Play ball! 'Mormon Night' is big in the big league

Published: Thursday, Aug. 13 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Audition finalists at Dodger Stadium, from left: Jared Allen (Ogden), KaDee Smith (Athens, Ga.), Michelle Baer (Mesa, Ariz.), Heather Elmer (South Jordan), Shea Owens (Sundance), JoDee Stott (South Ogden).

Jerry Garns , All

Dale Murphy recognized the signs.

There was the late-arriving crowd, the national anthem singers wearing black name tags and the 0-for-4 in the box score next to his name.

Then there was this sign, held up by a fan in the center field stands before one game: "Hey Murph, no success can compensate for failure at home plate."

It must be "Mormon Night."

During Murphy's 18-year major league baseball career, Mormon Night at the ballpark was a regular event for the Latter-day Saint convert and two-time Most Valuable Player. With Murphy representing the church on the field, fellow Latter-day Saints would fill the stands for a ballgame with an LDS flavor — everything from a general authority throwing out the first pitch to missionaries singing "The Star-Spangled Banner."

These days, several clubs across the country hold promotions tailored to Latter-day Saints. For those involved, the Mormon Night promotion and all its variations give the home team and area church members a chance to capitalize on the Mormon sense of community — and have some fun along the way.

Murphy's still having fun with the memories.

"I could always tell where the members of the church were sitting, because they didn't get there until the second inning," he said.

Murphy suspects that "Mormon Night" originated in 1978, his first full season with Atlanta. At the time, the Braves had two LDS players — Murphy and Barry Bonnell, the individual who baptized Murphy.

He remembers Elder Paul H. Dunn throwing out the first pitch that year, and Mormon Night became a regular event in Atlanta over the next decade. Other National League teams scheduled similar promotions for when Murphy and the Braves came to town.

Braves catcher Bruce Benedict once joked with Murphy about the nature of the promotion — "Does everybody get a free Mormon, or what?" he would ask — but the events gave church members a chance to represent themselves and connect with each other.

In addition to first pitches and national anthems, Murphy recalls church members being recognized for their community involvement. The theme of Mormon Night often focused on family and genealogy, and Murphy remembers being in Pittsburgh when Willie Stargell was presented with his family history. Murphy counts these as his favorite moments.

"It was always a touching thing for the recipients," he said.

What Murphy doesn't care to remember is his on-field performance. With fellow church members in the stands, Murphy would often press and end up hitless.

"You do feel kind of like you have a little extra something you're supposed to do there that night," Murphy said.

Firesides were often held in conjunction with Mormon Night and featured LDS athletes such as Gifford Nielsen, Lee Johnson, Jason Buck and Steve Young. When Murphy spoke, he would stand up and say, "Sorry, 0 for 4 again."

"It wasn't always my favorite night, but I hope everyone else had a good time," he said.

Murphy still gets invited by major league clubs to attend their LDS promotions, and he attends when he can. While serving as a mission president in Boston, Murphy chose about 20 missionaries to sing the national anthem before a Red Sox game in Fenway Park.

"I can't remember how we decided who got to do that," he said.

Recently, Dodger Stadium had an unmistakably LDS atmosphere. On Aug. 6, the Los Angeles Dodgers held their annual Mormon Night, with LDS apostle Elder M. Russell Ballard throwing out the first pitch and the winner of a Deseret Book-sponsored contest singing the national anthem.

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