By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
"It's an invaluable learning experience in a longtime topflight program," Kinneberg says. "Beyond that, I desperately want to win a national championship, and ASU has a legitimate shot at it every year."
Kinneberg has studied Brock's coaching methods intently.
"There's so much more detail than just putting a team on the field," he says. "The thing I most admire about Coach is his work ethic--it's second to none--his organization and his attention to detail. Someday, I'd like to try to run a program like this."
As a head coach, Kinneberg played it pretty much by the book. But Brock has always been willing to take unorthodox chances.
"It's amazing how he'll make a certain call and it will work," Kinneberg says. "His success when he goes against the laws of baseball happens too much to be called luck. "The biggest thing that alerted me to it was last year. It's bottom of the ninth against UofA, and the bases are loaded. Big game. We're down three. He wants to pinch-hit for Todd Cady with Sal Cardinale.
"He says, 'Todd's not gonna do it tonight, and we need a homer.' But Sal? He's the most unlikely guy in the world to hit one. Boom! Over the left-field wall. His one ding for the year."
The Arizona Wildcats are suffering through their worst baseball season since the program started in 1904. But the rivalry with ASU remains intact as the Sun Devils travel to Tucson for a Friday-night game.
Brock, too wobbly to take the bus with his team, drives down with his wife. Before the game at Sancet Field, veteran Wildcat coach Jerry Kindall comes by to check on his old rival's welfare.
"Jim, are you making it okay?" asks Kindall, a genteel man who, like Brock, is a born-again Christian. They have counseled each other over the years during personal crises.
"It's not great, Jerry, not great," Brock replies. "This has been one hell of an experience."
After Kindall leaves, Brock recalls--almost longingly--the days when Arizona fans hurled "liquids, solids, nails and other strange objects" at him when he'd leave the dugout.
That won't be happening tonight. Attendance is sparse, and the ASU fans are making more racket than anyone.
But this turns out to be one of those games ASU is destined to lose. Billy Neal has become ASU's most consistent pitcher. He's not sharp this time out, and leaves in the fourth inning down 4-0.
"Tough night, Bill," Brock tells the disappointed Neal. "Shake it off and put it behind you."
The Wildcats extend their lead to 8-0 after five innings. Brock decides to have a word with his team.
"Guys, there's no excuse for swinging at pitches in the dirt all night," he says testily. "I want you to be aggressive early in the count, swinging at strikes, however this thing comes out."
Designated hitter Sean Tyler promptly takes two pitches over the heart of the plate for strikes.
"That's what I mean," Brock says sarcastically, loud enough for Tyler to hear in the batter's box. "That's real aggressive. Take the first two. C'mon, guys! Make the adjustment! Be the hitters you are!"
After Tyler strikes out, Antone Williamson taps weakly to second. Back in the dugout, Toner angrily clears out the helmet rack. Brock waits a few seconds, then tells him he's out of the game. Williamson throws his glove to the ground and cusses at nothing in particular.
"Try to just slow yourself down, Antone," the coach tells him.
The final score is UofA 8, ASU 2. The Wildcats celebrate as if they've won the national championship. It's the best moment in their sorry season, and the nadir for the Sun Devils'.
Brock orders his team to left field for a postgame chat before the long bus ride back to Tempe. Everyone expects a vintage butt-chewing, but they don't get one.
"I have no big concerns with this," he says. "I don't really have any answers for what happened. It wasn't a dog-shit effort. If anything, you're pressing too hard, though a few of you are going to have to deal with technical things.
"I think you're a group that wants very much to win. You're not failing because you have a brain injury and your motor skills have vanished. You've just turned the pressure up so much, your natural, God-given ability isn't there. I'm not going to yell and scream at you for that. The big picture with this team--and please, please trust me on this--is pretty damned good."
Brock stands there in the outfield clapping his hands as his team trudges by him to the waiting bus.
ASU will win ten of its next 13 Six-Pac games to force a showdown for the league championship against Stanford.
It's come down to the final game of the regular season. ASU and Stanford have excellent 20-9 marks in the Six-Pac, and are in a winner-take-all situation on this blazing Sunday afternoon in Tempe.
A win by the Sun Devils will likely mean they'll host a regional tournament in two weeks. The winner of the regional will earn one of eight coveted berths at the College World Series in Omaha.