Gainesville grad Micah Owings thought his baseball career at Ivey-Watson field ended when he graduated nearly 20 years ago. Fellow Red Elephants alumnus Jared Smith thought the same after leaving the school in 2018.
But when the Gwinnett Tides collegiate summer team was relocated from Georgia Gwinnett College to Ivey-Watson last week, both had a chance to come home.
“It’s crazy being able to come back,” Smith said. “It’s a great feeling.”
Smith — one of three catchers on the Tides roster — joined the team on the recommendation of his travel ball coach Owings, who will be handling pitching coach duties with the Tides.
Owings’ own involvement with the team stems from his relationship with head coach Eric Patterson, who Owings played and roomed with when both were at Georgia Tech.
“(Patterson) called me when he took the head coaching position and asked me if I’d come on and help him as a pitching coach,” said Owings, who spent time as a starting pitcher in his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds. “I agreed, and here I am.”
At the time, the team was still slated to play at Georgia Gwinnett College, but when Owings heard things weren’t working out there as planned, he put in a call about Ivey-Watson and to the commissioner of the Sunbelt League — which the Tides are a part of. Everything happened to work out, and the originally Gwinnett-based team had a new home.
Owings played a major role in orchestrating the move, but it still came as a surprise to Smith.
“We were playing the Patriots at Marietta, and coach Eric (Patterson) said new home field is Ivey-Watson,” Smith said. “My face lit up I was so excited.”
Both former Red Elephants relished the chance to return to a field that is filled with memories. The banners are down for the summer, but Owings hasn’t forgotten the two state championship teams he played with in his days at the school.
When the Tides kicked off their home schedule last Friday, all those memories came rushing back for Owings.
“(I remembered) just being able to play on two of the best teams, my junior season and my senior season, in the country and arguably all time in high school, especially in Georgia,” he said. “Tons of great memories.”
It was a special moment for Smith, too. Although his history with the field is much more recent, the emotions of returning to the field he grew up playing on were just as potent.
“Goosebumps,” he said of his feelings at the team’s home opener.
With the season now underway, it’s back to work for Owings, Smith and the rest of the Tides as the players aim to return to college better than when they left. A good summer is especially important to Smith, who after redshirting his freshman year at South Georgia State College, is looking for a new school next season.
His goals this summer — outside of finding a new college program to play for — are relatively simple.
“Improve on everything I can, help my team win, and just keep a positive mindset,” he said.
Owings has personal goals as well. With expansive playing experience at both the collegiate and professional level, he hopes to impart some of what he’s learned onto the next generation of players and set them up for success as they continue their college careers.
Getting do that in front of a hometown backdrop is just a bonus.
“If I can send them back better pitchers, better players than how they got here this summer and give their school club a chance to help them, then I did my job,” Owings said.