By Amy Silverman
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By Weston Phippen
"We've got 55 games to go, and I'm just totally embarrassed with this team," the coach says, loud enough for those in nearby seats to hear. "We've got nine players out there--or most of them--who aren't into it. We've got three times the physical talent of that team, and you know it. That doesn't mean shit. If baseball isn't something that turns you on, get out of it now, before it causes you a lot of grief. It's sunny out, goddamnit!"
The game ends in a 22-5 ASU blowout.
The Six-Pac opener against preseason favorite Southern Cal is a day away. League play is when the games really start to matter, and Jim Brock tinkers with a few things at a Thursday-night practice.
"I didn't know if I'd be strong enough," Brock tells his team, outside the ASU dugout at empty Packard. "For now, I am.
"Okay. This is an extremely competitive conference, and no one runs away with anything. A game is one of 30 we're going to play, not the Super Bowl. Some ball games you just can't win. Some games you play terrible and still win."
Brock states the obvious--that the Sun Devils are riddled with injuries. Cody McKay's arm isn't getting any better and Todd Delnoce is on crutches with a torn ligament. Todd Cady hurt his right knee in a collision at home plate the previous weekend at Florida State. And the pitching staff is in flux.
"If this has to happen, I like it happening early in the year," the coach says, trying to put the best spin on things. "We'll get better, I promise you."
Brock pauses--he's a great one for theatrical pauses.
"I could get you sky-high and charging out of here."
"But I won't. What was that saying we came up with in fall ball?"
"Oh, I remember. 'One at a time.'"
Brock seeks out pitcher Jason Verdugo, also a quarterback on the ASU football team.
"Yes, I know, Jason, we stole that one from our esteemed football coach."
"Well, he's 12-10 over the last two years. I know we can do better than that."
His team feels comfortable enough with its coach to laugh.
Coach Brock meets with Todd Cady and orthopedic surgeon Norman Fee in the ASU dugout during an afternoon practice. Cady's knee has continued to bother him, even though he played on it gingerly during the USC series.
Dr. Fee has come to Packard with bad and good news: There's torn cartilage in the knee, yes, but it's not as bad as it could be.
"As an athlete, will I need the operation at some time?" Cady asks the doctor. He's a 220-pound power hitter who had expected to turn professional for a substantial sum after a showcase junior season.
"Yes," the doctor replies, "though I never outright recommend surgery. I put out the options and we discuss them."
Brock scans his team's upcoming schedule. The next three weeks include games against lesser teams, at least on paper. He asks Fee if Cady could be back at full strength in, say, a month.
"Without complications, certainly," the doctor says.
Brock turns to his player, who is trying to maintain his composure.
"If we're going to win this, Todd," the coach says, "we need you--simple as that."
He is referring to the national championship. Cady is a laid-back Southern Californian, but he's also a team leader with maturing baseball tools.
"Catchers with bum knees don't make it long on any level," Brock continues. "We can make this the best of all possible worlds for all of us. I want to talk with your dad. This is a very important time for you professionally. I know you're thinking of going out there to make a living after the season. This way, you clean the thing out and start fresh."
Afterward, Cady sits alone in the dugout, a towel draping his head. The next day, he undergoes arthroscopic surgery and is out of the lineup for just three weeks.
But it will take Cady until the end of the season to truly get his hitting stroke back.
The ASU coaching staff meets at Jim Brock's office after most weekends during the season to assess its team's recent performances.
Present today are Brock, assistant coaches Bill Kinneberg and John Pierson and recruiting coordinator Scott Goldby.
A prime concern is left-hander Jason Bond, a poised freshman out of Phoenix St. Mary's High. Bond had to leave early in a game versus Stanford because of soreness in his pitching shoulder. If it's serious, an already shaky staff would be decimated.
There have been bright spots among the pitchers. Noah Peery carried ASU to its win at Sunken Diamond with six innings of shutout ball.