Phrases like “being a gamer” or “giving 110-percent” are thrown around quite a bit to describe high school athletes. Very few are more deserving of those adjectives than Middlesboro junior Jake Brock.
Brock, generously listed at 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds, started as a slot receiver, defensive back and kick returner for the MHS football team and is a standout center fielder and lead-off hitter for the baseball team.
He suffered a torn rotator cuff playing football for the Yellow Jackets back on Sept. 20 in a game at Harlan. The injury was to his left (throwing) shoulder and doctors advised him to have surgery that would have kept him sidelined for over six months.
Instead, Brock missed only one football game and made the decision to play through the pain so he could stay on the field and continue to pursue his dream of going on to play college baseball.
“I’m wanting to play baseball in college and my team kind of needs me. I like baseball the most and I really didn’t want to have to sit through this whole baseball season and watch it,” he said of playing through the injury. “It really hasn’t hurt as much as I thought it would or as much as the doctor said it would. The doctor said I wouldn’t be able to play at all, but I tried it and I could so I did.”
The injury hasn’t slowed Brock down at all this year. Entering Monday’s first round game against North Laurel in the 13th Region Tournament, he’s hitting .423 with three home runs and 28 RBIs to go along with a .595 on base percentage and 26 stolen bases while playing all 37 games for the Jackets. He’s even throw out three runners on the basepaths. Oh yeah, he’s scored 57 runs this season to break the school record that was held by current MHS assistant David Kelley. He’s scored 169 times in his career, leaving him just seven shy of Kelley’s career record of 176 runs.
“First of all he’s a great kid. I love coaching kids like him that come out every day and bust their tail and do whatever you ask of them,” Middlesbro baseball coach John Smith said. “He’s a great asset as a lead-off man for us. He can fly, he can bunt and he’s hit with a little bit of power this year — just a well-rounded hitter in that lead-off spot.
“He chose to play and have surgery after the season, which was good for us. He gets us more outs with his speed out there than he does with his arm anyway. He may throw a couple runners out here and there throughout the season, but just being able to run balls down in the gaps saves us a lot of runs.”
Brock is being looked at by several colleges, including a couple of NCAA Division I schools, and he’s waiting to hear what they have to say before deciding to have the surgery this summer.
“If they say they don’t want me, then I probably won’t have the surgery and I’ll play football this fall. More than likely I’ll have it over the summer,” he said. “Unless the football team makes it to the state championship game I probably won’t be able to make it back for football.”
It typically takes about six months to recover from rotator cuff surgery, so Brock should be back to 100-percent for his senior season of baseball.
Football won’t be same without him. Though he was often the smallest player on the field he had a knack for coming up with the big play. He was the guy who would run 70-yards across the field to make a touchdown-saving tackle at around the one-yard line and then come up with an interception in the end zone on the following series — like he did last season at Somerset. On offense he played with reckless abandon, often trying to leap over or run through tacklers that out-weighed him by over 100 pounds.
“I just hate losing. I like playing and competing. I play for my team, my family and my town, really,” he said of that drive.
It translates well to the baseball field. Brock says he sort of models his game after “another short guy that everybody told couldn’t make it,” Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
“He’s a three-time All-Star and a Gold-Glover and he just goes out and plays hard every game.”
Brock is also closing in another record. He’s been hit by 16 pitches this season and has already set the school record by being hit 43 times in his career. With the 13th Region Tournament and all of next year to go he needs to get hit by just eight more pitches to tie Wolfe County’s Zach Sallie’s state record of 51 in a career.
“I think it’s just where I’m left-handed and the kids in this region aren’t used to pitching to many lefties. Plus, I don’t really move away from them. I’ll stay in there and get hit because I like getting on base,” Brock said. “If I get on I’m more than likely going to score because the guys behind me do their job and move me around. And when I score I feel like we’re going to score more because it hypes the team up.”
“He’s just a tough kid. He digs in and I’ve not seen that he’s afraid of any pitcher we’ve faced,” Smith added. “A lot of those have come in the first inning and it sets the tone for the game. We can bunt him over, he can steal or go first to third on a hit, there’s a lot of things we can do once he gets on.”
No matter how Monday’s game turned out for Brock and the Jackets, Smith said his center fielder has a bright future in baseball.
“You can teach guys how to hit, field or throw but you can’t teach guys to run with the speed that he has and I think that’s something that’s going to catch a lot of college coaches’ eyes for him,” Smith said. “His bat speed is still there and that arm injury hasn’t affected it at all —I’ve been with him all three years and I’ve not seen anyone able to just throw one by him yet. I think he’s going to get those opportunities and he’ll have a lot more colleges interested in him next year.”