this season, before his liver started acting up again. "It appears that the odds are divided into thirds: One-third, the shit comes back fairly fast. Another third, it comes back in two or three years. The other third? Hallelujah. It's history."
To be as blunt as Brock, his prognosis isn't as bright now as it was before the March relapse. But the ball game isn't over yet, either.
"I didn't think and I don't think my dad's time is at hand," his son says. "He just has to get through this. He's tough as ever, but there's something different about him. It's odd. He's getting the most out of life now."
Brock declines to express bitterness over the turn his life has taken.
"I had perfect health forever," he said at a practice before the recent Stanford series, "and I don't remember signing a contract that guaranteed good health for a lifetime. It's just something that happens."
He starts to say something, stops, then goes through with it.
"After doing all this chemo and everything, I'm going to be awfully pissed off if I die tomorrow. I want to stick around a while--for my wife and family, for my little granddaughter and for my team."
@body:I had the Southern California lifestyle when I came here. I wasn't used to getting yelled at and here's this coach getting all over you. I wanted to walk many times. He still keeps his distance, but something changed this year. He's a better coach.