Down home diamond: Ty Downing returns home to play for WKU

WKU junior catcher Ty Downing waits for the referee’s call after attempting to tag out Southern Illinois freshman infielder Will Farmer during the game at Nick Denes Field on Sunday, Feb. 16. (Tyler Essary/HERALD)

Elliott Pratt

There was a special conversation between a baseball player and an umpire Saturday during WKU’s second of a three-game series between Southern Illinois. The dialogue may not have been much, but it symbolized a homecoming for Ty Downing.

“The umpire asked me, ‘you must be from here or something’ because I had a lot of fans,” Downing said.

The 6-foot-1 catcher from Bowling Green decided that coming home was the best thing for his college career. A 2010 graduate of Greenwood High School, Downing was a multi-sport athlete in baseball and football. As a senior, he earned the Regional Player of the Year honor after hitting .437 with 51 RBIs and seven home runs.

As a catcher, he only allowed four stolen bases in 19 attempts against him, and also set the Greenwood single-season record of 16 doubles, 32 runs and slugged .780 at bat.

Baseball wasn’t his only success. As a quarterback for the Gators, he was a finalist for Kentucky Mr. Football in 2009 and led Greenwood to the state semifinals on 2,278 yards passing and 25 total touchdowns.

Baseball was his first love, and that’s where he knew he would succeed the most.

“There’s not a lot of need for a 5-foot-10 pocket passer,” Downing said.

Coming home and playing where he was comfortable meant something special to Downing. Downing left Kentucky to play college baseball at Indiana, the only school, he says, that strongly recruited him. After only a single season with the Hoosiers, Downing transferred to Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Fla. His high school coach, Chris Decker, believes Downing has come full circle and that he’s finally where he wants to be.

“I think his ultimate goal was to come back to Bowling Green to be honest with you,” Decker said. “He’s in his comfort zone. His friends and family can watch him play. He’s always been a Western fan, too. When he was in high school, he always went to Western games. I think it worked out well for him.”

Leaving Bowling Green, Downing said, was a new opportunity for him, but it just wasn’t the right fit.

He grew up playing with and against other hometown players who currently play for WKU like sophomores Trevor Lowe, who attended South Warren High School, and Josh Bartley, who attended Bowling Green High School.

“I like playing in front of people I know and playing in front of family and friends so they can come watch me play,” Downing said. “I played with Josh (Bartley) and Trevor Lowe since I was little. I’ve never played with anybody that I played in high school with or grew up with so I thought it was really cool to play at the D-I level with guys like that.”

The addition of Downing brings coach Matt Myers extra comfort after dealing with the issue of replacing Devin Kelly, who is now a undergraduate assistant for the team.

“Ty is an unbelievable catch-and-throw guy,” Myers said. “Our pitchers love throwing to him. Your pitching staff, not only is it as good as your defense, but if you don’t have anybody behind the plate, they’ll lose their confidence really, really quick.

“I’m excited about it for Ty to contribute. I think you’ll see him catch a lot and it’s neat to have another local kid come back home and really play and really contribute.”

Nick Denes Field is a special place for Downing. He knew it was the right decision when he spoke to the umpire after hearing his name and number called over the PA speaker in his first at-bat for the team he’s always loved.

“I’ve been around the world and back,” Downing said. “I just feel like it was time to come back and play for my hometown.”