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Originally published August 7, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 10, 2007 at 9:08 PM

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M's Farm | Taking a big-league chance

Brodie Downs was working on his sister's swimming pool when he got the phone call from a friend in early June. Downs had just been drafted...

Seattle Times staff

Brodie Downs was working on his sister's swimming pool when he got the phone call from a friend in early June.

Downs had just been drafted by the Mariners in the 23rd round, the friend said.

"I thought he was lying, that he was just messing with me," Downs said.

So he hung up and went back to work on the pool. Ten minutes later he got another call. The Mariners were on the line. They had indeed taken the 27-year-old pitcher, a guy with more experience surveying land than throwing a baseball.

Getting drafted was only the first big surprise for Downs, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound right-hander who turned 28 on July 19. Less than three weeks later, he was pitching for Class AAA Tacoma, not allowing an earned run in his first three appearances over 4-2/3 innings.

"It was kind of hard to believe," said Downs, who pitched in the spring at Modesto (Calif.) Junior College. "Walking into the clubhouse and seeing the players, the ex-major-leaguers, you just have to convince yourself that you belong. It's really a tough adjustment from Modesto JC to Triple A from a mental standpoint."

It was all part of the Mariners' plan.

"We wanted to throw him into the fire right away to see how he would handle it," said Frank Mattox, the Mariners' director of player development. "I can't remember drafting a player that age, but I can't remember a player with his ability at that age being available before."

After Downs allowed a pair of earned runs with Tacoma on July 15, he was sent to Class AA West Tenn. There, is continuing to work on other pitches to complement a fastball that tops out in the mid-90-mph range.

"I was OK with the move, because I just wanted to be at a place where I could pitch more," said Downs, who is 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA in eight innings of relief for the Diamond Jaxx in Jackson, Tenn. He got his first professional win Monday.

It's all pretty heady stuff for someone who less than a year ago figured he would spend the rest of his career as a land surveyor, which he had done since leaving high school.

It was a good job and he liked it. Downs was making more than $80,000 a year, and was married with a new child. Not exactly a prime candidate for a career change.

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"I just figured I would always do that," he said.

Baseball was just a recreational pursuit. He pitched a bit in high school, then after a few years off, joined the Ceres (Calif.) Coyotes in a high-level recreational league with a few ex-minor-leaguers.

Downs had added two inches and 65 pounds since high school. His velocity began to rise, and one day last summer he got lucky. Butch Metzger, co-National League rookie of the year in 1976 and a Texas Rangers scout, was at a game when Downs was pitching.

"When I saw him — how big he was and how hard he threw — I figured he must have just been released from some [major-league organization]," Metzger said. "So I asked someone who he had played for, and they said no one. I asked where he went to college, and they said nowhere. So I went out to my truck to get a radar gun."

The gun flashed 94 mph. The change in career paths was set in motion.

"I asked him what he wanted to do, and he said he wanted to try professional baseball," Metzger said. "I recommended him to my supervisor, but he didn't want to sign him because he was too old. So I started kicking up some dust, just talking to some scouts to see what could be done for him."

Downs was advised to play in Puerto Rico last winter for seasoning and exposure, but he didn't want to be away from his wife, Nicole, and son Dawson, now 15 ½ months old.

So, 10 years after leaving high school, Downs returned to school to play college baseball. At first, Downs was going to keep his job and play for Modesto JC only on Saturdays, but because of his age, scouts weren't coming.

"I needed to pitch more and pitch against other teams' aces, so I could pitch in front of scouts," he said.

Downs then made the move from full-time surveyor to house husband and student, while his wife took a full-time job.

"My wife was 100 percent behind me," he said. "I couldn't have done it without her."

Downs had a fine season at Modesto, going 6-4 with a 2.55 ERA, with 101 strikeouts in 98 innings. Scouts began paying attention, but his age was always an issue.

"I really didn't think I would be drafted," he said. "I told scouts that I didn't need money and that I would drive anywhere. I just wanted a chance."

That's what he is getting. Mattox said Downs' arm is fresh for a 28-year-old, and he will be given every opportunity to prove himself.

Metzger said a lot of people will be cheering for him.

"Even the scouts who couldn't do anything for him, they're rooting for him," Metzger said. "He's really a good guy, confident but humble. He has that presence that you look for out on the mound. He just has something special."

Downs said he loves pitching, but misses his wife and son, who have remained in California.

"That's the tough part, but next year they will follow me wherever I go," he said. "Whatever happens, I will always be happy that I did this."

And if Downs makes the major leagues?

"If all the stars align right, this could be made into a movie," Metzger said.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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