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Cub hits home run in family -- daughter's illness helps baseball player re-examine priorities in life

In the clubhouse at the 1988 All-Star Game, former baseball great Willie Stargell approached first-time all-star Vance Law of the Chicago Cubs and said he had a watermelon in the back room if Law wanted some.

They laughed, remembering an experience that occurred seven years earlier, when the veteran Pittsburgh Pirate slugger gave a young LDS rookie some wise advice. Stargell was familiar with Law and his beliefs, having played with Law's father, Vernon, a pitcher with the Pirates in the 1950s and '60s."I was about to bite into a piece of watermelon when he StargellT said, `You better not do that. The boys spiked it to see if you would get drunk,' " Law recalled. "It made me realize how even superstars notice differences in lifestyles."

At 31, middle age for a baseball player, Law is having the best year of his professional career. As of Aug. 16, he ranked seventh in the National League with a batting average of .296. He has 119 hits, eight home runs and 56 runs batted in. He has hit above .300 most of the year, and his fielding is as solid as ever. In July, he was selected to play in the All-Star Game.

"I've never played up to my expectations until this year," he said. "It's neat to be considered one of the best players in the game. It felt great to be sitting among the stars of the game."

Two years ago, he preferred sitting with his wife as they waited for news about their then 4-year-old daughter, Natalie. He had walked away from the last two months of the 1986 season to be at his daughter's side as she underwent surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor. The doctors removed 99 percent of the tumor, leaving only a small portion located on a critical part of her brain.

"I wondered if life would ever be normal again," said Law's wife, Sharon. "We wondered if we would ever be able to leave Natalie with a babysitter again. But time heals all wounds. Granted, Natalie will have challenges, but that's OK, we'll face those when they come."

Natalie had to undergo chemotherapy and an array of tests.

"When they would come to take her for a test, she would start screaming," Sister Law recalled. "Children are so vulnerable. You can't change what they go through - even though you want to take away the pain. You just have to have faith."

That kind of experience, her husband added, opens a person's eyes to how fragile and precious life is, especially when a child becomes sick after being healthy.

"It hurt her to see Natalie go through those things," Sister Law said. "But if it would have happened any other way, it probably would not have brought me to where I am today. You can worry about something only so much. The rest you have to leave up to the Lord. It made me really aware about how much our Heavenly Father cares for us."

Sister Law said the experience caused them as a family to step back and look at their priorities.

"Loved ones definitely come first because you don't know what the next hour will bring," she said. "Vance realizes baseball is important because it provides for his family, but if he had to give it up, he would. He'd be disappointed because he enjoys it, and it's a dream come true. But for Natalie, he would do it."

Recently Law's 2-year-old Andrew was being a little fussy in sacrament meeting at the North Shore 1st Ward near Chicago. He took the boy in his arms and rocked him.

"I noticed one of the full-time missionaries look over his shoulder and notice Vance holding Andrew," Sister Law said. "He nudged his companion, and the other elder put on his glasses and looked back. I guess they were surprised to see that a big baseball player can be tender, too."

In baseball, Law had to climb from the bottom rung - the rookie leagues - to make it to the majors. He played four years in the minors and has spent six years in the major leagues with three teams. "I feel like every move I have made has been guided and has made me a better ball player," he said. His latest success in Chicago has sparked a lot of media attention.

"I've had many opportunities to talk about my beliefs," he said. "Just (recently) I had an interview with a Lakeshore suburban (Chicago) newspaper. The guy didn't want to know about baseball, he wanted to know about my lifestyle. He wanted to know what Mormons really believed and what we stand for."

Law has had one of the newspaper writers who regularly cover the Cubs ask him about the Church, and one of the bat girls has been taking the discussions in the Law home.

His willingness to share the gospel is reminiscent of his father, who represented the Church well during his career.

"I admire him so much for the reputation he set and the standards he set for himself," the son said.

The elder Law said his son is dedicated to the Church.

"He fulfills many speaking engagements for LDS groups," his father said. "He represents the type of person a Latter-day Saint young man should be."

His wife said his talents have placed him in the public's view, allowing his standards to stand out. The fan mail has increased through the year.

"People from all over the country can feel something different about Vance as a person," she said. "It makes you feel good inside to know they recognize that."

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