PBR Ohio's Top Stories for the Year 2017: TJ Brock Finds Inspiration With Family


Bruce Hefflinger
PBR Ohio Senior Writer

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PBR Ohio started up on May 3rd, 2011 as seen here. From that day, Chris Valentine has had a goal to promote high school baseball in Ohio at the highest level possible. Chris has been able to do this thanks to the help of parents, coaches, and the talented players throughout the state of Ohio.

Chris has also built a staff that has the drive to make Ohio one of, if not the top viewed website for Prep Baseball Report as well as put on some of the best showcases in the nation to help promote the high school talent that resides in the Buckeye State.

Dylan Hefflinger, PBR Ohio Editor in Chief/NW Scout, along with Jordan Chiero, PBR Ohio Director of Scouting take a look back at the year in review and put together a list of the top stories for 2017.

Top Stories of 2017 Rundown:

PBR Ohio's Top Stories for the Year 2017: TJ Brock Finds Inspiration With Family

 

TJ Brock

Class of 2018 / RHP

Player Information

  • Graduating Class: 2018
  • Primary Position: RHP
    Secondary Position: SS
  • High School: Cincinnati Country Day School
    State: OH
  • Summer Team: FTB 55 Tucci
  • Height: 6-0
    Weight: 190lbs
  • Bat/Throw: R/R

Statistics

Pitching
93
Max FB
86 - 91
FB
75 - 77
CB
78 - 79
CH
Pitching
Max FB
88
FB
84 - 88
CB
75 - 77
CH
78 - 79
Position
94
INF Velo
94
Exit Velo

Brock Finds Inspiration With Family

CINCINNATI - Finding the motivation to work at becoming a special baseball player is not difficult for TJ Brock.

His goals are like many: play Division I baseball, get drafted, play in a professional organization and eventually make it to the big leagues.

The inspiration is not the same.

For starters, there is a father battling Parkinson’s Disease. This is a dad who means everything to Brock, an 18-year-old senior at Cincinnati Country Day who is headed to Ohio State on a baseball scholarship. Thomas Brock has been instrumental in Brock’s development as a pitcher. A former right fielder/third baseman in the Seattle Mariners’ organization, the elder Brock had a unique concept in teaching his son how to build up strength in a right arm that has thrown a baseball reaching 95 on the radar gun.

“There are a lot of things out there people do, but I stick to Jaeger bands, toss every day to build arm strength and listen to my arm,” Brock explained. “I take a break when it’s tired and fatigued.”

But a sick father, who at times struggles to get up, is not the only driving force in Brock’s quest to succeed in baseball as well as in life. There is also a best friend, Steven Gibbs, a cousin who stayed in contact with Brock on a daily basis … that is, until Sept. 23 when he shockingly died from a heart attack while standing in his garage with his fiance at the young age of 24.

“Besides my dad he was my biggest fan,” Brock said of Gibbs, the son of Brock’s mother’s sister. “He lived in Minnesota and we sent texts to each other every day. He was as close to a big brother as I’ve ever had.”

A BASEBALL LIFE

TJ Brock has always had the ability to be a successful baseball player. Growing up in the southwestern Ohio community of Milford, Brock excelled at the sport from an early age. By the time he was in eighth grade there was a realization that there might be something special to his game.

“I had always played up an age group but when I started playing with guys my own age I began to stand out on the mound and hitting,” Brock explained.

The thought in the Brock household was to send him to Florida in an effort to improve his chances of advancement in the baseball world.

“I was at Country Day through eighth grade when my parents decided to send my off by myself,” Brock explained. “We knew we wanted to make a commitment but I had to sacrifice friends and family to go play baseball. I was 15-years-old and saw my parents once every two months. I’m like … it’s time to grow up.”

But while the baseball life was great for Brock at IMG, the education was not what he desired.

“I loved it playing baseball everyday,” Brock related. “But I wasn’t sure the academics were going to prepare me for life. There is life after education and I didn’t know if IMG was preparing me for college. I needed more of an academic challenge.”

So Brock and his family decided after a two-year stay at the Florida school a return to Ohio was the best thing to do

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Back in Ohio, Brock was able to be with a family that included 14-year-old brother Andrew and 15-year-old twin sisters Katie and Liz along with his dad and his mom Kathy. Most importantly, there was still time to work on the game he grew to love as a young boy under the tutelage of his father.

“I’ve worked very hard my whole life,” Brock explained. “I have that arrogance to compete and do the best that I can each and every day.”

His way of developing an arm was different than most.

“I didn’t spend money on everything out there like some do,” Brock pointed out. “I just stuck to myself and did everything my dad told me to do with bands and tossing the ball. When I was 12 Scott Williamson, the 1999 Rookie of the Year with the Reds, was my coach and he taught me what he did. My dad and I worked on it to make it feasible for me.”

