Last month, Ozzie Guillen and his wife, Ibis, took a trip to Troy, New York, to visit their youngest son, Ozney, who is in his first season as a manager for the Tri-City ValleyCats, the Astros’ short-season affiliate in the New York-Penn League.
Ozney, 27, was still getting his footing as a minor-league manager, but he was confident the ValleyCats could notch their first victory of the season at their home opener after they lost their first two games and had a third one postponed by rain.
Ozney proudly gave his parents an exclusive tour of his new stomping grounds. To be frank, it’s nowhere near as glamorous as the major-league facilities, but it’s a start.
At the end of the tour, Ozney sat behind his desk in his managerial office, while Ozzie took a seat on the couch.
Oh, how the roles have reversed.
“I had a little success in baseball and I never cried myself,” Ozzie said. “But . . . when you see one of your kids doing something they like, doing something they want — and I saw him on the field and he made me so proud, I started crying.”
Ozney practically grew up in major-league clubhouses. He followed Ozzie like a shadow. Ozney used to sit in on meetings in his father’s office. He enjoyed watching Ozzie throw batting practice from the dugout and relished his job as the Sox’ batboy.
Ozney always had major-league aspirations to be like his father. But his playing career didn’t quite pan out.
Ozzie was a top prospect from Venezuela at 16 and ascended into a three-time All-Star and a World Series champion as a manager in 2005. Ozney was drafted by the Sox in the 22nd round in the 2010 draft and never played reached above Class AA.
During this past winter-league season in Venezuela, Ozney landed himself on the disabled list after he dislocated his shoulder for the third time. He knew his time as a ballplayer had come to an end.
Guillen realized it was far-fetched to believe he would make it to the big leagues as a player. The rigorous and inconvenient travel paired with a lack of playing opportunities started to wear the youngest Guillen boy down.
“My body couldn’t take playing anymore,” Ozney said. “My size and the way I played wasn’t the best combination. So I had injuries, my shoulder popped out three times and that was like the end of it. I was like, ‘This is tiring. I want to enjoy my life.’ ”
Ozney finally told Ozzie, who also happened to be his manager at the time, that he was done. Ozzie advised Ozney to slow down and make sure this was the right decision. But the reality of the situation was that Ozney spent most of his time on the team being a teacher, helping the younger players in all aspects of the game and life.
“I’m going to try a different way [to the majors],” Ozzie remembers his son telling him. “I love to coach, I love to manage. And I’m going to send other people I know my resumé and talk.”
Ozney eventually landed a phone interview with the Astros, who were more than impressed with what Ozney had to offer.
“Ozney seemed passionate about the game,” said Astros fundamental coordinator Jason Bell, who was part of the hiring process. “He spoke well, spoke both languages and was open to learning. He wanted to learn our system, and he checked all the boxes for someone who didn’t have a lot of coaching experience. We felt like he was someone we could mold.”
Ozney was shocked he got the job. The first person he called was his father.
“Dad, we made it,” he said fighting back tears. “They gave me the job.”
Ozzie cried, too.
“That day, his life changed,” Ozzie said. “I see a different kid. He’s happy all the time. . . . In the past, he had more bad days than good days. I had the opportunity to be with him a lot because I was his manager for three years and I don’t think he was happy at all. He had a lot of problems because he thought he can do more but he never had the opportunity. And now when this opportunity happened, I see more happy.”
But Ozney was in for a reality check in the minors. As Ozzie notes, Ozney grew up flying charter planes, eating clean meals in the clubhouse and being catered to. The minor leagues don’t have that same luxury.
“I’m a secretary, I’m a boss, I’m a leader, a father, a psychologist,” Ozney said. “It’s interesting.”
Ozney is a man of many hats. He’s in charge of everything from managing the game to helping maintain the field to making sure his players — most of whom are under 23 — stay out of trouble.
“It’s a lot of work,” Ozney said. “It’s a daily grind. If you enjoy your job, it doesn’t turn into a job. I enjoy my job every day, I thank God that I can put on my uniform -every day and go out and compete.
“Being a player who struggled a lot in my career with injuries and hitting sometimes and even media stuff, I’m glad that I’m a person that my players can look up to and help guide them.”
For Ozzie, a man who claims he never cried during his major-league career, the last few months have been quite emotional.
During last month’s trip, Ozzie — with Ibis by his side — got to watch Ozney get his first professional win as a manager. It happened on June 17, one day after Ozney gave his parents a tour of his new digs. They wept in the stands and then were teary-eyed when they greeted Ozney on the field.
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t really think about it much [of the win],” Ozney said. “I know it meant a lot to my family. But being able to share it with them and having them there for me was a big deal for me, just to see the happiness in their faces.
“[My dad] was emotional. He was holding it back a little bit, but he just said, ‘Enjoy the process. Enjoy it, don’t do it for the wrong reasons, do it for the players, don’t do it for yourself.’ So it was cool, we went to Applebee’s after. It was fun.”
And Ozzie believes this is only the beginning for his son.
“Ozney is going to be better than me managing-wise,” he said. “You know why? Because he’s learning. I learned managing in the big leagues. He’s learning where he should be learning. He’s learning how to survive, how difficult it is.”