Kaohi Downing is a long way from home, but has returned to his roots as a pitcher with the Winnipeg Goldeyes.
The Hawaiian played as an infielder last season but is one of four rookie pitchers remaining in the Goldeyes camp. Manager Rick Forney released two rookie pitchers on Saturday, left-hander Cody King and righty Dustin Northcott.
Downing was one of 24 players who packed his gear Saturday afternoon and hit the road for a 17-day trip. The Goldeyes will play exhibition games today and Monday in St. Paul and Tuesday in Kansas City.
"I'm excited. It's a great opportunity to play with great ball players and keep continuing with this chance to live my dreams," said Downing, a right-hander who was an infielder in the San Francisco Giants organization in 2011. He was drafted as a pitcher by the Giants in 2009.
"Hopefully the plan for me (with the Goldeyes) is to be a seventh-, eighth-, ninth-inning guy," Downing said. "If they need a pinch-hitter or someone to fill in if someone gets hurt, I am more than willing to get on the field and help the team win some ball games."
Downing is one of six players vying for four rookie positions on the Goldeyes' 22-player regular-season roster. The others are pitchers Anthony Friesen of Somerset, Man., Chris Kaminiski and Barrett Phillips and outfielders Ridge Carpenter and Dan Barbero.
Downing, who graduated in 2009 with a degree in exercise science, started all four years as an outfielder at San Diego's Point Loma Nazarene University. In his senior year, he started 57 games in right field batting .325 with 12 home runs, 45 RBI, 54 runs scored and 29 steals on 35 attempts.
In 2011, he batted .312 as an infielder with Salem-Keizer in the San Francisco organization, but was a pitcher prior to that. In 2009 he had a 1.47 ERA in 24 games with Giants rookie team in the Arizona league.
"You'll probably see him in the field at some point this year," Forney said. "Right now we just want to make sure he's comfortable pitching and find a role that works for him.He has the ability to play infield and he hit .312 in short-season A ball. He's a good athlete."
Downing and Carpenter live within five minutes of each other in Honolulu and work out together in the off-season. Both were recommended to the Goldeyes by last season's pitching coach, Brendan Sagara, also a Hawaii native, who is now in the Miami Marlins system as the pitching coach for the Jamestown Jammers of the short-season Class A New York-Penn League.
"When I got released (by the Giants), I called Brendan because I know he has a lot of contacts and he told me Forney was looking for some pitchers," Downing said. "Brendan told me how great the (Winnipeg) fans are, the organization, the clubhouse, just the community, really, that it makes you feel like you are one with them."
The Goldeyes must name a maximum 23-player roster by noon Tuesday. Winnipeg's American Association season-opener is Friday in Amarillo, Texas.
Your line on the Fish
THE Winnipeg Free Press will be on the road with the Winnipeg Goldeyes to open the 2012 American Association season.
Watch for daily reports from Goldeyes beat writer Ashley Prest from Amarillo, Texas, May 18-20 and from Laredo, Texas, May 21-23.