"Let's play ball!" yelled Evan Harter of the Batavia New York Branch Primary while Vernon Law, a Latter-day Saint and pitcher for the 1960 World Series Championship team, made the first pitch.
The first Batavia Muckdogs Mormon Night "hit a home run" July 15 as the minor league took on the Tri-City Valley Cats. Brother Law, the Rochester Mormon Choir and members of local stakes were participants and spectators at the game.
Attendance at the local Batavia Muckdogs baseball game was double the usual Monday night turnout. Mormon Night is the longest-running tradition of the Los Angeles Dodgers stadium, and it has been replicated all over the nation in large cities. Elder Lee Snarr, who organized the event, said this was the first "small market" attempt, which allowed for a more all-encompassing "Mormon" flavor.
Elder Snarr and his wife, Sister Sydney Snarr, a senior missionary couple in the New York Rochester Mission, are avid baseball fans and the idea for Mormon Night with the Batavia Muckdogs came when their mission president suggested they use their unique interests during their mission service.
With his ability to talk baseball, Elder Snarr hit it off with Muckdogs' general manager, Travis Slick. Next, he invited members of the Rochester, Buffalo and Palmyra stakes to the game.
Brother Law, who came from Provo, Utah, for the event, was interviewed by four major radio stations and several local newspapers during his week-long stay. He discussed his baseball career, Mormon Night and even the Church's ongoing Hill Cumorah pageant near Palmyra.
"I have always been missionary-oriented, and so I enjoyed every minute of it," Brother Law said.
Elder Snarr asked a former advertising partner to make flyers inviting the public to Mormon Night, the pageant and devotionals with Brother Law.
"We tried to get the media behind this," Elder Snarr explained. "It wasn't just a Mormon deal, it became kind of a community event."
Brother Law said his favorite part was how local missionaries came and brought their investigators to meet him.
He arrived at the Batavia Muckdogs baseball game early, but a line had already formed. People wanted to meet a man who helped lead the underdog Pittsburgh Pirates to victory over the favored New York Yankees in the 1960 World Series.
"Even though that's Yankee country I had people come up and say, 'We forgive you for beating our Yankees,'" Brother Law said.
In addition to the action on the field and the appearance by Brother Law, local members helped to make Mormon Night unique. Some brought friends and neighbors to the game, and others shared their talents just as Elder Snarr had done. Elder Cody Goedel, serving in the mission, did a traditional Native American hoop dance on the Muckdogs dugout before the game and the Mormon Rochester Choir provided the pre-game rendition of the national anthem.The Rochester 2nd Ward bishop, Karl-Erik Jansson, sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," and his sons, Morgan and Carter, sang "God Bless America" at the seventh inning.
Two honorary bat boys from neighboring stakes, Ken Francis and Arthur Lewis, came early to the game to don official uniforms and receive instructions.
Throughout the game, people could win free hot dogs by answering trivia questions about Latter-day Saint sports figures. Local elder missionaries also "pitched" baseballs into the crowd between innings.
After the game ended, Homer the Muckdog mascot helped the Primary-age children "run the bases" while Primary leaders acted as "third base coach" and a World Series champion cheered them at home plate.
Brother Law also gave Sunday devotionals at the stake centers in Rochester and Buffalo. Several visitors of other faiths attended the Batavia Branch sacrament meeting July 14 to hear Brother Law speak.
The Muckdogs lost the game, but Elder Snarr considered the project a success.
"It was more than just a ballgame," he said. "It was Mormon Night."