Serving Atlanta’s Southside with Their Own Place to Receive Quality Instruction
Big Stix Gamers President Mark Mortimer knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a consistently winning organization. A native of Atlanta, following three seasons at Georgia State, where he was a freshman All-American and batted over .400, Mortimer was drafted by the hometown Atlanta Braves in the 1997 MLB Draft. For five seasons, Mortimer was in the farm system of the most consistent winner in all professional sports, experiencing first-hand what it takes to sustain excellence day in and day out.
“With me coming through the Atlanta Braves organization, during a time where they won 13 division titles, being around that entire staff and organization just showed me when you have players that respect the game and respect the organization, you tend to get better teams out of it,” said Mortimer, who reached AAA with the Braves as an outfielder, catcher and first baseman.
Mortimer’s playing days came to an end in 2001, but his time with the Braves did not. For two years Mortimer served as a bullpen catcher for the perennial National League East champions, on the receiving end of the day-to-day preparation from future Hall of Famers Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz. With an inside perspective on how a dynasty is built, then taking in the work ethic of three of the game’s best-ever pitchers, Mortimer had endless knowledge to provide Georgia’s youth when he transitioned to the next stage of his baseball life.
Mortimer began working alongside Terry Pendleton as an instruction in an indoor facility on Atlanta’s north side. But the drive was more than an hour between Mortimer’s home and he thought to serve Atlanta’s southside with their own place to receive quality instruction. With this, the vision of Big Stix came.
In 2006, Mortimer founded the Big Stix Gamers with one team. Though Mortimer had the respect and esteem of many in baseball throughout the region, was able to lead a team with a pedigree few travel baseball coaches could rival, it was by choice to start with one team.
“I've always wanted to keep the program small, to be a lot more personable with the players, to have good relationships with every single one of them,” said Mortimer. “(I want to) try to create a family atmosphere where we care about the kids, care about what they're doing at the next level. We always keep in touch with our players.”
The Big Stix fielded six teams in 2017, one at 12U then one each at 15, 16 and 18U, and two at 17U. Mortimer says the benefit to having a smaller organization reduces conflict and friction where “the players trust the coaches, the coaches trust the players, the parents trust everybody and you always have a fun atmosphere.”
In addition to cohesion found in keeping everyone in the loop and on the same page, what Mortimer experienced with the Braves is another reason to keep a close-knit organization.
“That's kind of the character-building the Atlanta Braves showed me, they always cared about each and every player,” Mortimer said. “It didn't matter if you were a first-round draft pick or you signed as a free agent, or a senior sign that only signed for $1,000, they treated you the same way.
“That's how I try to treat all of my guys, and try to instill in them; respect the game, treat everybody the same. It doesn’t matter if he's a top-level prospect or a Division III prospect, or someone having a tough time getting into college, we treat everybody the same way.”
To the Big Stix, treating everyone the same means finding the best fit for them, while developing the overall person.
The Big Stix have an MLB alum in Hunter Strickland of the San Francisco Giants, and a first-round draft pick in Kyle Lewis, the 11th overall selection in the 2016 draft by the Seattle Mariners. But their alumni include players who have found success at all levels of baseball, from NAIA to DI, JUCO to DII and DIII. Mortimer says, it’s part of the Big Stix process of trying to develop kids and get them to the next level, but also how academics play in a role in future success, especially in Georgia with the HOPE scholarship, where the right fit can be found for anyone.
“It takes a while now to get the parents to understand the process of it,” Mortimer says. “It's not all about winning at this level, it's about the process and developing them the right way, to prepare them to get to high school baseball, then college baseball and then possibly professional baseball. It's a slow process you can't rush, you can't press.”
With the foundation of respecting the game and everyone involved, though smaller than some peers, Mortimer looks to keep the Big Stix Gamers among the best in travel baseball heading into a 13th year, a level of baseball consistency many in greater Atlanta know. Few better than he.