There has to be a certain amount of pride that goes into what you do. Someday, you'll all be as old as I am now, and I don't want you to look back and think you didn't make the most out of this. This all goes by very, very fast. Make the goddamned most of it.
--ASU baseball coach Jim Brock to his team
Arizona State's baseball players crowd around the Devils' coach in their dugout at Packard Stadium. James Brown is in full flight over the public-address system--When I hold you in my arms, I know that I can do wrong."
Jim Brock turns away, closes his eyes and slowly rubs his temples. "Cindy," he roars at team equipment manager Cindy Fulton, "find someone to turn off that damned music! Now!"
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Milwaukee Brewers
TicketsFri., Jun. 9, 6:40pm
All You Can Eat Value Pack - Mercury v Sparks
TicketsSat., Jun. 10, 7:00pm
Phoenix Mercury vs. Los Angeles Sparks
TicketsSat., Jun. 10, 7:00pm
Phoenix Rising Football Club vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2
TicketsSat., Jun. 10, 7:30pm
She sprints to a phone and dials the press box. Someone cuts off the Godfather of Soul in midwail. Brock tears into his squad.
"Horseshit effort, men," he says, spitting out the words. "This was not a good ball club we played, and we damn sure made them look much better. This is total bullshit. Absolutely piss-poor. If you can't play hard for 27 outs, then you shouldn't be out here. Get out of my sight, dammit. Now!"
Final score: ASU 4, University of Arizona 2.
The players mingle with their parents, friends and autograph-seekers outside the team's lounge. Star center fielder Jacob Cruz is holding court with a small group of admirers.
"Rake," as his teammates have dubbed him, has been at ASU for three years, and is rated very highly by pro scouts. Someone asks him how Brock's postgame invective rated on the Richter scale.
"That was subpar for Coach," Cruz says, without missing a beat. "You should have seen him my freshman year."
A thoughtful 21-year-old, Cruz pauses to consider something.
"Getting on us takes a lot of energy," he says, smiling widely. "He's got to be feeling better to go off on us like that. It felt good."
@body:The vast majority of my experience with him on the field has been negative, because that's the way it is. But it's my perception that he's become more human because of his situation.
--Umpire Kevin Daugherty
Jim Brock's place in the pantheon of all-time-great college baseball coaches is secure.
He has won almost 1,100 games in 23 years at ASU, and has taken teams on three levels--American Legion, junior college and major college--to five national championships.
During his tenure, the school has seen five basketball coaches and six football coaches come and go. One reason is that no major sport at ASU has won as consistently as its baseball team--71 percent of the time in Brock's reign.
ASU is a steppingstone to professional baseball. Thirty-nine of Brock's former players played professionally in 1993. Sixty-four have spent time in the major leagues, including 11 last year--superstar Barry Bonds most prominent among them. Most of this year's starters will sign pro contracts after next month's draft.
Brock is one of Arizona's most enduring, feared, controversial and grudgingly respected sports figures. To those who know Sun Devil baseball, his continued success is no mystery: He simply prepares his already skilled players harder and better than most others in his field.
ASU fans asked this season at Packard Stadium to describe the coach came up with these adjectives: Slave-driving, cranky, sarcastic, abrasive, intimidating, hot-blooded and umpire-baiting.
It's true that Brock is a curmudgeon in the grand tradition of baseball field bosses. What hasn't been so apparent to fans is his coolly analytical mind, his keen sense of humor, his interest in things beyond baseball, his nagging insecurities.
The contradictions within Jim Brock have made him something of a mystery even to himself:
He is a born-again Christian who nonetheless rails against "God's plan' types who tell other people how to think. . . ."
He's spent his life surrounded by jocks, but it's never troubled him that his only son's best weapon is his mind.
He's obsessed with winning, but maintains such a hard line on discipline that he has suspended front-line players at the College World Series for breaking team rules he could have ignored.
He is a supremely confident coach who wonders yet if his boss and the public appreciate his accomplishments.
