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Editor's note: Staff writer Paul Rubin followed Arizona State University's baseball team from opening day in January until the last out at the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, three weeks ago. Coach Jim Brock--who died of cancer on June 12, four days after his team's season ended--allowed New Times unprecedented access to his program. Rubin's first story (Brock Solid," May 25) told of Brock's life. This piece describes the 1994 season, in which the Sun Devils tied for third in the nation.
The old baseball coach sits motionless in his chair, appearing sadly fragile. He is running on fumes now, his body wracked with liver and colon cancer that will snatch his life in just eight days.
But one inning into Arizona State's opening game at the College World Series in Omaha, Jim Brock senses things aren't right with his team.
He gestures the Sun Devils to his side before they bat in the second inning against Miami, a team rated the nation's best.
"Guys," the coach says in a raspy whisper, "just because you're here and you're excited doesn't mean you're up for this."
Everyone is packed in tight, but only those closest to Brock can hear him.
"We're coming off the big win at the regional, and it's tough getting back to that level of intensity," he continues. "But don't assume because the stakes are so high here that you're ready to go. You're not where you have to be yet. Move it up a notch."
The coach leans back and closes his eyes, spent by the effort.
The story of Brock's illness has gone national, transcending the games at beautiful Rosenblatt Stadium. It's straight out of Hollywood: Coaching Legend With Cancer Takes Team to Big Tourney.
After months of slow recovery from cancer surgery in July 1993, Brock's health took a nose dive in March. Those close to him wondered privately how much more his ravaged body could take. But the coach willed himself to make it to Omaha. Now that he's here, he wants badly to take the title, as he did in 1977 and 1981.
The 14,041 in attendance on this humid Saturday afternoon and those watching nationwide on CBS are caught up in the drama. They know what it means for the 57-year-old coach to have returned to his mecca once more.
In his talk with the team, he has conveyed a simple but sophisticated concept. While Brock may be sick, dying even, his mind remains agile. The players take his instruction to heart. Shortstop Randy Betten, for one, recognizes he has to focus on the game--not on the big crowd, not on the thrilling fact that he's playing at the College World Series and not on Coach Brock's plight.
Energized, ASU scores once in the second, then blows the game open in the fourth. Catcher Todd Cady hits a two-run homer, and first baseman Damon Lembi follows with a solo shot.
Left fielder Billy McGonigle wows the crowd by throwing out a Miami runner trying to score in the sixth. Billy Neal hurls shutout ball for seven innings. In the eighth, however, pitching coach Bill Kinneberg goes out to replace the tiring Neal with ace reliever Noah Peery.
The Devils mill around the pitcher's mound as Peery jogs in. One of them is third baseman Antone Williamson, an all-American who is a mix of Dennis the Menace and Pete Rose. He says something that causes his teammates and the usually stoic Kinneberg to crack up.
Later, the pitching coach and some of the players told what went on. Williamson, a lantern-jawed wise guy, had looked around at his teammates and then blurted out, "You know, I'm the best-looking son of a bitch out here."
As Brock looked on, a small smile played across his sunken face. He knew the Devils had found their focus.
ASU beats Miami 4-0.
Brock's wife of 38 years, Patsey, and their two grown children head down to the dugout immediately after the game. Pat Brock helps Jim up the steps into a waiting golf cart, a poignant and painful moment for those who see it.
Four decades and some 2,000 games after he first coached an American Legion team in Phoenix, Jim Brock leaves a baseball diamond for the last time.
Opening day is three weeks away, but the Sun Devils are hungry to get started.
Sportswriters have pegged ASU for the middle of the Six-Pac conference, not a glowing prediction for the college-baseball powerhouse.
Hitting the ball shouldn't pose a problem. Antone Williamson, center fielder Jacob Cruz and catcher Todd Cady will surely put up big numbers if they stay healthy. The Sun Devils are also counting on Scott Shores, Todd Delnoce and Sean Tyler to improve after inconsistent years in 1993.
But doubts surround the pitching staff. Of the 13 pitchers on the 1994 roster, only Noah Peery won for ASU last season, with six of the team's 46 victories. The Devils will seek a starting rotation from a group that includes a freshman from Hawaii named Spenser, a junior with an iffy shoulder named Neal and three guys named Jason.