Brodie Downs, just like every other minor league baseball player, is still chasing his major league dream.
But Downs’ story, and the path he’s taken, is unlike any other in the game’s hinterlands.
Modesto’s Downs is 35 years old, ancient by minor league standards, and he didn’t start his quest until his late 20s. His story was featured this week by Dallas Morning News columnist Kevin Sherrington.
After graduating Beyer High School in 1998, the self-proclaimed “late bloomer” gave up the game and landed a lucrative surveying job with Thompson-Hysell Engineers. He bought a house, got married and began playing ball again in a recreation league.
“I stopped playing baseball after high school and I probably shouldn’t have,” said Downs, now pitching for the Frisco RoughRiders, the Texas Rangers’ Double-A affiliate. “There was a reason I didn’t pursue baseball: Nobody guided me.”
But unlike most rec league players, Downs could throw the ball in the mid-90s, and he was soon discovered by a Texas Rangers scout. At 26, he enrolled at Modesto Junior College and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 2007 amateur draft.
“I think a lot of people fall into that late-bloomer category,” Downs said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “They give up and get that 9-to-5 job. It’s really about finding the right person to guide you and not lie to you.”
Downs hopes to be that person for his clients at The K Zone Total Player Development, a 13,000-square-foot baseball academy he owns and operates in north Modesto. Players as young as 5 can hit in the batting cages or participate in workouts for a one-time fee, or they can become a K Zone member and use the facilities as often as they like. Personalized instruction is also available.
“I won’t lie to a kid,” said Downs, who turned 35 on Saturday. “It’s not like I’m not trying to get into their pockets, but I’ll tell a kid if I think he has a shot to go D-I, or if I think he needs to redshirt for a season, or if he needs to get on a workout program.”
It’s the type of facility Downs wishes he had when he gave up the game as a teenager.
Last year, Downs again came close to quitting after pitching more than 120 innings during stops in Australia, Venezuela, Mexico and Lancaster, Pa., of the independent Atlantic League. He seemed light years away from The Show.
“Then the Rangers called,” he said.
Texas is in last place in the American League West and more than 20 games behind league-leading Oakland. Come September, when the Rangers promote players to audition for the big club, might Downs get a call?
“It’s tough to say. There are so many variables in this game,” said Downs, who insists that pursuit of his dream wouldn’t be possible without the support of his wife, Nicole. “A lot of it is being in the right place at the right time.”
Downs has a 7.71 ERA in seven innings pitched with Frisco, but he’s happy with this way he’s pitched of late. On Tuesday night, the right-handed sidearmer even picked up his first win of the season, relieving starter Martire Garcia to pitch a scoreless fourth inning.
“Yeah, I vultured it,” joked Downs. “Right place, right time.”
But that’s what happened this week in Turlock, as the city honored the Turlock American Little League 11-year-olds for winning the District 73 championship.
Mayor John Lazar issued a proclamation lauding the team for its “exciting, hard-fought and impressive baseball season.” The mayor didn’t leave out the role of the team’s supporters, as the proclamation also noted, “the team’s accomplishments are consistent with the players, coaches and parents’ dedication to teamwork, healthy habits, and becoming productive citizens.”