Despite his complexities, Brock had always seemed to find the right answers during his 57 years.
As a young man, he'd mastered a bad stutter to become a gifted public speaker. He'd faced his own demons after a star ASU player shattered an ankle in a punitive sliding drill. In the mid-1980s, he'd survived his program's off-the-field woes.
Long ago, Jim Brock had steeled himself to run the course, and damned if anyone got in his way. But in July 1993, doctors diagnosed Brock with cancer, a disease with a mind, will and personality as potent as his own. He was a man who had equated uncertainty with weakness. Suddenly, he was holding on for dear life and dealing with the joyless business of chemotherapy.
Doctors removed 80 percent of his liver, ten inches of his colon and three lymph nodes in an operation that guaranteed nothing. For Brock, his wife of 38 years, Patsey, and their two grown children, Jim Brock Jr. and Cathi Brock, it had been the worst of times.
"Dad grew up in an era when you don't survive cancer," says Cathi Brock, a division manager at a large Valley floor-covering firm. "He was sure he was going to die."
But Brock survived the surgery and the precarious days afterward. When he was well enough, his doctors told him a year of chemotherapy would be wise.
The thought of the strength-sapping treatments depressed him. But the thought of the disease beating him chilled him more.
No one would have blinked if Jim Brock had put his beloved Sun Devils uniform in mothballs and fought his biggest battle in private.
But coaching had been like breathing to him--it's all he'd wanted to do since he was a sophomore at Phoenix North High School in the 1950s. He could coach in his sleep, and sometimes he did, awakening from fitful dreams after defeats to relive mistakes made, opportunities lost.
Now in a fight for his life, Brock realized, dammit, he wanted and needed to coach again, more than he had for years.
"Cancer has taught me a lot," Brock told New Times during a grueling season in which he allowed this newspaper unlimited access to his baseball program.
"It obviously hasn't taught me how to be a good loser. But I feel positively about the game and my place in it. I've found out that many people feel positively about me coaching for some reason, and that such things matter to me. I don't think I really knew that before."
Pat Brock backed her husband's decision. She had been with JB, as she and his friends call him, during every step of his 40-year coaching career.
"JB needs dragons to slay and people to lead," she says. "The ball field is where he does it best. That's where he wants to be, and that's where he should be."
@body:The words "It's just a game" have never and will never cross my dad's lips.
--Jim Brock Jr., an attorney in the Bay Area
Coach Brock felt better than he had expected when ASU opened its season on January 27 against New Mexico State.
Sure, the coach was thinner, paler and slower-moving than before, the results of his illness and the chemotherapy treatments he endured every Monday. He dreaded those days, which left him nauseous, feverish and exhausted.
But Brock has persevered at practices and at games, doing that little face-high handclap of his and urging his players to push their games forward, inch by inch.
He has also proved himself as adept as ever at inflicting what he calls "immediate negative reinforcement" upon his troops when he felt it necessary.
Ask pitcher Noah Peery and outfielder/designated hitter Sean Tyler. The coach ordered ace reliever Peery--the Devils' heart and soul--to run ten miles per day for four days after Peery twice taunted another team from the mound.
And Brock angrily sent the good-natured Tyler to the showers one night for not showing proper team spirit during a tight game against the UofA.
When an ump booted Brock out of an early-season game against the University of New Mexico, things seemed right at Packard.
But cancer is as unpredictable as a knuckle ball.
That became painfully apparent in March, when Brock's liver malfunctioned. A blockage of still-undetermined origin--it could be scar tissue or it could be a new tumor--led to jaundice, symptomatic of liver failure.
Doctors ordered a new series of tests and increased doses of chemotherapy. The tests so far have been inconclusive, and it's still uncertain whether the cancer has returned.
The recent ordeals have taken much of the starch out of Brock. But he has missed only one game all season, against the University of Michigan on March 18. He went to Packard that evening, but left for home before the first pitch, spent by the chemo.
