Born in Annemasse, France, Owen Ozanich at a young age moved to the U.S. where he grew up in South Burlington, Vermont. Like many boys his age growing up in the U.S., he fell in love with the game of baseball. He found success early on as a little leaguer as the winning pitcher of the Vermont state championship game. In high school this trend continued as he led the South Burlington Rebels to a 20-0 record and the Vermont State Championship. In the fall of 2007 Ozanich made the University of Vermont Catamounts (NCAA D1) as walk-on and appeared in 35 games over two seasons.
Upon graduating from college, he continued to play baseball in a men’s league in Vermont before discovering that there is baseball in France and that he could use his dual citizen to jumpstart a career overseas. In 2011 he joined the top team in the French Elite League, the Rouen Huskies, and has been with them ever since as one of the league’s top pitchers year-after-year.
During the offseason of 2011 and 2012, Ozanich took his game to Australia to play for the East Torrens Red Sox of the South Australian Baseball League. During his tenure in Australia he also was called up to play in the Australian Baseball League for the Adelaide Bite. Ozanich has used his French status to play on the French National Team at the WBC qualifiers in 2012 where he pitched thee scoreless innings against South Africa and surrendered no hits. He has also pitched for France in two European championships, most recently in 2014 where he led the French National Team to a 4-1 record in the first round with an era of 0.90 after allowing only 1 earned run in 10 innings work. The highlight for Ozanich in the tournament was getting the win over Germany in front of their home crowd in Regensburg after allowing only one run over 5 innings of work. He again went 5 solid innings in a crucial final first round game against Belgium where he allowed no runs in the no decision win. France went on to the second round to finish a very respectable 6th behind the likes of the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Czech Republic and Germany.
Probably the coolest experience of his career was in March 2015, when he was named to Team Europe and travelled to play against Japan at the Tokyo Dome.
When Ozanich first arrived in France, the Huskies had won 7 of the previous 8 championships. In 2011, 2012 and 2013 they made that 8, 9 and 10 championships out of 11. In 2014 they lost in the semi final to Paris University who then eventually bowed out to the Senart Templiers in the final. In 2015, Ozanich and his teammates were looking to regain their spot at the top and set out to acquire an import pitcher that would help them do that. The Huskies contacted the International Baseball Community who then passed on a name that would catch the eye of the Huskies President Xavier Rolland……. Jeff McKenzie.
In 2011 McKenzie was a sophomore outfielder for a small community college in California before he was converted to pitcher for the state championship when his team was out of arms after taking the backdoor route to the championship. He went on to pitch a complete game victory in the championship and was named tournament MVP. From there McKenzie went on to a successful college career as a pitcher for Cal State Bakersfield where he won pitcher of the year both seasons he was there. In 2013, he was drafted in the 28th round by the Chicago White Sox and continued to find success that year in rookie ball as he posted a 4-0 record with an impressive 1.44 ERA in 25 innings pitched. In 2014 he bounced back and forth between rookie and A ball before being released. After being released and trying to decide what his next career move would be, McKenzie found himself questioning his passion for the game.
“After playing two years of minor league ball, I kind of lost a little bit of the passion for the game. It kind of became more of job than something I enjoyed playing. I though maybe I could find a way to get the passion back for the game. So I thought why not try to go play overseas somewhere.”
I though maybe I could find a way to get the passion back for the game. So I thought why not try to go play overseas somewhere.”
That is when he spoke to IBC member and friend Jonathan Montoya about how he took his career overseas to Austria. That is when McKenzie discovered the International Baseball Community website and hired the IBC placement service. “France has been great, the people are really nice. Being here has definitely sparked back the passion for the game. All these French guys on the team all work and play ball. We goof off, have a good time and go out have some fun and play some ball.”
We goof off, have a good time and go out have some fun and play some ball.”
The season started off strong for the pair as McKenzie and Ozanich led the Huskies to a sweep in their opening weekend over the Beaucaire Knights with 11-0 and 8-1 wins. McKenzie pitched 7 innings in the 11-0 win allowing no runs (over IBC placed member Kevin Bosson) while Ozanich went five innings allowing only 1 run in his 8-1 win.
A couple weeks later Ozanich threw a perfect game against the French Cubs in a 1-0 pitchers duel against another placed IBC member, Rainer Oliveros. The Huskies never looked back as they cruised to a 27-1 record behind the one-two Ozanich-McKenzie punch.
