LITTLE ROCK, Ark – The Arkansas Travelers are making history this year. For the first time in the team’s history, they have a woman serving as the club’s general manager.
Her name is Sophie Ozier and she is on a mission to not only make a name for herself but for other women who are trying to break into a sport that has long been dominated by heavy hitters.
Opening Day at Dickey Stephens Ballpark in North Little Rock had fans excited to see their team in action, but long before the first pitch is thrown, another well-orchestrated team is hard at work, making sure everything is up and running smoothly.
Ozier is the person overseeing the controlled chaos. When asked if she ever imagined this kind of day growing up as a little girl in Cerro Gordo, Illinois, the 27-year-old rolled her eyes and laughed, before responding, “No, not at all.”
Growing up, Ozier enjoyed playing basketball, softball, and volleyball. But it was watching the Cardinals play in St. Louis with her family when she realized baseball was her true passion.
“My Dad was such a die-hard fan, so we wouldn’t just sit and watch the game,” she recalled. “We would watch the games and analyze everything, and he would teach me, ‘Okay, well they’re going to throw this pitch to this guy for this reason and they’re going to move the shortstop here to do this.’”
Those intimate moments with her father had a profound impact on Ozier’s future, but it wasn’t until her mom sat her down for a heart-to-heart conversation right before her high school graduation that she realized what she wanted to do.
“She was like, ‘Okay we need to figure out where you’re going to college. What do you like to do?’ And I was like, ‘Well I like watching Cardinals baseball,” she said. “I was kind of joking around with her and she was like, ‘What do you think you’re good at?’ And I said, ‘I think I’m pretty good working with people.’ And she said, ‘Why don’t you work in communications for the Cardinals?’ She just put it so simply like that, and I didn’t even know that was an option.”
Ozier hit the ground running after that conversation.
“A lot of people kind of laughed when I said I wanted to work for the Cardinals,” she said. “I want to work for a professional baseball team. They’re like, ‘Okay, sure kid. Go for it.’”
In 2015, while attending Webster University in St. Louis, she landed an internship with FOX Sports Midwest. That same year she also worked for the Metro Collegiate Baseball League.
One year later she interned with the St. Louis Blues and then got another internship with the River City Rascals, a professional baseball team in the Frontier League.
Not an easy task, especially considering it was in a field that has long been dominated by men.
In 2016, the Arkansas Travelers hired Ozier, and since that time she’s worked practically every position in the front office, except one. But that all changed in November of last year when the Travs gave her the position of general manager.
“It was an easy decision,” CEO Rusty Meeks said. “She’s earned this opportunity. She’s worked so hard to do this. She’s been with us for five years. She’s one of the most loyal people I know.”
Her promotion to GM is significant, especially when you consider that out of the 121 baseball teams in the minor leagues only four other teams have female general managers.
“I believe the culture is definitely changing, and women are getting opportunities in these positions, and they deserve them,” Meeks said.
Ozier agrees but also adds there is still a lot more work that needs to be done.
“I definitely don’t take it lightly. I’m lucky to be here, but at the same point we have to keep going,” she said. “We have to keep putting the messaging out that we need more females in the room. We need more females in that room making decisions.”
When it comes to gender parity, the minor leagues are ahead of the game, especially when compared to the majors, who are playing catch up. In November, Kim Ng made history when the Miami Marlins hired her as the first female general manager in the major leagues. And last month, Alyssa Nakken with the San Francisco Giants became the first female woman to coach in a major league game.
But Ozier pays no attention to the obstacles she’s had to overcome or the pushbacks she may have encountered. Instead, she stays focused on the goals that need to be accomplished.
“I’m pretty naïve, and I try not to look at it that way. I’m a person trying to pursue a career in sports, not a female trying to pursue a career in sports,” she said. “I think if you just keep looking at it that way, you’re not going to make excuses for yourself and you’re going to just keep your head down and do your work.”
Back at the ballpark on opening day, Ozier is running around the stadium concourse making sure everything is working properly and that fans are having a fun time, which they were.
She loves what she calls the “small feeling” of working in the minor leagues. So, for now, this rising star is just fine with where she is in the Travs’ starting lineup.
“I don’t know where I will be in five or ten years, but I do know that this job has been really challenging, and I like a good challenge, and I’m excited to do it.”