Growing up, Nick Lyon and Jon Brandt believed they were destined to play Major League Baseball.
They both made it to the minors and say they learned how to persevere through their failures in sports and are now succeeding in business.
Lyon was a big fish in a small pond at Monroe High School. He was one of the top baseball and football recruits in the 1997 national recruiting class. His decision came down to either playing football at Washington State University or baseball at North Carolina or UCLA. Lyon decided to become a Bruin. “I always liked football the best but hurt my knee senior year then had shoulder surgery in the winter,” he said. “Getting an education was more important for me and my family so I chose UCLA.”
Lyon met star pitcher Jon Brandt from Palo Alto, CA when the two landed at UCLA. Brandt came out of high school being one of the last draft picks in the 1997 MLB Draft to the Seattle Mariners. He knew he was not ready for the big leagues yet. “UCLA was the best combination for me,” Brandt said. “The other options were Ivy League schools because I was a good student but they didn’t have the athletic programs I wanted.”
Lyon came into UCLA competing for one outfielder position against 12 teammates. He did not earn the spot but the coaches loved his athleticism, so the 6-foot-4 inch right-hander moved to shortstop. “I haven’t played shortstop since t-ball,” Lyon said. “I was out of my comfort zone but it was great because I learned how to work and got experience at multiple positions. I learned how to cover, where to play and little details I didn’t know if I played outfield.”
In his first three seasons, Lyon saw time at every position except catcher, second base and pitcher. From 1998-2000, Lyon had a .288 batting average, 14 home runs, 58 RBIs and a .885 fielding percentage.
Brandt’s first season was humbling. “Growing up, I was always one of the best players on the team but going to UCLA with guys older than us, I struggled,” he said. “I was afraid to challenge guys and didn’t have good command of the strike zone. I was always falling behind.”
Brandt’s freshman stats included a 1-6 record, 9.27 earned run average and 45 walks and 40 strikeouts in 43.2 innings. However, that summer Brandt fixed his technique and came back stronger.
“Sophomore year I was a starter, and I threw Saturdays,” which is when the top pitchers usually throw in the Pac-12. “In my junior year, we had a guy come in younger than us, and he started the Friday night games. I got into a weird routine where I would either start on Fridays and close on Sundays or other way around. I was throwing a lot of innings.”
Brandt threw 183 innings in two seasons with an ERA of 4.13, a record of 14-9, and 169 strikeouts to 84 walks.
Lyon became a starting pitcher as a senior, joining Brandt to make one of the top pitching combos in the country. “I pitched all through youth sports and high school,” Lyon said. “I thought I was a good thrower, whether it was football, baseball or rocks. I thought someday I would pitch again so I liked it.”
Both entered the 2000 MLB Draft as pitchers. Brandt was selected in the 16th round by the San Diego Padres while Lyon was drafted in the 20th round by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Brandt’s career for the Eugene Emerald Single A team was a success in 2001. He pitched 45 innings with a record of 3-2, ERA of 3.20 and picked up 44 strikeouts to 13 walks. However, Brandt said he fell apart in spring training the following season. “I went to spring training and hit everybody with the ball,” Brandt said. “I went to batting practice for my high school team the day before spring training, and I was nervous about hitting people. I got in my head and got the yips.”
After struggling at spring training, the San Diego Padres released Brandt. He tried to fight his way back for a couple of years. “I worked on it for a while and remember standing in the bullpen at Stanford, and I knew I was done fighting my way back,” Brandt said.
Brandt felt like he did not reach his full potential. “Losing all of that in an instant was really difficult because it was my identity for fifteen years,” Brandt said. “All the people were asking how I was doing and were following me. For it to evaporate was a big shock to the system.”
On the other hand, Lyon looked to be destined to become an MLB pitcher. In his first season, he was throwing in the low 90s through 13 innings and did not give up a hit. In addition, he struck out a batter at least once each inning. However, an elbow injury changed his life forever.
“I stayed in St. Petersburg all year and came back the next spring training,” Lyon said. “I thought I was going to make the big league roster because that was the best I have ever thrown. I looked around and thought there are a few other guys here better than me but this is a joke.”
The Devil Rays waited until Lyon was fully healed before releasing him. He began looking for jobs.
During that time, Brandt moved to Bainbridge Island in January 2003 with limited academic success. “We did not study at all at UCLA,” Brandt said. We graduated with zero skills besides social skills acquired by being there and growing up so I was ill-prepared for a specific career.”
Yet, Brandt created Ozone International. “My family was a small investor in an Ozone company based out of Silverdale,” he said. “The guy was not going anywhere with his business so I came up here and thought if he can do it, we can do it better. There were only four or five people at the time and moved out of our house, which was the original office at the time.”
Brandt reached out to Lyon based on their trust and Lyon’s experience in sales. “Jon told me it’s 50/50 if we are going to make it or not but we sure can use you,” Lyon said. “I told him it sounds great. My wife never left California and heard 50/50 and thought what are we doing? It took a year or two before we moved up to Bainbridge and worked with Jon and his company.”
Since joining the business in 2013, Lyon has been promoted to chief operations officer. “We are a non-chemical food safety business,” Brandt said. “We deploy machines into the North American Food Industry, own them, monitor them online and provide this molecule that we make out of oxygen.” Ozone International has been successful because it has been providing a service to food processors. The company provides the technology to reduce chemicals in food and make them last longer.
Even though Lyon and Brandt’s baseball career did not fare how they expected, they learned from their failures and turned it into a successful business. “In sports, there is a ton of failure,” Brandt said. “In baseball, you have to be self-critical. UCLA is where I learned failure and where I had to learn how to work through it. It’s where resiliency showed up for me and relying on the value of the team I have now.”