Retired Mormon major leaguer experiences uncommon journey

Published: Thursday, May 2 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Family portrait of Brian and Tarrah Banks. Banks played baseball for BYU before being drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers and going on to win a World Series with the Florida Marlins. Nearly a decade after retiring from baseball, Banks is about to complete his residency as a pediatric dentist.

Photo courtesy of Brian Banks

SALT LAKE CITY — The Dental Clinic at Primary Children’s Medical Center is one of the last places you might expect to find a former major league baseball player, especially one with a sparkling World Series championship ring.

Yet there is Brian Banks, standing 6-foot-3 and dressed in green scrubs, in the final weeks of his residency. Becoming a pediatric dentist is a goal the 42-year-old has worked toward since retiring from baseball in 2004.

Examining children’s teeth is a long way from the big leagues, but how he got there is an interesting tale. The journey includes a difficult decision to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an impressive sophomore season at BYU, an arduous climb through the minor leagues, a magical season in 2003 and several faith-building experiences along the way.

For all the good things in his life, Banks points to two fundamentals — setting goals and making good choices.

“I like to tell the young people about the concept of setting goals and enduring to the end. Reaching a goal doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work and perseverance,” Banks said. “Making key decisions at a young age may seem small and insignificant at the time, but they are choices that help you build the foundation of who you are and will become.”

A mission?

As a senior at Mountain View High School in Mesa, Ariz., Banks was named the 1989 Arizona player of the year. He was also the league batting champion, a two-time all-state selection and his team’s three-time MVP. As a result, professional baseball scouts were hanging around the ballpark.

If Banks would forget plans to serve an LDS mission, the scouts said, he could be a high draft pick and receive a six-figure signing bonus.

"They didn’t want to waste a draft pick on me if I was going to leave for two years," Banks said.

Encouraged by family members and church leaders, the young athlete had always planned on serving a mission like his older brother David, but he had dreamed of playing in the big leagues, and a large signing bonus was tempting.

“I wrestled with it quite a bit,” Banks said. “You start going through those things that every Mormon athlete goes through. You think, 'There are other ways I could serve a mission.' 'I can do a lot of good.' 'I can be a good example to teammates and those watching.' You kind of rationalize yourself into that type of thinking.”

Banks decided to wait and play his freshman season at BYU. He was still picked in the sixth round of the 1989 draft by the Baltimore Orioles but declined the opportunity, along with a $100,000 signing bonus.

It proved to be a good decision for two reasons: First, he knew he wasn’t ready for professional baseball, and second, he found himself surrounded by good examples and influences. While honing his baseball skills during the 1990 season, playing in 41 games, hitting four home runs and recording 28 RBIs as a catcher/designated hitter, Banks was able to observe and bond with Cougar teammates who had served missions and those who had not. Ultimately, he decided to serve and was called to Seattle, despite claims by scouts that he would lose his arm strength, foot speed and athleticism. For the next two years, Banks’ companions would throw to him in the batting cage or play catch with him on their one day off each week.

“For me it came down to I needed to serve a mission and I made that decision through what you are taught as a youth, through prayer, fasting and scripture study,” Banks said. “I also drew upon the feeling that I was doing what the Lord wanted me to do, and if it was meant to be, I would be blessed for it. I took peace in that.”

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