From Jaeger bands, to short tosses with a flicked wrist, to longer throws, Brock and his dad perfected the routine in an effort to build up arm strength. It was similar to the way his father did it when he was with the Seattle Mariners.

It was all aimed at one thing - the aspiration to play in the big leagues.

“My dad first signed a letter to play football at Western Michigan but realized there was no career in football so he opted out and went to Central Arizona for one year,” Brock reflected. “Then he transferred to Michigan for two years and won two Big 10 championships there.

“He was drafted by the Braves but decided to go back to college. After his third year at Michigan he was drafted by the Mariners. He made it as far as Double-A.”

However, dreams of professional baseball ended for Thomas Brock on Oct. 8, 1988.

“He was out to dinner in Dearborn, Michigan with two friends, one a priest,” Brock said. :When he was walking out of the restaurant he was jumped and stabbed. He was actually pronounced dead.”

BROCK GETS NOTICED

Dreams of following in his father’s footsteps in baseball and perhaps beyond have long existed in the Brock home.

“It all starts with my parents,” said the eighth-ranked player in Ohio who is rated 178th in the country. “My dad played baseball at Michigan and my mom played volleyball there. Having parents with an athletic background helps a lot.”

The ability to play baseball brought notoriety to Brock’s game. IMG saw him at a tournament and took notice, inviting Brock to come south.

Once at IMG, Brock received college offers from a number of Florida schools.

“I hated having the family apart, families stay together, but I knew what TJ wanted to achieve with baseball and supported him with my whole heart while he was away,” his mother said. “However, I was even happier when he started to receive offers and came home.”

Once back in Ohio, Brock’s college baseball dream turned into reality.

“I always liked Ohio State,” Brock said.

Now it was a matter of getting someone to notice what he could do on the ball field.

“I was going to pitch in a big game against CHCA which had won the league the last 13 seasons,” Brock said. “I called Jordan (Chiero, Ohio’s director of Scouting for Prep Baseball Report) and said I’m from Florida and to come watch me pitch. I will be up to 93 for you. He’s like … ‘okay.’ I said just give me a chance, I promise I will hit 93-94.”

Said Chiero: “I was skeptical to say the least. To be honest, I assumed it was a virtual certainty what he was telling me wasn’t true. To go along with claiming he was up to 93 miles an hour, TJ also told me he had Power 5 offers and interest. I went to see him throw hoping he’d be at least low- to mid-80s with his claims and the fact he was good enough to throw for a talented Cincinnati Country Day team. The idea that he would be a 90s’ arm never crossed my mind.”

Brock lived up to his words.

“The Rangers, Dodgers and Reds were all there and I hit 93,” the 6-0 175-pounder said. “I sat 88-91, gave up one hit and one walk and had 15 strikeouts. That all happened in May. That’s what started me with PBR.”

Chiero was certainly impressed.

“I was in total shock when I saw TJ throw,” Chiero admitted. “It was electric. His arm was loose, fast and he was consistently 88-91, touching that 93.number. It was almost impossible to think there was a 90s’ arm in the 2018 class that nobody in the state had heard of.

“The combination of him calling me out of the blue and the wild claims actual being factual … I’m not sure something like this will ever happen again for the rest of my career in scouting. It was like I was on a hidden camera TV show.”

Later in the season, Brock was on the mound pitching against Versailles in the district finals. The opposing pitcher was Cole Niekamp, an Ohio State commit.

“Here I am not committed and I’m a little jittery,” Brock said. “The first three batters it’s walk, hit-by-pitch and error. I had to settle in. I looked at my dad and we tipped our hats to each other. When he tips his cap it’s go time. I had to lock in. I’m thinking this game’s for you.”

Two swinging Ks and a called third strike later and Brock was out of the bases-loaded jam in a game he eventually fanned 14, allowed four hits and touched 94 in a 2-0 Country Day victory.

Interest from colleges exploded, with Ohio State at the top of his list.

“I was in contact with Ohio State before the Top Prospect Games,” Brock noted. “Most of the games they had come to see me I was at shortstop. They held off on an offer to watch me pitch again and said we’ll see you at the TPGs.”

Ohio State’s interest was genuine.

“We went to see him pitch in the high school playoffs and at PBR at Prasco Park,” OSU head baseball coach Greg Beals said. “We went to see him one more time and then we were full bore. When he came on campus we made an offer. It was a pretty quick decision.”

There was plenty to like about Brock according to Beals.

“He plays with a great deal of confidence,” the OSU mentor said. “He’s got explosive stuff. His arm is very, very fast which lends to him continuing to grow on the mound.”

Cheiro certainly has high expectations for Brock.

