Baseball 'on hold' while he serves mission: Rich enticements of professional athletics are no match for desire to serve the Lord

Baseball's glittering gold and national media exposure could not dissuade young Aaron Thatcher of Paradise, Utah, from keeping one of his major personal goals - serving a mission for the Church.

The lanky 6-foot-7, 210 pound left-hander who throws blinding fastballs has accepted a call to serve as a missionary in the Brazil Sao Paulo Interlagos Mission. He entered the Missionary Training Center Sept. 1.Aaron, an Eagle Scout who turned 19 on May 18, enjoyed a career studded with striking achievements at Mountain Crest High School in Hyrum, Utah. This prep school honor student won 3-A all-state honors in basketball and baseball and was named Utah's Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year in 1992.

As president of the seminary at Mountain Crest, Aaron faced a monumental decision during the state baseball tournament his senior year. A playoff game was scheduled the same evening as seminary graduation. Aaron was in a dilemma. To him it seemed a major conflict.

Aaron told his coach he should be at the seminary graduation where he was to conduct the ceremonies and give a brief talk. He wouldn't be able to play in the game. Of course his coach was upset. Any coach would be disturbed if a top pitcher was not available.

Aaron was deeply troubled. He consulted his seminary principal, telling him about the struggle to make the right decision. The principal suggested that perhaps Aaron should forego the graduation ceremonies and pitch for the high school team.

As Aaron tried to salve his troubled mind, the weather came to his rescue. The day of the game, a heavy rainstorm came across the mountains, drenching the playing field. The game had to be postponed. Aaron's problem was solved. His priority list was still intact. Now he could fulfill both duties.

During Aaron's senior season, more than 20 major league scouts watched him pitch. That wasn't a surprise when his season statistics were considered. He pitched in 11 games, compiled a 1.36 earned run average, pitched 36 innings, gave up 32 hits, had 72 strikeouts, and concluded the season with five wins and one loss.

Aaron had explained to the scouts from the very beginning that one of his goals in life was to serve a mission for his Church. The scouts didn't believe him. They believed that once a team drafted him, he could be talked out of going on a mission.

But Aaron insisted they understand what he was saying. When it finally sunk in, the scouts couldn't believe what they heard. When they determined that Aaron meant what he had said, most scouts deserted him.

"Why, young man," one of the scouts said to him, "if you'd forget about that mission business you'd go in the first round of the draft."

Other scouts told him the same thing. But the Minnesota Twins stuck with Aaron, drafted him, and assigned him to the Fort Myers, Fla., rookie team in the Gulf Coast League.

Aaron was left with only 10 days to spend with his family between the end of the baseball season and the time he entered the Missionary Training Center.

Glen Tuckett, retiring athletic director at BYU and former baseball coach, insists that "by sacrificing what appears to be immediate aspirations, a young man who serves a mission accrues immeasurable future blessings."

And then Brother Tuckett added, "I've always said that if a young man could play ball before he went on a mission, he could play just as well if not better when he gets back."

Aaron explained: "I'm going on this mission not because it's the Mormon thing to do, nor because my Dad went. I'm going because I have a testimony of the gospel and the prophets have told us that every worthy and healthy young man should serve a full-time mission. I want to with all my heart. Some have told me I could serve a baseball mission, but that's not full time."

Aaron's parents, David and Kathy Thatcher, are elated he has accepted a call to serve a mission. Aaron is the second in the family of 12 children. The oldest child, Jeff, who has been a positive example and influence in Aaron's life, is now serving a mission in Kenya and will return home next April.

Aaron's mother praised her son saying, "Aaron was a good pitcher because he loved the Lord. That's where he gets his strength. He's not a cocky, egotistical young man. He's doing what the Lord wants him to do."

Aaron's baseball career is on hold for two years while he serves his mission. But those who know him best believe he'll be a better pitcher when he returns than he was before he went.

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