'Crossing home' — the sermon from center field

By Tim Johnson

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Aug. 31 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

In the summer of 1980 I was that typical, sun-bleached, baseball-starved 12-year-old boy who also happened to be one of only a handful of Mormons in southern Minnesota.

Tim Johnson

In the summer of 1980, I was that typical, sun-bleached, baseball-starved 12-year-old boy who also happened to be one of only a handful of Mormons in southeastern Minnesota. My father was one of the ecclesiastical leaders for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over an area that encompassed parts of three states and about 2,000 square miles. Needless to say, he was gone most of the day on Sundays.

We lived in a little town called La Crescent, nestled on the banks of the Mississippi River a couple of miles from Wisconsin and 30 from Iowa. For a town that was mostly known for its apple crops, we did our best to field a decent baseball team every summer.

The Stars of Tomorrow baseball tournament was one of those annual events that the teams in the area always looked forward to. It was a single-elimination tournament over Friday/Saturday/Sunday that showcased some of the best young baseball in the state. Our town had never gotten past day two.

If my memory serves me right, we fielded a pretty good team that year. We won a Friday night game against another small town that set us up for a Saturday game. We won again Saturday morning, and then again on Saturday afternoon.

Early Saturday evening, we were set to play a team from Racine that, I believe, not only had completely matching uniforms (I think there were a few on our team that still played in jeans and tennis shoes), but was also heavily favored. We were able to keep the game close until the last inning, and then rallied to win it.

This brought up the "always-envisioned-but-never-tested" unwritten rule in our house to not play ball on Sunday. I'd heard a thousand sermons from my dad, and among those was the one to keep the Sabbath Day holy. After the game, and as expected, my dad said something like, "It's up to you. We trust you'll make the right decision."

This was uncharted territory for me. On one hand, my teammates all encouraged me to play. They pretty much asked if I was a M-O-R-M-O-N, or a M-O-R-O-N.

On the other hand, I'd seen a few blessings in my life. My parents had taught me the best they could. I don't think they were prepared, however, when I walked into their bedroom a few hours later and said, "I'm playing ball tomorrow."

I could tell they were both disappointed. In hindsight, I think it would have been a lot easier if my dad had just said, "You're not playing." One simple call from me to the coach that said my parents wouldn't let me play. Instead, my folks allowed me to experience one of the longest nights of my life.

The next morning, amidst all the pre-game butterflies and conflict going on inside, I jogged out to my place in center field. And with one quick glance into the bleachers, my parents taught me their single greatest sermon on record. My mom and dad's attendance at that game showed me that their different-thinking son was valuable to them.

And while we lost the game, and my folks had to take off long before the finish, I will never forget that feeling of shock seeing them up there. Somewhere among all the commandments that summed up religion in my 12-year-old head, the word "family" seemed to take its place at the top.

Thirty-plus years later, I still smile when I think of that view from center field. Families stick together and work through their differences — whether they're in left field or just left of the pulpit. Family members can support each other when there's a difference of opinion. And just as sure as an outfielder is valuable to your 12-year-old's tournament team, we ALL hold valuable positions on our "home teams."

Tim Johnson is the art director at KSL-TV in Salt Lake City. He and his wife, Alicia, are the proud parents of five daughters who, thankfully, look like their mother.

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