Brock has been relying heavily on pitching coach Bill Kinneberg and hitting coach John Pierson, his excellent top assistants. Though Brock has long given his aides leeway, this year he's had no choice.
ASU's season has been a rousing success, even with injuries to several key players. The Sun Devils are 39-16 going into this weekend's regional tournament in Knoxville, Tennessee, with the College World Series within their grasp.
Brock is proud of his team's achievements and effort. As evidence of the latter, he points to, of all things, a May 15 loss to Stanford in a wild game that decided the Six-Pac championship.
"That was Sun Devil baseball," the coach says, "though you won't hear me saying this about many losses. Stanford scores four on us in the top of the tenth. Many teams would have died right then. We come back and have the winning run on first when it ends. We fought and fought."
ASU did not battle with more tenacity than their head coach has mustered against a far more powerful opponent.
Brock is a man for whom dark, pessimistic thoughts have always been the norm. It well serves his need to grouse. Recently, though, as his health has suffered, the coach has been laboring to put into practice a concept he's addressed for years.
He terms it "reversing negative momentum."
"It may be my nature to think negative thoughts," Brock says, "though I've tried to think as many good thoughts about this situation as I can. I know there are a ton of people out there worse off than me, even now. But cancer is such an unpredictable, insidious disease. I've been scared not so much about dying as about how I'm going to handle life."
@body:A coach is an actor. You might want to be angry, but it might not be when they need anger. Or the other way around. If you lose your cool for a second, then your anger serves as a slap in the face for them. That's fine. But you can't ever lose sight of the fact that you're an actor and the ball club is your audience. You have to play them just right.
--Coach Brock to an assistant
Jim Brock lived for his first 19 years in a home at Fourth Street and Indian School in Phoenix. Jimmy--as his father called him--was one of two children born to William and Elsie Brock.
Bill Brock was a permanently disabled World War I veteran who lost a lung to tuberculosis and was bedridden much of the time. He had met Elsie, a nurse, while undergoing medical treatment at Fort Whipple in Prescott.
Despite Bill Brock's poor health, his son says, he was a natural salesman with a strong personality. He dominated his docile wife and ruled his roost with an iron hand.
"Mom was probably the nicest person who ever lived, though she used the switch with the best of them," Jim Brock recalls. "She was totally dominated by Dad. He probably had two votes when he stepped into the booth."
Bill Brock kept food on the table with a small disability pension and by renting out three apartments behind his home. The Brocks ingrained in Jim and his sister, Tommy Lou, a work ethic that rules their lives today.
But sports were also vital in Bill Brock's scheme. When Jimmy was about 12, he switched from fast-pitch softball to baseball at his dad's request. He was a catcher at first, but after the team's pitcher moved away, Brock stepped to the mound.
Despite his failing health, Bill Brock ran the Valley's American Legion baseball program for years. He funded much of it through his "Keep Good Boys Good Club," which requested $19.95 from locals to sponsor a player.
The elder Brock's written pitch was a classic: He claimed no boy had ever gotten in trouble while playing Legion ball. That sounded great, and the league flourished under his stewardship.
When Jimmy was in his early teens, Bill Brock stuck up a small, wooden frame in the backyard on Fourth Street. He then hung a tarp over the frame.
Jimmy's first task after he got home from school was to throw three or four dozen balls into the tarp. Bill Brock would watch through a window, propped up in his bed.
Jimmy Brock hated to pitch--Far too much pressure," he says. But he developed a serviceable curve ball and he could throw strikes. By the time he graduated from North High in 1954, Brock was one of the best pitchers in Arizona.
But his social skills lagged behind his athletic prowess. He was a shy youth with an embarrassing stutter he couldn't overcome. He was also a so-so student whose love of learning wouldn't surface for a few years.
"One thing I did know about was baseball," Brock told the North High baseball team at an outdoor banquet last week; it's the 40th anniversary of his senior year at the school. "I knew I wouldn't be happy unless I was a coach for my whole life. In my senior year, a teacher--she'd be 140 by now--told me there were a lot of things I could do in my life, but college was not one of them. But I knew that if I wanted to coach at a school, I'd have to finish college."
