CARTERSVILLE, Ga. - For head coach Taylor Hightower and his 6-4-3 DP Cougars 14u team, the mission is simple: play the game the right way, learn from mistakes, and have fun. This sentiment is one of the main things preached throughout the Marietta-based 6-4-3 DP organization.
Hightower was a standout baseball player at nearby Cartersville High School, and he we went on to play collegiately at the University of Mississippi. Like many of the other coaches and individuals involved with the 6-4-3 family, he played travel baseball for Danny Pralgo, the founder of the organization. The experience Hightower had playing for Pralgo and the recognition of the incredible baseball mind Danny possesses, ultimately pushed him to become a part of the organization following the end of his playing career.
“Something 6-4-3 does, is they make you want to come back, and that goes from players, parents, and coaches,” said Hightower. “They make you want to come back because it’s such a positive atmosphere.”
“It all goes back to Danny Pralgo. He’s the straw that stirs the drinks. We all came up through Danny, and there is a reason we all came back just because it was fun. As simple as that sounds, that’s what it was.”
When watching a 6-4-3 academy team play, it’s easy to see that they play a unique style of baseball. The game is always in motion. Numerous times a game they steal, hit and run, and sacrifice bunt. Every person in their lineup can be called upon at any time to do any one of these things. They truly give themselves more chances to score in each game, while they also put a great deal of pressure on the defense. More times than not, it works in their favor.
“We do it because kids understand that we’re not always going to hit homerun, we’re not always going to hit doubles, but here’s a way that we can utilize our offense to still produce runs.”
“Some of these guys have never played that brand of baseball, and it’s fun when they see it work. That’s the key. We’re going to fail. We’re going to fail. We’re going to fail, but we’re going to keep doing it. Then, when we have success, all of a sudden we buy into it, and they start to believe.”
One of the main things the coaches in the organization stress continuously to their players is responding positively to failure. Baseball is a game where a batter can fail on average seven times out of ten for fifteen years and still be a Hall of Famer. When looking for players, the 6-4-3 coaches believe that a player’s mindset and how he handles adversity is just as important as his skill as a ballplayer.
“Every tryout we look at body language,” stressed Hightower. “We look at how he carries himself. We look at when he does make an error during warm-ups or whatever, how does he respond.”
The 14u Cougars have not only benefitted from the 6-4-3 style of play, but they have also accepted it and bought into it. That was especially shown off today in their second round pool play game in the 14u PG/EC Invitational. The Cougars, behind a phenomenal outing by starting pitcher Hunter Reaid, cruised to an 8-0 victory at Woodland High School. Reaid went six innings and allowed only two hits. A big offensive performance by Ben Harris and Hugh Chapman, who combined for five hits and five RBI, told the tale of the game.
“Hunter Reaid is just a strike thrower,” raved Hightower. “There is no mystery. In these tournaments, there are big ballparks, wood bats, and we just want to attack the strike zone. And, Hunter has the capability to do that with three pitches.
Reaid’s outing was exactly what a team who expects to make a deep run in the tournament needed. He not only saved his team from using many pitchers in the game, but by only throwing 43 pitches, it is almost a certainty that Reaid, one of the Cougars best pitchers, will be able to be called upon again later in the tournament.
“I know it’s a lot of games spread out over a week, but still though, the fact that you have your best arms armed up for bracket play, it gives you a huge chance,” exclaimed Hightower.
Hightower has been pleased with his team’s performance thus far after a 2-0 start to the tournament. As a young coach, he wants to help his kids reach their full potential, and he wants to be a positive influence on them. Understanding that most of these kids are just about to start their high school careers has been key in the way Hightower has coached the team.
“The biggest thing is I try to always remember what it was like when I was 14, and I’m still pretty young, so it’s not that far away. But, also too, always remembering that these kids feel pressure. They feel pressure from their parents. They feel pressure from their high school coach. They put pressure on themselves.”
“It’s kind of my job to alleviate that pressure to take it off of them. So, I like to stay patient. I like to stay relaxed.”
As the Cougars head into tomorrow’s pool play finale, they are eager to continue playing what they call 6-4-3 baseball. When this team gets going, they are hard to stop. It may be a good idea for other teams to start taking note of the 6-4-3 DP brand.