Not only is it difficult to compete with players from countries like the Dominican Republic, who start their pro careers so young, but the average age of American players drafted into the MLB is dropping as well. Players like the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout and the Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg are setting the trend of young players playing in the MLB. The drafting age makes going on a mission a difficult decision, because more is at stake. After a mission, great players often never are given the opportunity to play.
Sean McNaughton, Wells’ former outfield teammate, was an example of an outstanding player who went on a mission and never quite made it into the big leagues when he returned. McNaughton holds the all-time record for homeruns in the MWC but was not drafted after his senior year at BYU.
“Being a member of the LDS Church is what life is all about,” McNaughton said. “In your mind you're scared if you leave you're going to lose your skills as a baseball player or somehow lose out on a great opportunity to get drafted and play professional baseball. It’s a hard decision and you have to have faith you’re making the right decision.”
While the odds are against baseball players who serve missions, Wells knew a mission was what God wanted him to do.
“There was always a desire to play a pro sport,” Wells said. “When I went on a mission, I knew it would hamper it, especially in baseball. They’re always looking for young talent, so when you come back, you’re 21 and haven’t played for a few years. It’s tough, but after I prayed about it I knew it was the right thing.”
During his mission to Puerto Rico, Stephen was able to learn valuable lessons that helped him understand life and baseball. Going out every morning and working hard was nothing new, but it provided him with understanding of how to accomplish what he wanted to in life. Each day he would set goals and strive to accomplish them. When he did not fulfill them, he would try harder the following day.
The lessons learned on his mission have helped him set personal goals for the upcoming season. His BYU coach, Vance Law, has seen those lessons in practice and knows his goals can become realities.
“Through his example, he motivates people to get better,” Law said. “He’s putting a lot of hard work and effort in during this offseason. He’s working hard in the weight room. That’s a telling characteristic. He’s an outstanding player.”
Wells not only has the confidence of his coach, but of his teammates as well. They see him work and put forth effort and it motivates them to work harder.
“Stephen is one of those guys you want on your team,” McNaughton said. “You can trust him with everything. He is one of the hardest working teammates I’ve ever had and I’ve never doubted he would give his full effort and sacrifice for the team.”
Giving 100 percent effort and putting in countless hours of work will never guarantee goals will be fulfilled. When asked about his opportunity to play at the next level, Wells can only smile.
“It’s somewhat of a long shot now, but I’d love to play there,” Wells said. “I’ll work hard this year and see what happens. Right now I just want to make it to the College World Series, and see whatever comes after that. If I end up getting drafted that would be a huge plus.”
Nevertheless, Wells is not putting all his eggs into one basket. He is studying hard in school, majoring in exercise science. If the MLB does not come calling, he is well situated to provide for his family. He plans on attending pharmacy school once he finishes his degree at BYU. Last December he married Valeria Padgett from Tatumbia, Honduras, so the two often speak Spanish in their home.
“I was looking at different grad schools and careers and came across pharmacy,” Wells said. “I don’t want to be a doctor because I don’t like blood, but I like working with and helping people.”
Whatever opportunities open, Wells will be prepared. He knows his life has been guided. It’s not easy juggling school, a marriage, a job and baseball, but Wells knows what is most important. He does not regret his decision to serve a mission and plans to continue setting goals and working hard throughout the rest of his life.
“He always finds time for what’s most important in life,” said his wife, Valeria Wells. “He has his priorities set. He sets goals and then works hard to fulfill them.”
Steven McCall works in BYU Athletic Communications as a golf sports information director. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @S_McCall7.
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