Tug Pratt was deeply concerned over the recent coaching change within BYU baseball. Mike Littlewood’s sudden departure and his father’s promotion to interim head coach left him with an important question.

“Who’s going to coach third base?” Tug asked his dad. Third base is where the 5-year-old and his five siblings have grown accustomed to seeing their father when the Cougars are up to bat. With his new duties, Trent Pratt moved himself into the dugout to be closer to team.

“I told him Brent (Haring) was going from coaching first base to third base and our student assistant Noah Hill would go to first base,” Pratt said. “He’s OK. He told me that would work.”

The concerns of a little boy are just the tip of the iceberg for the Pratts, who have had a wild nine days, starting with a phone call the night of April 10.

“I got a call from BYU and they said coach (Littlewood) is resigning for personal reasons and that I was going to be the interim head coach moving forward,” Pratt said. “When it hit, I was like, ‘Oh man, can I do this? Am I ready for this?’”

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His wife Darice assured him that he was. “She said, ‘Just go be yourself and trust yourself that you can do it.’”

Athletic administrators Tom Holmoe and Brian Santiago broke the news to the team Monday afternoon, while Pratt and the remaining staff huddled up in the baseball office to regroup and prepare for a four-game trip to Nebraska.

A hectic time

“It’s been a little hectic. Nerve-racking at times,” Pratt said. “You start thinking about what’s next? I just resolved myself to the fact that what’s next doesn’t matter right now. It’s about right now and being here for our players. They are going through this too.”

The players responded by winning three of four games at Nebraska, all in come-from-behind fashion. Tuesday, BYU (20-13) will take its swings against Utah (20-14-1) at Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake before hosting San Diego Thursday through Saturday at Miller Park on campus.

“I feel like I have a great relationship with our players because I have spent a lot of time with them in the batting cages,” Pratt said. “They have told us ‘We are with you guys’ and that’s been great.”

Pratt spent 16 years as an assistant under Littlewood. The former coach was not only his boss, but his friend. The development has been challenging when considering on one hand his mentor is out and on the other, he’s been given a golden opportunity.

“It’s been tough,” Pratt said. “Luckily for me, Brent (Haring) and I have been together for 14 years on Mike’s staff (BYU and Dixie State) and that’s helped a lot. Mike’s support has been great. To know that the guy you worked for (16 years) believes in you and believes you can do it, helps tremendously.”

Driven to win

Just weeks after being released by the Philadelphia Phillies in the spring of 2006, Pratt had some big decisions to make. His accounting degree at Auburn wasn’t completed, Darice was home with twins, and he needed a job.

BYU assistant coach Trent Pratt, right, fist bumps a player during a Cougars game. | Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

So, he climbed into a delivery truck owned by his wife’s cousin and started driving.

“I’d go all over Southern Utah, but mostly around St. George, Mesquite and up to Zion,” Pratt said. “I delivered linens to the hotels and eventually toiletries and cleaning supplies.”

During those long days on the road, he considered his future.

“I knew I wasn’t playing baseball anymore and I was trying to figure out what to do next,” he said. “I needed to finish school. I had a year or two left for my accounting degree at Auburn. I also knew I wanted to coach, but I needed to find an avenue to do that. If coaching didn’t work out, I’d fall back on accounting.”

Littlewood was head coach at Dixie State and offered him a job that would pay for his schooling. When his degree was in hand, Littlewood offered him a full-time position on his staff and that is where Pratt has been until his phone rang on April 10 after a three-game sweep over Santa Clara.

Switching positions

As a young baseball player, Pratt wanted to play shortstop or third base, but it was a switch to catcher in the eighth grade that changed his life, both then and now.

“The baseball side of the job isn’t new to me. Baseball is baseball. It’s the stuff outside of baseball that is different. Mike gave me a lot of responsibility on the baseball side.” — Trent Pratt, BYU interim baseball coach

Pratt’s four years behind the plate at Arizona State and Auburn caught the attention of the Phillies and they selected him in the 12th round of the 2002 Major League Baseball draft.

Twenty years later, at age 42, he is still utilizing those skills.

“As a catcher you have to know where everyone is supposed to be,” Pratt said. “You have to know the game. You see the whole field. Everything is out in front of you. You study the batter’s tendencies, you assess the base runners’ speed, you have to have an understanding of all aspects of the game. It carries over into managing the game as a coach.”

Pratt watched Joe Torre, Joe Girardi and Mike Matheny, all former catchers, have success as big league managers and he believes he can do the same.

“The baseball side of the job isn’t new to me. Baseball is baseball,” he said. “It’s the stuff outside of baseball that is different. Mike gave me a lot of responsibility on the baseball side.”

The audition

It’s only natural for an interim coach to seek the job full time and Pratt is no different. The Cougars are 3-1 under his watch with a strong pitching staff and an offense that is improving. BYU is three games behind second-place San Diego, who the Cougars host this weekend. The top six teams qualify for the WCC tournament in late May in Stockton, California.

“We have to be a little more consistent at the plate,” Pratt said. “If you have watched this team from the start until now, we’ve improved a lot on offense. Now, it’s just about keeping that going.”

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Keeping the bats hot, the pitching on target and team morale in check. Sounds easy, right? Life for Pratt is no longer about coaching third base and trying to decide when to send a runner home. It’s a whole lot more.

“It feels like an audition, but we are not trying to think about that,” he said. “We’re just gonna go do the best we can and whatever happens is going to happen.”

Just keep Tug and the other kids in the loop and things will be fine.

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.

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