By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
Don Brockman won’t soon forget the first time he got a piece of his little brother’s unhittable pitch.
During an intrasquad scrimmage last fall, ACU’s senior outfielder timed the pitch perfectly and drove the ball through a gap and into the outfield. Standing on base, Don couldn’t help but smirk at his younger sibling, who shook his head.
“I rubbed that one in good,” recalls Don. “That was my first time in many tries.”
Truth be told, it’s the only time Don’s accomplished such a feat, but his pride is understood. After all, that’s one better than most hitters do with a Ben Brockman change-up.
The Brockman Special
Ben Brockman began toying with his unique change-up grip in 2001, when he was a reliever at Katy High School. The grip requires his pinky and ring fingers to split in Vulcan-esque form along the baseball’s laces.
“It’s pretty unorthodox,” he said. “It was uncomfortable at first, but I fooled around with it in high school and got comfortable with it. It’s worked pretty good for me.”
Brockman didn’t really perfect the pitch until his redshirt freshman season at ACU in 2002. Then pitching coach Brian Strickland had him throw it in practice every day until it was, as Don says, “absolutely filthy.”
From a batter’s standpoint, the Brockman Special looks exactly like his fastball: his arm rears back over his head and comes down with the same forceful motion as his heater, which tops out at 91 miles per hour. But, at the last split-second of his delivery, Brockman snaps his wrist down toward his body and lets fly a ball with low-70s speed that breaks in to right-handed hitters and out to lefties.
“It looks just like a fastball, then it just falls right off the table in front of [the batter],” pitching coach Lee Fletcher said. “A lot of times the batter’s already started his swing.”
The result is often comical: the batter swings full force, then tries to hold up when he realizes the velocity change, making for an awkward, flailing at-bat.
“We have a great time watching that, especially with the great hitters,” Don says, laughing. “He makes a lot of guys have nasty at-bats.”
In addition to a form of entertainment, the pitch often serves as a remedy for bases-loaded jams.
“Whenever we need a big out, he comes through with the change-up,” Fletcher said. “It’s gotten him out of plenty of jams.”
It’s also the main reason Brockman ranks second in the entire Lone Star Conference with 80 strikeouts, second only to Texas A&M-Kingsville ace Garrett Murdy’s 107. Brockman’s 2.93 earned run average ranks fourth in the LSC, and he carries a 5-3 record in 10 starts-two of which are complete games.
Brockman’s dominance has blossomed since last season, when he went 1-3 with a 4.70 ERA and 48 strikeouts in nine starts as a redshirt freshman. Head coach Britt Bonneau said he saw great promise in Brockman when he and Don-who transferred from David Lipscomb University-came to walk on the team in the fall of 2001.
“I knew he could be as dominant as he is by seeing the way he worked hard back then,” Bonneau said. “Even last year we expected a lot from him, and I thought he did pretty well. Now he’s on scholarship for us, and he’s a big, big part of this program.”
Not bad for a guy who barely pitched in high school.
After playing junior varsity ball his sophomore and junior years at Katy High, Brockman tried out for third base on the varsity team and beat out the previous year’s starter. He also pitched in relief and finished 2-1 with a 2.30 ERA. At the plate, Brockman hit .371 with 19 RBI and nine doubles on the way to first team all-District 19-5A honors.
“I could tell he had a lot of potential as a pitcher, even if it wasn’t his main position,” said Brockman’s high school coach Tom McPherson. “In any other school in our district, he’d have been a No. 1 starter.
“He had the mental makeup for a pitcher,” McPherson recalled. “If something bad happened, he could calm down. He didn’t get shaken up in situations where a lot of kids would get too anxious. He’s just a big kid with a strong work ethic.”
Boy of Summer
Brockman has put his hard work into action the past few offseasons by playing in summer leagues all over the country. After his redshirt season, Brockman faced several top Division I players in the Alaskan Baseball League, which is considered the second-most prominent summer league behind the Cape Cod League. Last summer, Brock-man played five to six games a week for the Wichita Twins in a summer league in Wichita, Kan. He plans to pitch in another league in Connecticut this summer.
“Summer ball has made me the player I am today,” Brockman says. “I got a lot of innings and played against some of the best, and that forces you to improve.”
Brockman’s offseason im-provements have included adding muscle to his 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame and a couple extra pitches to his repertoire.
Last season, surviving with two pitches-his fastball and change-up-Brockman made it out of the fifth inning one time. But this year, after adding a slider to his docket, Brockman rarely pitches fewer than seven innings.
“Your first two times through a lineup, you can get by with only two pitches,” Fletcher said. “But usually by the third time up, a batter starts to recognize what’s coming. If you can fool a batter the third time around, they’re just guessing at the end of games.”
As recently as a week ago, Brockman began throwing his No. 4 pitch, a curveball.
“He used it a good bit in the series against Kingsville,” Fletcher said. “When he gets to the point where he can control it, it’s gonna be a huge pitch for him.”
And control is what Brockman does best. He keeps his heat under control, knicking corners of the strike zone around a batter’s knee with his fastball. His change-up, too, is surprisingly accurate, darting downward through the zone like a wiffle ball.
“He’s only 21, and he can put the ball anywhere he wants it,” Fletcher said. “A lot of pros have a ton of speed and very little control.”
With his control on the field comes control off of it. Brockman’s apparent shyness is actually quiet politeness that, added to a good attitude and strong character, makes him a well-rounded individual.
“He has good morals and he knows the difference between right and wrong,” Bonneau said. “He reminds me of the [Brad] Masseys, [Jerrod] Hydes, [Matt] Davidsons and [Brandon] Stovers who have played for me; quality athletes with great character. He’s definitely been brought up in a good home.”
Both Ben and Don confess a tight-knit family was important in their upbringing. Their parents try to never miss a game, frequently making the six-hour trip from Katy to Abilene to watch their boys play.
Not coincidentally, Ben and Don are third-generation ACU athletes. Their father, Mac Brockman (’76), played golf for the Wildcats, while their grandfather, Jay Brockman (’49), played athletics as well. The Brockmans’ lineage at ACU dates back even further: in 1944 McDonald Hall was named after their great-great grandfather, Alexander F. McDonald, whose 1909 gift saved Abilene Christian Col-lege during its infancy.
A long line of Wildcat athletes has inevitably led to Brockman’s competitiveness. Long before he led his Little League team to the Texas state championship in 1996, Brockman has thrived on winning.
“I love to compete,” he says. “I love to beat people; it’s what I strive for in baseball.”
Unfortunately for Don, that attitude is multiplied when facing siblings.
“Whenever we’re playing, he wants to get me out worse than anyone else,” Don says. “He usually either gets me out or hits me [with the pitch]. That’s payback for me picking on him when we were younger.”
Don laughs at the thought of Ben as a pudgy little kid who didn’t start filling out until high school.
“It’s funny how things turned out,” he said. “I used to always be the big athlete, and he was behind the scenes. Things are a lot different now, and he’s earned it.”
What Brockman would eventually like to earn is a big- league jersey, something Bonneau said he has “a good chance” of accomplishing. Fletcher said that since the addition of a third pitch to his file, two to three pro scouts have consistently shown interest in the Wildcats’ ace.
“His size alone draws attention,” Fletcher said. “With the development of a third pitch and his control, he’s turned even more heads.”
But with two years remaining until he graduates with a management degree, Brock-man has other things he wants to accomplish first, including a return trip to the College World Series and to collect as many wins as possible.
And, although it’s not his main goal, “it’d be nice to have a few honors too,” he says.
A few? Right-just like he’s fooled a few batters with that change-up.