By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
By Pete Kotz
By Monica Alonzo
By New Times
Brock talks with Jeanne Redondo as he watches his team work out. She is an ASU fast-pitch-softball player who dates Sun Devil center fielder Jacob Cruz. Redondo is unhappy with her program and plans to transfer to Arizona.
Brock patiently considers her projected move.
"We hate to lose anyone like you at ASU, Jeanne," the coach tells her, "but you do what you have to. Talk to my wife, okay? She'll let you know how much time you'll cost yourself by going."
The coach appreciates the positive influence Redondo has had on Cruz, a junior all-American. It's been a long road for Cruz since he came here from his native Oxnard, California, three years ago. Then, he was a shy, immature, out-of-place boy. These days, it all looks so easy for the now-glib Cruz, with his sweet swing and the way he glides to balls in the outfield.
But at heart, he's an ambitious 21-year-old who hungers for success in pro ball--for himself and for his family.
Jeanne Redondo leaves to speak with Pat Brock, who's up in the stands. Out of nowhere, the coach turns to other matters.
"I've got so much damned chemo in me right now, I can't possibly die," Brock says. "I've made it this far personally, and we've made it this far as a team. May as well take the next step."
He's talking about Omaha, Nebraska.
The final step to the College World Series is, naturally, the hardest.
ASU falls behind unknown Western Carolina 5-0 in its opening game, which takes place over two days because of rain. But the Sun Devils have become a team on a mission.
ASU comes back to beat Western Carolina, then defeats Wright State.
The Sun Devils go on to beat Tennessee 10-5 in the biggest game of the season to that point. Todd Cady hits a monster home run to break a tie in the late innings. Jacob Cruz and Scott Shores add homers.
Now it's Championship Monday, Memorial Day, and a rematch with Tennessee, which has battled back to a spot in the finals.
If ASU wins, it's off to Omaha. If the Vols win, they force a championship game against the Sun Devils.
The score is tied after nine innings. Kaipo Spenser has thrown the game of his life, but Noah Peery blew a 4-0 ASU lead by giving up a grand slam in the eighth.
The blast has mightily revived the Vols and their sellout crowd. Two home runs by Todd Cady earlier in the game are all but forgotten.
The Sun Devils don't want to have to play another game. The momentum would be all Tennessee's. And ASU is out of quality starting pitchers.
With the game on the line, Noah Peery shows why he's won or saved more than half of ASU's wins this season. Somehow, he squeezes out of yet another jam as the game heads into extra innings.
Tennessee stays with its all-American pitcher R.A. Dickey with ASU's Sean Tyler on second base in the bottom of the tenth. Antone Williamson rips the first pitch into the left-center gap. Tyler scores easily.
The Devils win, 5-4.
The regional champions roll around the field in celebration.
They're going to Omaha.
Brock accepts the congratulations of his assistants. Pat Brock rushes into the dugout and embraces her husband. They are crying.
The exhausted coach wants to address his team.
"You showed a lot of heart today and all season, men," Brock says. "I knew you could do this. I'm very proud of you. Thank you."
It is the morning of ASU's second-round game against the Oklahoma Sooners. Jim Brock rests in his hotel room, trying to conserve what little strength he has left.
The coach's personal battle has become the big story of this tournament. The staff at ASU's hotel has placed two bulletin boards in its lobby, and the boards are covered with dozens of faxed messages of support to Brock and the team.
Columnists from magazines and newspapers from around the nation are writing about Brock. Ira Berkow, the wonderful scribe from the New York Times, is on his way to Omaha. He doesn't care a whit about the games being played, he says after he arrives. But the Brock saga is a natural.
Brock is well-aware of the magnet he has become. Normally, he loves the attention. But it's getting to be a bit much for him.
"Don't want this to be a side show," he says. "I just want to win a tournament."
Before going off to nap, the coach takes a moment to discuss ASU's next opponent. Brock rolls his eyes when the name of Oklahoma relief pitcher Bucky Buckles comes up. Buckles is sure to pitch tonight if the game is tight in the later innings.
It irks Brock how close Buckles had been to becoming a Sun Devil this year, signing a letter of intent and enrolling in classes at Mesa Community College.
Buckles knew he had to earn C's to gain admission to ASU, an institution not known as the Harvard of the Southwest. He got D's.