When Elder Anthony “Bo” Burrup began his two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he was putting baseball on hold.
But there he was in a white shirt and black missionary nametag, standing on the pitcher’s mound at Camden Yards in Baltimore on Friday, Aug. 29, to throw the ceremonial first pitch at LDS Family Night with the Orioles.
In the process, he fulfilled a childhood dream he shared with a dear friend.
Burrup, of Idaho, has always had a passion for baseball. It's said he grew up with a ball in one hand and a glove on the other. His dad discovered he was a lefty before Burrup could even write his first name. Every time Dad handed a ball to his right hand, Burrup switched it to his left.
Burrup’s cousin and best friend, Camden Christensen, shared his love of baseball. As young boys, the two all-American buddies grew inseparable as they learned to catch, hit and throw together. Nothing made them happier than enjoying a game of baseball together.
The games ended abruptly when Camden passed away from a severe asthma attack at the age of 10. Heartbroken, 10-year-old Burrup hung on to the “Friends Forever” necklace Camden gave him shortly before his death. Burrup eagerly hoped for a time when the two could play baseball again.
As Burrup matured, he developed an exceptional talent for baseball, dominating the sport at Highland High School in Pocatello, Idaho, and amassing impressive statistics. He could throw a 90-mph fastball, curveball and a changeup. His high school batting average was .456, and his earned run average was a remarkably low 1.29. In his junior year, he struck out 18 of the 21 batters he faced and pitched a no-hitter in a state tournament game. When he wasn’t pitching, he played first base.
Unsurprisingly, he was named all-conference as a freshman and sophomore and all-state as a junior. Several colleges, including Stanford, Oregon State, Utah Valley University and Brigham Young University, noticed Burrup’s skills and recruited him to play on their teams. Major league teams took note as well. He received letters of interest from the Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Burrup turned down all of these opportunities, at least temporarily.
Despite his deep affection for the game and childhood dream of playing baseball professionally, Burrup wrote letters to the major league teams informing them that he planned to serve a mission for the LDS Church before pursuing his baseball career. Burrup expedited his senior year, graduated early and began his mission as early as possible at the age of 18 — before the baseball season started.
For Burrup, the decision to serve a Mormon mission was simple. Not only has he hoped to serve from the time he was a boy, but the memory of his cousin motivates him to maintain a perspective beyond baseball season.
“The gospel helped me understand that I would see him again,” he said. Burrup keeps a picture of Camden hanging in his room to remind him to work diligently.
When he received his call to serve in the Maryland Baltimore Mission, Burrup immediately knew he wanted to visit Camden Yards — the namesake of his cousin and home of the Baltimore Orioles. He did, and his visit included the opportunity to throw from the Camden Yards pitcher’s mound.
Burrup’s mother, Kelsie, does not credit that to coincidence.
“The Lord cares about what we care about, even baseball. He’s in the details of our lives," Kelsie Burrup said in a phone interview. "It’s amazing how he will bless us and use our talents to bless others.”
LDS Family Night with the Orioles is an annual tradition in its seventh year. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is consistently the largest faith-based group to attend Orioles games and always sells out its allotment of seats. With 2,600 Mormons in attendance this year, the excitement was palpable at Camden Yards as Elder Burrup approached the mound. He waved to the cheering crowd of members and fellow missionaries before winding up and gracefully pitching a strike.
As he threw the ceremonial first pitch, Burrup said he thought of his cousin. “It was a dream come true being on a professional mound with Camden behind me," he said.
Burrup joined the ranks of high-profile Mormons who have thrown the LDS Family Night first pitch, including Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta and former Orioles and current Kansas City Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie.
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Burrup was thrilled, not only to pitch from a professional mound but also to be an ambassador for the LDS Church. “Nothing is better than sharing the gospel,” he said. “It was the coolest thing being on the mound in a (white) shirt and tie with a nametag representing Jesus Christ.”
After his mission, he will play baseball for BYU on scholarship.
Michele Calderon spends her days with her talented husband and four imaginative children, and her nights earning a master's degree in political science at Towson University in Baltimore. Her email is email@example.com.