His stutter kept Brock mute much of the time with strangers. But he wasn't a fool. He was smitten with a North High girl named Pat Futrell. She was two years younger than he, the Kentucky-born daughter of a carpenter and part-time minister who lived near North.
Pat was a catch, an effervescent, blue-eyed beauty who captained the cheerleading squad.
Although she didn't attend college until after her two children were born, Pat, as a youngster, would regularly go to the public library at Central and McDowell and check out a pile of books. Much later, her peers selected her as class valedictorian at Mesa Community College. It was a step on her way to earning a master's degree at the age of 35 and becoming a business professor at Scottsdale Community College.
Brock's stutter didn't faze her, after he finally succeeded in asking her out for their first date.
"The telephone was impossible for me," Brock says. "Her dad answered, and it took me ten minutes to get out my name. Stuttering was a terrible thing--the hopelessness of hearing, 'You won't do anything with your life.' It's very lonely. But I could talk to Pat."
The summer after Brock's high school graduation, he officially coached baseball for the first time. Before then, he had been unofficial coach of his dad's Legion teams. And in his senior year at North, he had advised the team's new coach, a nonbaseball man, about the game's nuances.
Brock had to decide that summer whether he wanted to pitch in one league or coach in another.
Brock attended ASU for about a week in the fall of 1954, but soon transferred to Phoenix College. In 1956, Brock returned to ASU to complete his undergraduate work. That May, he and Pat were married. They honeymooned--no kidding--at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, where the high school baseball championship was in full swing.
Brock earned his bachelor's degree in physical education in 1958. He wanted badly to move right into coaching on a high school level. But jobs weren't easy to come by, so Brock did substitute teaching and scraped by.
He and Pat had a new reason to improve their lot in life--baby Cathi, born to the couple in 1957.
Meanwhile, he continued to coach Kerr's Sporting Goods, the American Legion team he had formally taken over from his dad in 1956. (Bill Brock died ten years later.) The young Brock was a bulldog as a coach, both bark and bite. His stutter wasn't an issue with his players. It would suddenly disappear when he was angry with them, which was often.
A 1959 column by Phoenix Gazette columnist Jim Eaton could have been written today: "Some call Brock an intense student of baseball, a slave driver, but his training program produces victories . . . from the workouts emerge teams noted for their daring on the base paths, their well-executed bunt plays and their desire to win."
Brock took a job in Brawley, California, for the 1960-61 school year, the only nine months of his life he hasn't lived in the Valley. That much time in the desert town was enough.
The Brocks returned to Phoenix, and that summer he again coached Kerr's Sporting Goods to the state championship. Then he led the Legion team to the national title at Hastings, Nebraska.
In 1962, 26-year-old Brock's dream came true when Mesa High School hired him as its varsity baseball coach. Two years after that, he became Mesa Extension College's first head baseball coach. (An umpire kicked him out of his first game there, setting the tone for untold ejections that followed.)
Brock was a relentless taskmaster on the ball field, and a holy terror when his team lost. He didn't demand his players' love, just their respect and obedience. Most of the time, he got it.
His teams played hard and well for him or suffered the consequences. It's one thing for you to boot a ball, Brock would tell his players. That happens, though it had better not happen too often or you'll be sitting with me on the bench. But make mental mistakes and, God forbid, you don't hustle, you're gonna catch my wrath and you'll be running til you drop.
But then, as now, Brock was more than just a blood-and-guts type.
"He's always had a reputation of going against the laws of baseball," says his ASU pitching coach, Bill Kinneberg. "It's amazing how he'll make a certain call and it will work. It's happened way too much to be called luck at this point. He has such a keen sense of evaluation during a ball game."
After the 1971 baseball season, Brock took a sabbatical from Mesa to intern under then-ASU athletic director Fred Miller. He was on his way to a doctorate in educational administration. Brock claims he was considering leaving coaching behind and becoming a high school principal.