“I’ve been lucky enough to get to know TJ well since the day he threw 93 and I’m extremely happy for him on what he’s been able to accomplish over the past year,” the PBR scout said. “He’s grown a ton as a person and a player. I have no doubt he has a very bright future ahead of him.”

DIFFICULTY HITS

Throwing a baseball that reaches the mid-90s doesn’t happen overnight.

“My biggest jump came from my freshman summer when I was throwing 82 until fall my sophomore year when I was at 88,” Brock said. “I’m very religious and to me God came down and blessed my arm. It was that and lifting weights and the Jagger bands working out at Pro Force in Milford.”

In the fall of his junior year, while back in school at Country Day, Brock hit 90 on the radar gun for the first time ever while pitching at a camp in Missouri.

“I knew I had a lot left in the tank, I could feel it,” Brock said of reaching the coveted number. “It was more of a fatigue thing. I had been playing in Florida throughout the summer and the arm was dragging, even though I hit 90. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned with the arm, don’t do anything to put it in danger. I listen to my arm.”

But while Brock’s right arm continued to show more and more life, things at home were becoming more difficult.

“I will never forget the day ... February 17,” Brock said. “The company my dad worked for knew he had tremors. He had tremors from the stress built up from the stabbing, but things had started progressing and becoming worse.

“I came home from school that day and it was very emotional. My parents sat my two sisters, my brother and me down and said dad lost his job.”

A procedure not approved in the U.S. would take place on his father in Switzerland.

“He had to have the procedure or he would die,” Brock related. “There was a 70 percent chance he would come out of it perfect and fine, a 25 percent chance he would be paralyzed on one side of his brain and five percent chance he would die.”

Brock saw a change in his dad after the surgery.

“When he came back after the procedure he was not the same,” Brock said. “I didn’t hear him talk for a month and his balance was not there. It really hit me one day when he was asleep on the couch and couldn’t get up. He was not strong enough to get up and me, at 17, had to carry him to bed. He was too sick and couldn’t walk.”

Improvement since then has taken place.

“He’s doing better,” Brock said. “He does speech and physical therapy for Parkinson’s. But his balance walking and his memory are not there. It’s very hard.”

It has made growing up fast of essence for Brock.

“TJ has got a very strong family unit that he draws support from,” Beals said about what stands out about Brock off the field. “His dad is a strong man and, while he’s going through struggles, it motivates TJ to be his own man and take care of business, to do what he is capable of doing and to do what is right.”

FAMILY BOND

The drive to be his best is now stronger than ever for Brock.

“It’s very hard,” Brock said. “My senior year is here and my dad and best friend that’s been with me every step of this ride are not able to be with me to watch me throw, to watch me catch, to watch me hit.”

His mother has been a rock for her eldest son.

“It’s been hard on her,” noted Brock. “She has three other kids to worry about and then dad to make sure he’s getting what he needs to help him get better.”

The 51-year-old father does physical therapy twice a week, 30 minutes away at the University of Cincinnati.

“He’s getting better but his balance is not there, so it’s hard for him to get up at times,” Brock said. “It’s affected his speech. He speaks soft and is hard to hear at times.”

As for the prognosis?

“It’s hard to say. Parkinson’s is different for everybody,” Brock related. “He will always have it, it’s just a matter of doing physical therapy, building up stamina and seeing how he improves.”

While that eases the pain, it is still something Brock lives with every day.

“It’s hard to see him crushed because of Parkinson’s,” Brock said of his dad. “I’m playing for him every day.”

Even in sickness, the coach in the elder Brock comes out.

“He’s still giving me advice, it just takes longer to get it out,” Brock explained. “He doesn’t travel with me as much as he did, but he still tries to get to my high school games.”

For the most part, the shoes now are reversed from years past, with Brock helping out his ill father.

“He wants to get better and provide for his family again,” Brock related. “He loves it when we help him. We’re family and we stick together.”

His father is just glad everyone is together again.

“I'm happy to have him home and appreciate all he does for me,” Thomas Brock said. “What I want the most for him is to just play baseball and have fun doing it while also getting a great education.”

Mother Brock only wants the best for her son.

“His dad and I love that he is part of the Big 10 and close to home to watch play,” Kathy Brock said. “We like that he’s far enough away to do his own thing, but close enough to continue to help and support the family.”

It leaves a great deal to play for when Brock goes out on the ball diamond.

“I would have been very good at baseball because I love it,” Brock said. “But now I’m playing baseball because I love it AND for them. My cousin would want me to strive to be the best I can be. He’s watching over me and there is no reason not to have a successful career at Ohio State and not to be drafted.

“I’m very excited to go to Ohio State, but my ultimate dream is to play professional baseball. My whole life I’ve worked to be a college and pro player. Doing it with a family that I care about so much and has helped me my whole life drives me to do more and be the best player I can be.”