Closer to home: Christensen hangs up cleats, joins family business

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 12 2005 2:53 p.m. MDT

McKay Christensen rounds third to score in the sixth inning of an exhibition game against the Diamondbacks last March in Las Vegas.

Joe Cavaretta, Associated Press

No one should be surprised that McKay Christensen gave up a professional baseball career in the prime of life so he could take a real job working alongside his father and become something more than a baseball player. After all, this is the same guy who once passed up a million-dollar signing bonus from a professional baseball team to serve a church mission in Japan.

You can find him now on the job in Lehi planning the Traverse Mountain development, where he works and lives with his wife and two children. He gave up money, fame, prestige and a game for all of this.

"It wasn't," he explains, "what I wanted to do with my life."

Imagine that.

He began his baseball career with great fanfare; he left with barely any notice. Christensen, once a prize recruit of the BYU football and baseball teams and Major League Baseball, ended his eight-year professional baseball career in April of 2004 at the age of 28, almost exactly 10 years after he was made the sixth pick of the draft.

One day he was collecting three hits in five at-bats and driving in the winning run for the Cincinnati Reds' Triple A farm team, the Louisville Bats; the next day he was calling it quits and preparing to move to Utah. "It came as a complete surprise," Bats manager Rick Burleson told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "There was nothing I could say to change his mind."

Looking back, Christensen says, "Baseball has a way of swallowing up years of your life, and I didn't want it to swallow any more years. I didn't want to be a baseball player always. I didn't want it to be the only thing I did in my life. I know it's not typical for most people, but most people don't understand what baseball is really about. It's consuming. It requires a huge sacrifice. It's hard to ever become anything other than a baseball player. I knew a lot of guys who, when they were done with baseball, had nothing to go to."

As a kid, Christensen enjoyed riding in a truck with his father, Steve, while he oversaw his real estate development business. During baseball's off-season, Christensen continued to work with his father, who, along with his brothers, Jim and LaVar, were successful developers in their hometown of Fresno, Calif., before moving one by one to Utah.

"It's in my blood," says Christensen, who is working on the master plan for a development that will include up to 8,000 units and 4 million square feet of commercial real estate. "I've always loved building and developing. I've grown up with it."

In many ways, Christensen, who also plans to return to school to earn a degree, is starting where he left off when baseball interrupted. He had planned to go to college. He had aspired to be a doctor or join his father in the family business. He had planned to play football — his first love — and baseball for BYU. He had wanted to earn a degree. He hadn't seriously considered a baseball career until late in his senior year of high school. All that changed with the 1994 baseball draft.

He was widely recruited for baseball and football. During his senior year alone, he collected 2,600 all-purpose yards and a staggering 44 touchdowns, and was named Northern California football Player of the Year. In baseball he batted .500 and stole 62 bases in 62 attempts and was named to the all-American team. He was rated among the three or four best athletes in the baseball draft.

The baseball people told him he would be among the first players chosen for the draft and dangled a $1 million signing bonus in front of him if he skipped his LDS Church mission to come to work for them. When he announced that he would still serve a mission, the clubs balked, and Christensen was BYU-bound. The California Angels were so enamored with his athleticism and speed that they made him the sixth pick of the draft anyway. They offered Christensen a deal he couldn't refuse — riches and a two-year break to serve a mission.

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