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Goldeyes' hurler living the dream, even in nightmare of first pro outing

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Goldeyes rookie Reggie Hochstedler took the hill Tuesday for his first professional action. The southpaw was a little wild allowing a homer and three walks.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Goldeyes rookie Reggie Hochstedler took the hill Tuesday for his first professional action. The southpaw was a little wild allowing a homer and three walks. Photo Store

It was the top of the seventh inning at Shaw Park Tuesday night, score tied 1-1, when Reggie Hochstedler stepped to the mound and let his first professional pitch fly.

Let's be honest: The rookie pitcher's outing in the second pre-season tilt against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks was a rough introduction. He gave up a home run to RedHawks second baseman Ryan Pineda, then walked three more 'Hawks.

He watched RedHawks infielder Keith Brachold stroke a double that sent home two others. By the time Hochstedler was done, the 'Hawks were up 5-1.

But hey, it's baseball, and sometimes things don't go according to plan. So Hochstedler buckled down, focused for a minute on his hands, then struck out the RedHawks' Nick Akins. That closed out the inning and the Shaw Park crowd cheered supportively.

On the plus side, it's not like Hochstedler was expected to be perfect. Indeed, the Goldeyes' first pair of exhibition games will not make up manager Rick Forney's mind, not in these early days of the pre-season while he's still getting to know the guys.

But before the game started Tuesday evening, Forney did offer advice for the rookie.

"Keep your eyes and ears open, and your mouth shut," he said with a smirk.

At 23, Hochstedler is the youngest guy on the team, and he knows he's here to learn. Fresh off his senior season at the University of Indiana, where he went 4-2 with a 3.56 ERA in 26 games en route to a Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship, he looked around the bullpen Monday and noticed right away how "mature" the pros around him seemed.

See, most of the guys on the Goldeyes came into pro ball by way of the big leagues. They got drafted, slugged it out in the minors and then got released. But Hochstedler never got the draft call, so he took matters into his own fingers: As his college career ended, he sat down at his computer, and sent out emails, hunting for any team, any place that might have a spot for a rookie southpaw to play.

"I just knew I wanted to keep playing baseball, but I didn't have all the chances," he said. "It's the dream, ever since childhood."

The next day, the Goldeyes replied. Weeks later, Hochstedler landed in Winnipeg.

It's a bigger city than he expected -- he got lost Sunday night between the airport and the hotel -- and bigger by far than cosy Kalona, Iowa, where he grew up. Football, basketball and college wrestling were the big sports down there, Hochstedler said, but he found his dream on the ball diamond. Eventually.

"I wasn't good at first, that's for sure," he said, and laughed. "I pitched twice when I was eight years old maybe, and I remember hitting the dugout when I threw. That's how bad of a pitch it was."

Needless to say, he got better -- enough to get into NCAA ball and now to turn pro.

The folks back home in Kalona are pretty pumped about his turn with the Goldeyes, especially if he sticks on the roster and gets to play in some of the handful of American Association parks within a five-hour drive of his hometown.

"Coming from a small town, we don't see that a lot, so my friends are excited," he said.

And hey, it's not a bad time to be a rookie on the Goldeyes roster.

Under American Association rules, the Goldeyes must have four rookies on the roster this season, and they currently have four under contract. Their play, Forney said over the weekend, will determine if they stay -- but he'd be happy if he didn't have to go searching for new rookies.

"It's a tough experience for those guys (out of college). They're trying to settle in and get comfortable and get accustomed to the pro game," Forney said. "I've heard a lot of good things about (Hochstedler), so hopefully he'll be able to come in and adjust quickly and be an integral part of our team."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 8, 2013 D1

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Updated on Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 6:44 AM CDT: adds photo

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