"The operative word is 'pressure,'" Brock says. "I do not thrive under it, I hate it and I tended to strike out verbally against everyone around me when I was under it. I knew how to coach and how to win, but I found myself hating the job."
Then the head baseball job at the University of Arizona opened up. Brock applied, and was the second choice behind Jerry Kindall, who still runs the show in Tucson. (The two rivals have a friendly relationship, but it gives Brock delicious pleasure to note he's beaten Kindall about two-thirds of the time since they started butting heads.)
"Pat and I were driving back from Tucson after I didn't get the job," Brock says. "No one says anything for 30 miles, then Pat pipes up, 'Things work out for the best. You don't know what the future holds.' I snap back with, 'If you can't say something intelligent, don't say anything.'"
Two days later, ASU baseball coach Bobby Winkles resigned to take a job with the California Angels.
"People I trusted assured me I'd never get the job at ASU," he said.
But he did.
Replacing Winkles was akin to someone taking Lute Olson's place as basketball coach at the University of Arizona.
Winkles was a longtime winner who had charmed the locals for years. Brock was a homeboy, yes, but he had neither the rsum nor the folksy charm of his predecessor.
The transition was ugly, the whispers that Brock was in over his head starting even before the first game of the 1972 season.
A cushy schedule and a topnotch returning class enabled Brock to win all but six games that first year and to keep most of the vultures at bay. But the whispers turned into catcalls when the Devils finished--gasp--second at the College World Series.
Clearly, though, most of the pressure on Brock was self-inflicted.
"I yelled and screamed constantly and ran my team into the ground," he recalls unhappily. "I was overcompensating and trying to show who was boss, because the players were mostly Bobby's, and I was too much of a tyrant. It goes back to that coach-as-actor thing. I was not a good actor at that point."
@body:Jim Brock takes his players out to second base for a class in base running. He pulls out a slip of paper with handwritten notes about plays that went amiss in the previous series.
One of Brock's tenets: Make the routine plays over and over and we will win most of the time.
He turns to Damon Lembi, a big first baseman who transferred to ASU from a California junior college before this season.
Though he's been with the Devils a short time, Lembi has made his presence felt as a clutch player and a strong personality. He's more man than boy, though he fantasizes about being Guns N' Roses' lead singer Axl Rose, with thousands of females gyrating before him.
"About the steal attempt, Damon," Brock says, "and I use the word 'attempt' advisedly."
The slow-footed Lembi knows what's coming, and he smiles weakly.
As a runner on first base during the weekend, he took off on a 2-0 pitch on a steal attempt. USC's catcher threw him out by ten feet.
"I thought I saw the steal sign, Coach," Lembi tells Brock.
"Oh, it's the old 'I thought I saw the sign,'" the coach replies sarcastically. "Damon, there was no sign. But if there was, you must get a big enough lead where you have at least a chance of making it. It goes back to the old 'If you can't run, don't.' Understand?"
"Yes, sir," Lembi says. "It won't happen again."
"No, it won't," Brock shoots back. "That will only happen one time."
@body:Jim Brock's family immersed itself in ASU baseball from the git-go. Wife Pat took care of the travel arrangements and other tasks, on a voluntary basis. Son Jim Jr.--everyone called him "Bucky" then--was the ASU team bat boy for years.
"My kids will probably never spend three or four hours at work with me like I did with him," says Jim Jr. "When I go to Packard now, I still hear voices in the stands that I remember from years ago. It's a wonderful thing. Dad is very focused on winning, but I never felt it was a negative. He never really got mad at me because of a loss--he'd just usually brood."
Born in 1962, Jim Jr. was graced with brains, not athletic ability, which didn't bother his dad in the least.
"I didn't want Bucky to be a ballplayer, though Pat certainly did," Brock says. "I didn't want him to face the pressure of being 'Jim Brock's son.' But when he was about 9, Pat pushed me to play ball with him and, of course, I obeyed her."