To illustrate the impact these two had on the club’s success, let’s take a look at the 2015 numbers (including playoffs):
ERA: McKenzie – 0.44 (1st), Ozanich – 1.38 (3rd)
WINS: McKenzie – 12 (1st), Ozanich – 11 (2nd)
SO: McKenzie – 120 (1st)
Shutouts: McKenzie – 5 (1st)
Opp. Bat. Avg.: McKenzie – .157 (1st), Ozanich – .181 (2nd)
In fact, at the end of the regular season McKenzie had an unprecedented era of 0.20 and had not been beaten.
In the semi final, the Huskies were able to avenge their 2014 early departure that was at the very hands of the same team they faced in 2015, PUC (Paris University). They swept the series in three straight 7-5, 7-5, and 6-1.
This led to the dramatic final series against the Montpellier Barracudas and long term IBC member Rob Herrmann. On paper the Huskies were the better team but the first game match-up between McKenzie and the pitcher with the second best league era, import Will Musson, was guaranteed to be a close game. With the score 0-0 going into the bottom of the 3rd, a hit by Herrmann combined with a lapse in the Huskies defence spotted Montpellier a 2-0 lead on two unearned runs. Musson continued to pitch his best game of the year, not allowing the Huskies to string any hits together while his defence backed him up by not allowing any errors. In the 7th, Montpellier sealed the victory by adding two more insurance runs to make it 4-0 and handing McKenzie his first loss on the season despite 10 strikeouts over 7 innings work and his efforts at the plate going 2-4.
In game two, like any good teammate (and roommate) would do, Ozanich had McKenzie’s back. Ozanich seemed locked in early on as he struckout two of the first three batters he faced. This pace continued throughout the game and Montpellier never really posed a threat at any point while Ozanich went on to pitch his best game of the year going 8 solid innings, striking out 10 while allowing no walks in what was an intense, nail biting 3-0 win. The Huskies meanwhile had broken a lot of bats and contacted IBC for quick order of Sam Bats. They arrived on the Thursday before games 3 & 4 that following weekend, just in time to swing them in batting practice. With the new bats in hand, the Huskies hoped to put up more of a fight against Musson in the rematch on home their home field.
It only took two innings before the Huskies could get to Musson as they smacked a single and two doubles for 2 runs in the bottom of the inning in front of a good sized home crowd of over 700. A Husky error and a Herrmann single and RBI cut the lead in half in the top of the third. Three more hits in the bottom of the 4th brought the Huskies lead back to two at 3-1. The Huskies added one more in both the 5th and the 6th while McKenzie held the Barracudas at bay 5-1. The Barracudas added one in the top of the 8th only to be answered by a Husky home run in the bottom half of the inning bringing the score to 6-2. In the 9th the McKenzie was relieved from the game and the Barracudas managed to put a scare into the home crowd as they staged a minor comeback scoring two runs. In the 4th game of the best of five series, Ozanich took to the mound again and started off the same way he did the previous game, with two strikeouts in the first inning. The Barracudas got on the scoreboard first with a run in the top of the 2nd only to be answered by 5 runs in the bottom half off of three hits and two uncharacteristic Montpellier errors. The teams exchanged goose eggs for a few innings before the Barracudas staged another late inning comeback that ran Ozanich from the mound in the 8th with a 6-1 lead. They managed to shorten it to 6-3 going into the 9th but McKenzie came in to close it out after pitching 8 innings the day before to secure this final win and help the Huskies re-gain their 11th title in 13 years. See the video here:
McKenzie was awarded pitcher of the year and league MVP while Ozanich was voted the MVP of the championships series. The club received a lot of media coverage throughout the season and for their 11th championship since 2003.
Now that the season has concluded McKenzie is headed back home for the off season to contemplate his next move. Obviously, when considering his numbers, McKenzie is a bit too strong for the league. However in 2016 the Huskies are 1 of 10 clubs that will play in the new professional league in Europe, the Euro Baseball League, and McKenzie would be up against some the top teams in Europe including clubs from the Netherlands and Italy.
Ozanich remains in France year-round to coach at the newly formed Normandy Baseball Academy which has a new batting cage complex that was funded by MLB’s Baseball Tomorrow Fund. He will also be preparing for a busy baseball year in 2016 which will see him in Panama for the World Baseball Classic qualifier in March, travelling Europe with the Huskies for Euro League Baseball competitions, travel to the Netherlands for the European Championships in September and of course his regular season games in the French Elite League as the Huskies seek their 12th championship. In this two part podcast interview, I interview McKenzie early in the season for the first 20 minutes and then follow up with a post season chat with both Ozanich and McKenzie which takes up the last 25 minutes.
Below is an old interview with Ozanich from back in early 2013.