Micah Owings’ baseball career took a sudden turn in 2017.
One day, he was wearing a Seattle Mariners uniform, competing for a job in the big leagues. The next he was sporting slacks and a polo, suddenly thrust into a front office role as a talent scout with the same organization.
In that 24-hour span, the Gainesville High graduate saw the writing on the wall. His hopes of potentially reaching the Major Leagues again as a player dashed, he knew it was time to turn the page.
A lot of players choose to announce their retirement in style — whether that be a flashy press conference, a dragged-out post on social media or a subtle wave of the hat to the fans as that final curtain call to the dugout. But Owings never did.
The former right-handed pitcher and Silver Slugger winner didn’t have that kind of path. Despite an upstart rookie season with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007, nagging injuries impeded Owings’ growth in the MLB moving forward. His final five seasons in the league involved stints with the Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres.
Owings spent 2016 with the York Revolution, an Independent League Club, before inking a one-year minor league deal with the Mariners organization in October of 2016. He recently wrapped up his first season as a minor league bench coach for the Reds organization at the rookie league level in Billings, Montana.
But Owings — once the stud on the high school diamond for Gainesville High in the early 2000s, and college standout with Georgia Tech and Tulane — seems content with the way things unfolded in his career. Maybe those long bus rides through the scenic, mountainous terrain of the northwest with the Billings Mustangs this past year has given Owings a calming perspective on life.
“You’re on bus rides from nine to 13 hours — on a week, off a week usually — just traveling to parts of Colorado, Montana, Utah,” Owings said. “Seeing all those mountains on bus through the country was an incredible experience.”
Now, his eyes are set on something a little bigger — giving back to the community he grew up in. It starts with his family-run baseball institute and Christmas camps he continues to help run beside brothers Josh and Jon Mark.
“It’s never been easy taking the uniform off. Any competitive player in any sport will tell you that,” said Owings, whose marveled high school career included back-to-back state championships (2001-02) with the Red Elephants and a career home run total (69) that still ranks fourth all-time in the nation (Per National Federation of State High School Associations). “But it’s also very rewarding to help the kids who are coming along, with the same dreams and aspirations like I did.”
Since 2006, Ozone Sports Institute and Ozone Christmas Baseball Camp have been the teaching outlets for the Owings brothers. Run year-round by Josh and Jon Mark, Micah has used his offseasons to come back and help out in any way he can with the camps.
The Christmas camps, which have been held at Riverside Military Academy, help teach children aged 7-13 the fundamentals of baseball. The children receive instruction from some big names, including former MLB pitcher and Gainesville High graduate Cris Carpenter along with minor league second baseman Will Maddox, former Atlanta Brave Matt Tuiasosopo. Micah’s younger brother Jon Mark, who was an outfielder in the minors, coaches at the camp as well.
It really began as the O Bros Holiday Camp — a tiny operation stationed at Gainesville High School — in 2004, one offseason experiment for the brothers during Micah’s college career at Tulane. It eventually grew into a year-round institution now known as the Ozone Sports Institute.
“We felt like we had a lot to offer, not just as ballplayers, but as the full package — as an athlete from an offseason training perspective, to on the field, to hopefully help kids mentally and spiritually with the pressures of the game, but also life,” Micah said of the camp, now in its 14th year. “That’s what it’s become.”
Their vision branched out into a travel ball program, too, launching the “Ozone Warriors” back in 2011. The program helps more developed ballplayers get the exposure they need for college scholarships, among other opportunities beyond high school. Owings said they currently have multiple teams in the area competing at the national level.
Looking back, Owings now has even more admiration for the coaches and influential figures who helped him throughout his baseball life, especially Carpenter.
“We’re giving back from what we experienced and what we’ve been blessed to be a part of, the journey,” Micah said. “That’s the cool part for me, seeing these kids getting college scholarships now, you know? They’re winning championships. They are succeeding. … (For) a lot of them, this is an opportunity to make something of themselves. That’s been the rewarding part for me.”
As for the 36-year-old's personal future, it’s uncertain if a return to professional baseball or coaching in the minors is still in the cards for Owings. What he does know, however, is that the future of Ozone Sports is bright.
“My brothers are very, very good at what they do, and they have a big vision that I might be able to participate and help with,” Owings said.