Father and son went to a Mesa park. As Brock had anticipated, his son had great difficulty catching and hitting. Patience isn't one of Brock's finer qualities, but, true to his word to be patient with Bucky, he stayed calm and positive.
"Next day," the coach remembers, "I said, 'Bucky, time to go to the park again.' He's studying the World Book or something. He says, 'Dad, do we have to go every day?' 'Nope,' I said. Within a few years, he was writing musicals, was star of his debate team and was on his way to being a lawyer. He was one for whom baseball was not a necessity."
The Brock children insist their dad was not the ogre he has portrayed himself as. But there's no doubt that Brock's personal hellhounds tailed him to Tempe after he became a Devil.
He admits he believed--and still does, to a lesser degree--that he had to win, win, win and win or be viewed as a failure at life itself.
Then, early in the 1974 season, came the crisis.
One of Brock's favorite players at the time was Bump Wills, the talented son of famed Los Angeles Dodger base-stealing wizard Maury Wills. The coach loved the way the younger Wills hustled and performed.
And there was something else. Bump was a serious stutterer, and Brock felt a special kinship with him because of it.
The Sun Devils' 1974 season started poorly. Brock, typically, drove his team harder and harder. One day, as punishment for their poor play, the coach ordered the players to practice sliding until they could barely move.
Wills slid into third base for the umpteenth time at the end of the draining drill. This time, his spikes caught and ASU's best player that year shattered his ankle and, Brock was convinced, his future baseball career.
The coach knew he had crossed the line. In a span of one guilt-ridden day, he considered resigning, was told by Wills not to blame himself, drove around the Valley aimlessly for hours and, he says, found God.
"I had a genuinely religious experience," he says of the day, which happened to be Good Friday. Some basic truths came to him during a talk with a minister from whom his wife had suggested he seek counsel.
"Some people may look at it as a rationalization for having caused my guy to get hurt. Whatever. For me, in my thoughts, it was clearly real. Real or imagined, Christians would see it as an evangelistic moment, a chance to start over. With some Christians, this starting over lasts, say, a week or ten days."
But Brock stuck with it. For a few years, he became one of the top Christian speakers around, telling the Bump Wills story in testimony after testimony.
"It was kind of a cheap thrill," he says, "going from not being able to talk at all in groups to being able to speak about my feelings. I became a professional Christian, in a sense, something I detest. I've always had a hard time with the 'God has a plan for you' types. To me, it's a personal relationship. So I cut back on all the talk."
Wills recovered, by the way, and went on to have a productive major league career.
The coach's revelation may have allowed him to feel better about himself. But he steadfastly declined to turn the other cheek when it came to baseball opponents, umpires and, at times, his players. He drilled his team on fundamentals as rigorously as ever, and he could slice and dice them verbally when the moment called for it.
"Winning baseball games was in my blood," Brock says, "and being a Christian in no way made me a winning-doesn't-really-matter kind of coach."
In 1977, the Sun Devils won their first national title under Jim Brock. For that moment, at least, the Devils' coach was at the pinnacle of his profession.
@body:Recruiting top-drawer talent to play baseball at ASU never has been a problem. The winning tradition under Brock entices some. The opportunity to showcase before pro scouts lures others. The beautiful ballpark certainly helps. "We have several thousand girls between the ages of 18 and 23 walking around in various states of undress," Jim Brock says. "This is a great recruiting tool."
The coach's candid approach has meshed nicely with his wife's sweet but persuasive personality. Pat Brock makes a point of sitting with potential recruits when they visit Packard for a game. These days, the NCAA doesn't allow a spouse inside a recruit's home during a coach's visit, so Pat Brock often sits in the car outside and reads a book. Recruiting is a fairly predictable chore. You make your pitch, take questions and wrap it up. But it doesn't always work that way.
In the late 80s, a highly touted Southern California player named Todd Steverson expressed interest in attending ASU. This was considered a major coup in light of bonus dollars being tossed at high school stars for signing professional contracts.
