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Retired Mormon major leaguer experiences uncommon journey

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

Perez said his girlfriend was a Mormon and he had been meeting with the missionaries. He pulled out a Book of Mormon, said he’d been reading it and knew it was true. But some of his family members and teammates had been giving him a hard time about the church and telling him not to get involved.

At that point, the Spirit entered the room and a gospel discussion ensued. Banks understood why he’d been sent down. Feeling sufficiently humbled, he bore testimony like he was a missionary again, and told Perez he was following the right path and not to listen to the faith-shakers. Both men came away feeling strengthened.

The very next day, Banks was called back up to the big leagues.

“That is one experience in my career I am still floored by. It opened my eyes to the fact that the Lord was in control of my life and I’ve never doubted from that moment on. He knew where I needed to be, when I needed to be there,” said Banks, currently the elders quorum president in his LDS ward. “That’s how the Lord works. He puts us in situations to share our testimonies and strengthen others.”

Perez doesn’t recall if that meeting came before or after he was baptized, but it was still meaningful. Perez was baptized a member of the LDS Church in July 1999 and was later sealed to his sweetheart in the Mesa Arizona Temple. Today, he’s a sports agent and at one point represented Banks’ nephew, Stetson Banks, a former BYU Cougar who played a few seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.

“His friendship meant something to me, knowing I wasn’t alone (in my gospel faith)," Perez said in a phone interview. "It was good for me and helped me figure out what I wanted to do."

‘A magical season’

After playing a season overseas in the Japan Championship Series for the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, Banks returned to major league baseball and signed as a free agent with the Florida Marlins.

Less than two weeks before Banks reported to spring training, the couple’s first child was born, a son they named Davis. Becoming a father gave Banks a feeling that good things were in store that season.

Even so, the Marlins limped out to a 16-22 record and in mid-May, manager Jeff Torborg was fired. Jack McKeon replaced Torborg, and the team never looked back, Banks said.

“That turned around our whole season,” Banks said. “We banded together and really became a team. We went on a tear the rest of the season.”

When the regular season ended, Florida, the clear underdog, found itself playing the San Francisco Giants in the National League Wild Card series. Despite facing Barry Bonds, the most feared hitter in the game at the time, the Marlins won the series easily, 3-1.

Florida’s next opponent was the Chicago Cubs. Facing elimination in the National League Championship Series and trailing 3-0 in Game 6 at Wrigley Field, the series changed in the eighth inning when Florida’s Luis Castillo hit a foul ball down the left-field line. As Chicago outfielder Moises Alou leaped for the ball, a fan named Steve Bartman knocked the ball away. Instead of being four outs from the World Series, the Cubs went on to surrender eight runs and lost the game, 8-3, forcing a Game 7.

“It’s very surreal to go back and watch it on TV now,” Banks said. “It changed the whole momentum of the series.”

Banks' greatest contribution of the entire postseason came at a critical moment in Game 7 at Wrigley.

Losing 5-3 to the Cubs in the fifth inning, the switch-hitting Banks was sent in to pinch hit against Chicago pitcher Kerry Wood and was walked on five pitches. Banks’ walk ignited a three-run rally that gave the Marlins the lead and they went on to win, 9-6.

“The coaches came up to me later and said that was a huge at-bat for you to get walked,” Banks said. “I look at it as the story of my whole career. I wasn’t the flashy superstar, but I was able to help get us to the World Series.”

The Marlins went on to defeat the New York Yankees, 4-2, to win the World Series title. Banks didn’t play, but described the experience as "amazing."

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