A severe injury nearly ended McKay Christensen's athletic career, but now the Angels have intervened.
McKay, an elder in the Clovis 1st Ward, Fresno California North Stake, was a sophomore - and an exceptional athlete - at Clovis West High School, when he suffered a knee injury - a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Similar injuries have slowed or ended the careers of many athletes.McKay eventually regained full use of his knee and recently signed a contract to play baseball in the California Angels organization - after serving a mission. He left in late July to serve in the Japan Tokyo South Mission.
McKay's injury happened shortly after he finished an outstanding sophomore campaign as a running back on the football field. He had a record-breaking season thanks to his ability to cut quickly and his speed.
Then it was time for basketball. He was participating in a scrimmage when he tore his knee.
According to his father, Steve Christensen, doctors told McKay, " `We're not certain we can get you back to 100 percent.' McKay was pretty discouraged. He spent a lot of time reading the scriptures and fasting. He asked for a priesthood blessing and it was a powerful spiritual experience."
While struggling through the physical and emotional stress caused by the injury, McKay made a personal commitment to the Lord, according to his father, that "if he could have 100 percent use of his knee, he would try to do whatever the Lord asked no matter how hard it seemed."
He eventually came back as strong as ever in athletics, especially in baseball. Capping off his awards, he was recently named to the first team of USA Today's high school all-America baseball team.
McKay finished his senior season in high school with a .500 batting average, 6 home runs and 23 runs batted in. He was proclaimed California's baseball player of the year. During his high school career, he successfully stole every base he attempted - 62 - and was called the fastest high school baserunner by Baseball America.
Because of those credentials, he faced a tremendous challenge to his resolve to the Lord.
As last June's professional baseball draft approached, McKay was contacted by several teams and told he could be a high draft choice, his father said, and could command a signing bonus of around a million dollars.
McKay immediately met and overcame the challenge. To make sure there was no misunderstanding, he sent a letter to each major league baseball team prior to the draft.
"When things started heating up, it came to a point where I had to let all the teams know about my mission," he explained.
"I had already decided that because of the blessings I have and my relationship with my Heavenly Father, I would go on a mission. Whatever happened in baseball would have to be worked in around my mission."
His father noted, "McKay has always felt like he made a covenant that night a few years ago and the Lord kept his part, so he asked, `How could I ever go back on what I promised.' "
For McKay, the answer was made easier because, "I've wanted to go on a mission since I knew what it meant to serve a mission."
The California Angels received one of McKay's letters, but decided he was worth picking up anyway. They drafted him with their first pick, number six overall.
The Angels have told McKay that when he returns from his mission he will spend some time in the lower minor leagues to brush up on his skills and then move up from there.
"Hopefully it won't be too long before I'll be in the majors," he said.
The Angels' move cost the BYU football team one of its top recruits. McKay had signed a letter-of-intent to play wide receiver or running back for the Cougars. Picking BYU over Stanford, the speedster would have followed in the footsteps of his brother Steve, who finished his football eligibility at BYU last season.
McKay's high school football credentials were as impressive as those in baseball. His senior season he tied a Northern California record with 44 touchdowns while racking up 2,600 all-purpose yards for his 14-0 team. He was named Northern California football player of the year.
But even though the Angels were willing to wait two years before putting McKay on the baseball field, they insisted he stay away from the football field altogether.
"It's really disappointing. I'll miss being able to play for BYU, and I'll miss going to school there," he said. "It's something I've struggled with. But I feel like baseball is where the real future is. I love baseball and playing in the pros is the ultimate dream for a kid."
His mother, Victoria, said, "We're so grateful the Angels have allowed McKay to go on a mission. They have been supportive and acknowledged, along with us, that it will be a great growing experience for him."