Steverson could have gone pro at the time for perhaps $200,000, according to Brock and others. But his dad, Richard Steverson, wanted him to attend a first-rate baseball school, at least for a few years.
It came down to ASU and USC. But Richard Steverson was not the usual parent.
"He was totally in charge, not me," Brock says. "He interrogated me for more than three hours, no exaggeration."
Richard Steverson finally asked the coach to summarize his coaching style in one sentence.
"I'm a hard-ass," Brock told him.
Richard Steverson smiled.
"Then," he said, "my son will play for you."
@body:ASU baseball's fortunes ran the gamut in the 1980s, from winning another national championship in 1981 to being put on probation by the NCAA.
In 1985, university officials ran afoul of regulations involving the baseball team's work-study program. The NCAA stripped ASU of 14 scholarships over a four-year period. The paucity of front-line players led, that year, to Brock's only losing season, ever.
On the heels of probation came Nardilgate. A psychologist had prescribed the mood-altering drug Nardil to some of Brock's players. What the coach knew and when he knew it soon moved off the sports pages and into the news section.
Nardilgate damaged the interchangeable reputations of Brock and ASU baseball, and the coach says he thought hard about quitting, as he had after the Bump Wills incident.
But this time, Brock didn't consider himself to blame, and he wasn't about to go quietly. The coach appeared live on a local television newscast and called the Arizona Republic, which had broken most of the stories, a "yellow rag."
Brock weathered the NCAA probation and the Nardil controversy, and was just a little bloodied. In 1988, his Devils finished second in the College World Series, quite a reversal of the unprecedented losing season three seasons earlier.
Other than an embarrassing off-the-field episode a few years ago involving a Sun Devil pitching coach, most reports on the ASU baseball program had focused in recent years on the games.
Until last July.
That's when Jim Brock went to a doctor, feeling run-down and suffering severe back pains.
@body:Earlier this season, Arizona State traveled to Palo Alto to play Stanford in a series at venerable Sunken Diamond.
It's a place where the music of 10,000 Maniacs--not James Brown--plays softly between innings, and where students sip designer coffee, read philosophy and occasionally watch the boys run around on the diamond.
Coach Brock isn't feeling well. When he's in the sun too long, Pat Brock explains, it's like he's frying from the inside and the outside. That's chemo for you, she says.
A half-hour before the first pitch, the father of an ASU player leans over the railing near the visitors' dugout and calls out to Brock.
The player, a front-liner, had gotten sick with stomach flu at the hotel shortly after ASU landed in the Bay Area. As a precaution, Brock had trainer Lance Michel take the player to a doctor. The doctor told the player to drink plenty of fluids and prescribed some medicine.
"Brock, you get over here right now," says the dad, a short, barrel-chested man in his late 40s. "I'm gonna kick your ass. You saw me standing over there and you didn't say anything about my kid being in the hospital."
Brock glares back at the irate dad. "I didn't even know you were here," he says, seemingly unruffled. "It's not serious."
"You've done this to other players before, run them into the ground," the man continues. "I'm gonna kick your ass."
Brock bites his tongue and walks away.
A few minutes later, the ailing player shows up with trainer Michel. In a 14-inning ASU win, he gets three hits and plays sterling defense.
Brock is still steamed when he meets with his staff in Tempe a few days later.
"The guy feels [his son] isn't being treated right," he says, "and he tells every scout his son is getting screwed. Unfortunately, we're not coaching a team of orphans. The guy is absolutely a destructive parent."
Brock turns to his recruiting coordinator, Scott Goldby.
"Okay, Scott, what do you think we should do in this situation?"
"I've been to his house for dinner," Goldby says of the player's dad. "This is hard. We're friendly. He screwed up, but I like him."
"Thank you for that input," Brock says, in such a way that everyone knows what's coming next. "I want to do everything we can to ensure that he does not exist as far as ASU baseball is concerned. You will not have dinner at his home. You will not talk to him. He is an enemy of this program."
Goldby nods. The discussion is over.
