Feb. 19, 1998
Brock Enters Senior Season as Irish Leader
By Steve Ponisciak
Despite the protestations of Yogi Berra, who once said, "Think! How can you
think and hit at the same time?," baseball has been considered a thinking
person's game. Notre Dame senior shortstop J.J. Brock, an academic All-America
candidate, fits that mold well.
If you had asked anyone associated with Notre Dame baseball in 1995 who the
team's leadoff hitter and captain in '98, their answer would probably not have
been Brock. He joined the team as a freshman walk-on in 1994, and did not play
in a game. Sitting out that year allowed Brock to learn more about the game.
"I understand more of the mental aspects of the game after sitting out that
year," says Brock.
As a sophomore, he hit .238 as the team's regular shortstop.
With the enrollment of freshman shortstop Paul Turco, Brock willingly moved to
third base as a junior. He increased his batting average by 82 points, to .320,
due in part to batting exclusively right-handed.
"I had been switch-hitting off and on ever since high school, and I tried it
again during my freshman and sophomore years," says Brock. "I wasn't hitting
well left-handed, and I don't have outstanding speed, so I wasn't going to be
able to get a lot of leg hits. Halfway through sophomore year, coach (Paul)
Mainieri and (assistant) coach (Cory) Mee convinced me to stick with one side."
His offensive production took off as a result. He raised his average to .365 as
a junior, and has become a stronger hitter as well, increasing his slugging
percentage from .313 in 1995 to .553 last year, and has driven in a greater
number of runs each year. He has also become a smarter hitter, decreasing his
strikeouts each year.
In 1997, Brock started the season at another new position - second base. Again,
the move was prompted by the arrival of a talented freshman, Brant Ust, who
looked to play third base. In the 17th game of last season, however, the two
players traded positions. Brock has returned to shortstop this year.
"I thought it would be fair to give him the first shot at playing shortstop this
year," says Mainieri.
One of the ways Brock earned that opportunity was by playing shortstop for the
Alaska Goldpanners last summer.
"Playing different positions has helped me understand fielding techniques
better," says Brock. "At third base, you have to react quickly. At shortstop,
there's more time to adjust."
Brock considers playing shortstop his most important responsibility to the team
and Mainieri agrees.
"Every shortstop makes errors because they handle the ball so much, and it's
such a challenging position," says Mainieri. "The one thing I know about J.J.
is that when he does make an error, he's not going to lose confidence. He has
the maturity to bounce back, and that's why I think he'll do a good job for us."
Brock has started this season off strongly in that direction. In the team's '98
season-opening victory against Florida State, he turned the heads of not only
his coach but major league scouts as well.
J.J. Brock hit .365 for the Irish last season. (File Photo)
"J.J. played like a major-league shortstop," says Mainieri. "The professional
scouts were buzzing because of the way he played defense."
"I told him after the Florida State game that if he plays defense like that
every time, we'll have a chance to win a lot of games," says Mee.
The move to the leadoff spot is another change for Brock, who batted ninth for
most of last year.
"He gave us a great boost from that spot," says Mainieri. "We probably got more
production from that spot than anyone else in the country."
Brock's approach may change a bit offensively.
"As a leadoff hitter, I have to be a tough out all the time, getting on base and
taking the extra base when I can," says Brock. "I need to hit the ball in the
gap and start something for the middle of our lineup. Coach Mainieri likes to
hit and run. As a team we have some power, but we have a lot of players who can
bunt or move runners over. I think I fit that mold, of a player who can do
different things to help the team."
Brock is also a second-year team captain, a role for which he is well suited,
with at least one more year of experience than everyone else on the team. He is
a leader by example.
"I'm excited about this team, because there are a lot of guys who understand the
game," says Brock. "That makes my job as a captain and a leader that much
Brock is currently taking education classes as part of his preparation for life
after baseball. He hopes to get into teaching and coaching. He is
well-prepared, having graduated in May 1997 with a 3.25 grade-point average as a
mathematics major. His classroom success helped him earn academic All-District
honors in 1997.
"J.J. is the epitome of a student-athlete," says Mainieri. "He takes his
academics extremely seriously, and that carries over to the way he plays the
game. He's grown smarter as a baseball player each year."