When Micah Owings returned home to Gainesville three years ago after a long career in professional baseball, he saw it as a chance to return to his roots.
However, the roots the former Gainesville High, Georgia Tech, Tulane and major league standout pitcher/outfielder planted years ago are still firmly embedded in the game.
So are the roots he established in winning, as his latest endeavor as manager of the Gainesville Gol’Diggers of the Sunbelt Baseball League demonstrate.
In Owings’ second season at the helm, the Gol’Diggers ascended to the top by earning their first SBL championship by sweeping the Atlanta Crackers in the best-of-three title series earlier this month at Kennesaw State University’s Stillwell Stadium.
The title also made him the league’s Manager of the Year, which only added satisfaction that was a whole year in the making.
“I’ve been involved with the league since I came home from pro ball in 2019,” said Owings, who spent 14 years in professional baseball, including six in the majors as a pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres, as well as stints as a scout for the Seattle Mariners and a minor league coach with the Reds. “Last year, we were the Gainesville Braves. We did rebrand and change the name. This is the first year as the Gainesville Gol’Diggers. The team that we had (this season) was unbelievable. We had a good team last year, but I started building (this year’s) team last fall, and really started building it around pitching. We led the league in (team) ERA with a 2.75 as a staff, which is almost unbelievable for a whole season. I think the next closest team was a 3.40, and every other team was a 4.00- or a 5.00-plus.
“I really built it on the old school style, growing up watching the Braves winning championships (in the 1990s) with pitching all those years. I had an incredible staff, and then a really solid core of position guys, too. A lot of speed, so we put pressure on (opposing) pitchers and defenses a good bit.”
Pitching was a major factor in the Gol’Diggers’ title, with the team placing three different pitchers – Flowery Branch High graduate Zander Sechrist (University of Tennessee), Gainesville graduate Zach Valentine (Georgia Highlands College) and Jess Ackerman (Mercer University) – in the top 10 in the league in ERA among pitchers with at least 20 innings, while outfielders Trippe Moore (Georgia) and Theodor Bryant (Tennessee Tech) led the offense.
It all led up to a league record 25 wins this summer during a season in which the Gol’Diggers never lost more than two games in a row.
“(The team) just jelled together,” Owings said. “Great chemistry. They hung out off the field. I had eight out-of-state players and three host families, and I definitely want to point out how appreciative I am of the host families that took care of the six players that stayed with them. I hope to do that more in the future.
“Outside of that, I had 22 other local kids who just all enjoyed playing the game, got along. … Just a great group of staff mixed with a great group of kids. The community involvement was incredible. Hopefully, we’ll be able to grow and build on it.”
But as satisfying as the success on the field the team has enjoyed the past two summers has been for Owings, he’s enjoyed simply coaching in a summer college wood bat league like the Sunbelt League even more by allowing him to return more to his baseball roots.
“Being able to experience those … opportunities has only helped me to be able to relate to these guys that I have in the summer, and really tell a lot of them in the area (that) they don’t have to go up to the Cape (Cod League) or some other northern league,” Owings said. “The competition in the Sunbelt League, has gotten a lot better and continues to get better.”
With the Gol’Diggers being a local team, it has also allowed Owings to further cultivate his Gainesville roots, including helping run and serving as an instructor at the Ozone Sports baseball academy that he founded with his brothers Josh and Jon Mark in 2005.
“I’m enjoying being back home and being around my family,” Owings said. “I’ve missed, you know, a lot of my nephews and niece growing up – a big part of their lives. So it’s been cool to be able to see them more and just spend more time with my folks and brothers and sisters.”
Owings says he and his brothers have some big plans for Ozone, including the exploring the possibility of building a 2,000-seat stadium for the facility in Gainesville that could host regional and national travel tournaments, and would also serve as a home for the Gol’Diggers.
However, he admits he still has an itch for coaching, either on the college or pro levels, that may eventually need scratching at some point.
“(Ozone) is really going to be my focus just for now,” Owings said. “I think we have good things going on with the Gol’Diggers. It’s great. It takes up the majority of my summer, but I really enjoy the college scene of the game.
“You never know. … Any (Major League organization) could come at me and offer me (an opportunity), and I may have to chew on it and (figure out) if it’s the best decision. But I finished my (college) degree in May, and I started interviewing for some college coaching opportunities. That’s still kind of in the back of my mind. That might happen, but for now, I’m going to focus on continuing to make the Gol’Diggers the best that we can and really build some branding opportunities in the community.”