@body:"After the shock, you want to know exactly what the odds are," Jim Brock says of learning last year he had liver and colon cancer. "You want to figure out how many in the Valley have had 80 percent of their livers removed and survived. But if the odds are bad, I'm thinking, do I just quit? So much of what happens after cancer is attitude."
Things change irrevocably in any family when serious illness strikes, and the Brocks were no exception.
"The family dynamics got really interesting," Cathi Brock recalls. "I'm like my dad, more pessimistic. My brother is like my mom, the eternal optimist. Dad got withdrawn and quiet at first--he was worried about Mother. The worst part is the mental pain."
In a separate conversation, Jim Brock Jr. says the family--for whom disagreements had never been considered off-limits--melded in those critical first days after the diagnosis.
"We became like tanks rolling over whatever was in front of us--medical doctors, you name it," Brock Jr. says. "It was the classic Brock family tactic, a scorched-earth policy. Maybe it was a coping mechanism, I don't know, but we pulled together, and we're a real unit now."
In a sense, the Brock family in crisis became like one of the coach's teams--aggressive and unrelenting. They read books on cancer, pulled strings to secure better and better medical help and refused to quit when things looked especially grim.
"You have to take responsibility for your own treatment," Jim Brock says. "We learned quickly to get other opinions, to use our intellects, because knowledge would increase my odds of making it. Cancer isn't a planned learning experience that I would necessarily recommend, but it's a learning experience, nonetheless."
Brock has done more than a little homework on his disease.
"Let me talk straight about this," he said on a bus ride early this season, before his liver started acting up again. "It appears that the odds are divided into thirds: One-third, the shit comes back fairly fast. Another third, it comes back in two or three years. The other third? Hallelujah. It's history."
To be as blunt as Brock, his prognosis isn't as bright now as it was before the March relapse. But the ball game isn't over yet, either.
"I didn't think and I don't think my dad's time is at hand," his son says. "He just has to get through this. He's tough as ever, but there's something different about him. It's odd. He's getting the most out of life now."
Brock declines to express bitterness over the turn his life has taken.
"I had perfect health forever," he said at a practice before the recent Stanford series, "and I don't remember signing a contract that guaranteed good health for a lifetime. It's just something that happens."
He starts to say something, stops, then goes through with it.
"After doing all this chemo and everything, I'm going to be awfully pissed off if I die tomorrow. I want to stick around a while--for my wife and family, for my little granddaughter and for my team."
@body:I had the Southern California lifestyle when I came here. I wasn't used to getting yelled at and here's this coach getting all over you. I wanted to walk many times. He still keeps his distance, but something changed this year. He's a better coach.
--Sun Devil Jacob Cruz, Six-Pac player of the year
One of the Sun Devils this year is a fifth-year player, Todd Delnoce. A onetime walk-on, Delnoce had expected to be at least a part-time starter this season. But early in the year, he injured his knee badly in a collision at second base.
This is his last season of college eligibility, and the 23-year-old Delnoce chose not to undergo reconstructive surgery until it ends. Instead, he worked fiendishly to rehabilitate the damaged knee and possibly help his team down the stretch.
In early April, Brock sent Delnoce into a game for the first time in two months. The crowd at Packard gave the player a warm ovation. Afterward, Brock told reporters that Delnoce was the toughest kid he'd ever coached.
Delnoce was moved to write the coach a letter.
"I got to look at the newspaper article about our win yesterday over the UofA," he wrote. "Like you always do, you had a very positive quote about me, saying that I'm 'the toughest kid I've ever been around.' Calling me the toughest thing you've been around is saying a lot considering the battle you are going through. It should be me saying that about you.
"I, along with everybody else on the team, admire and respect you for beating your illness and coming out to the Yard even though, God knows, you probably should be taking care of yourself. When you muster one of your postgame speeches ripping into someone, I think about how much you must be going through and how much strength it must take to be out there. It really motivates me. . . ."
Todd Delnoce ended his letter, "Take care and I'll see you at Packard." Jim and Pat Brock cried when they read it.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.