By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
A senior from Glendale, Peery is straight out of the cuckoo's nest. He paces the mound after each pitch like an expectant father, trying, he says, to psych himself up. But he will soon become the most-hated player in the Six-Pac, because the other teams are convinced he's trying to show them up.
Brock has tried to tame Peery. He ordered the right-hander to run 40 miles in ten-miles-per-day increments a few weeks earlier after Peery taunted a Southern Cal player after getting him out. But Peery remains a feral creature on the mound whom the coach will tolerate as long as he keeps pitching well. Coming off shoulder surgery, junior right-hander Billy Neal has also been a pleasant surprise. He is much quieter than Peery, but is just as fierce a competitor.
"Could Billy give us maybe five to seven innings?" Brock asks Kinneberg. "Are you thinking of starting him?"
"I'm going in that direction, Coach," Kinneberg replies. "It depends on Bond's condition."
"I think we have only a few guys at this point who should seriously be considered starters," Brock concludes. "Billy Neal is one of them."
Brock soon turns to John Pierson.
"Who do you feel good about and who worries you?" Brock asks the hitting coach.
"Right now, I don't feel good about anybody, Coach," Pierson replies, not kidding. "This team has to get better at execution. We don't have the strength with this bunch to count on doubles and homers. That's in the past."
Brock mentions a few things that happened at Palo Alto.
"I heard three excuses this weekend that were all-timers," he says. "The hit-and-run with Jake [Steinkemper] that he misses because, quote, 'My head was down.' 'No, it wasn't. It was up your ass.' And Randy Betten, who I love, almost gets caught off base on a drag bunt because, quote, 'I saw the ball on the down angle,' not realizing it was on a down angle into the catcher's glove. And there's Vindy [pitcher Eric Vindiola] saying he was throwing poorly because the pitching rubber was crooked."
Brock's wry delivery is like that of a standup comic, but no one's laughing. Pierson's analysis concludes with Antone Williamson, a player with intense pressure on him to perform well because of his national reputation.
"I still think the best is yet to come with Toner," Pierson says. "He's no great shakes yet, but he's holding his own, and he was nails at the end of last season. I think he can do it again."
Pierson, as it turns out, is on the money.
The Sun Devils' record--24-10 (7-5 in the Six-Pac)--is on the upswing, even with the wafer-thin pitching staff. But Coach Brock's health is fading as his team gains strength.
Brock attended the three weekend games at Packard against the University of California. But he was too ill to give much input, and he left with his wife immediately after the last pitch of each contest.
Since the coach's new health problems have come to light, his top assistants, Kinneberg and Pierson, have taken on added responsibilities.
"We all have to do our jobs whether he's here or not," Kinneberg says after a practice. "Coach low-keys it, but the team senses how he's feeling probably as much as anybody. Our job is keep them focused on baseball, because that's the way it is. I just wish he'd beat this damned thing."
The top assistants' relationships with Brock are strictly professional, built on mutual respect and not friendship. But the two men didn't consider bailing on Brock after he got sick with cancer in the summer of 1993.
"I didn't know what his status would be for this season," Kinneberg says, "but I wasn't going to leave him behind. It would have been unfair and wrong."
Assistant coach John Pierson is an ex-minor leaguer who has made the science of hitting a baseball his life's work. Though he is capable of memorable tantrums, Pierson is usually a patient technician who dissects and improves his batters' swings. This season is his second at ASU after a dozen years in a similar capacity at Grand Canyon University.
Bill Kinneberg has been an accomplished head coach in his own right. He piloted the University of Texas--El Paso to the best mark in the school's history in 1985, then won almost 60 percent of the time in seven seasons at the University of Wyoming.
Jim Brock first came into contact with Kinneberg in the late 1970s, when Kinneberg pitched against the Sun Devils as--gasp--a University of Arizona Wildcat.
Kinneberg recalls those days of trepidation:
"You have an image of the ASU program, and it's one of respect and fear. I grew up watching the UA-ASU series, and I wanted to play in it since I was a little kid. In 1978, ASU was really good--scary good. When I went to the mound that first time at Packard, I couldn't perform. I still remember how my body felt, shaking and quivering."
The position of ASU pitching coach opened up in the fall of 1992, after Kinneberg's predecessor was arrested in a bizarre burglary episode. Kinneberg jumped at it, though it meant a return to an assistant's role.