It started with a Facebook message in early July 2011.
"Hi Trent," the message began. "Are you by chance the one that wrote the article in the Mormon Times about Cale Iorg?"
The message came from a kid named Mitchell Toone in Tuscon, Ariz. We shared the same last name but I had never heard of him, although it was determined later that we were distant relatives. I confirmed I wrote the June 30 Mormon Times cover story about Cale Iorg, a member of the LDS Church and then an infielder for the Toledo Mud Hens, the AAA affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. I asked Mitchell if he somehow knew Cale or was a big baseball fan?
The 21-year-old ignored my questions, but once he knew I was the guy he was looking for, he unfolded a tale that gave me goose bumps.
Toone's story is a unique example of how the news media can be a force for good.
In 2010, Mitchell had been called to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Pocatello, Idaho, but he struggled and came home after a short period.
About a year later in July 2011, he found himself in a state of inner turmoil. Toone's stake president called him into his office one Sunday morning and said he felt inspired to ask the young man to consider returning to the mission field. Toone was reluctant, but said he would pray about it.
Deep down, Toone knew his stake president was right, but he still had concerns. He worried he was getting too old to serve because some of his friends were coming home from their missions. He wanted to become an orthodontist and wondered if he should just press on with his education. But his stake president persisted, and in a subsequent visit, said the Lord had a plan for Toone and testified to the blessings of serving a mission.
A few days later, unlikely inspiration came in the mailbox as Toone found the Mormon Times with the Cale Iorg article. Toone, a sports fan, was intrigued by the article and alone at home, sat down to read the entire piece. The story recounts how Iorg turned down professional baseball and its lucrative opportunities to serve an LDS mission to Portugal. When he returned, Iorg was drafted again and offered an even larger signing bonus. The overall message of the article centered on the blessings of missionary service.
Toone felt the article was exclusively for him. Not only did it rehash everything his stake president had told him, but he rarely read the Mormon Times. The timing was uncanny. Then he noticed that he and the author shared the same last name. Most importantly, he had felt the Holy Ghost whisper something to his heart.
"It (Cale Iorg's story) was a witness that the Lord wanted me to serve a mission again and played a huge part in my decision to return to the mission field," Toone told me. "The icing on the cake is that we have the same last name."
I confess I was touched to know I had played a small role. But more importantly, I applauded him for having the courage to finish his mission.
We stayed in touch and he updated me on his progress. About six months later, Toone traveled back to Idaho. He was ready this time. Unfortunately, within another six months, back pain forced him home for surgery. But before he departed, Elder Toone and his companion taught and baptized the Mervin Pierson family. Toone said his experience with the Pierson family made everything worth it.
"When I went up to them to say goodbye, the father looked at me in the eye and thanked me for all I had done for his family," Toone said. "I will never forget the feeling I had when he said that."
Toone plans to return in a year and accompany the family when they go through the temple.
Although his mission was cut short, Toone came home feeling blessed in many ways. As he pursues his education, he will continue to be a missionary wherever he goes. Toone will also treasure the memory of how a minor league baseball player's missionary experiences inspired him to overcome his own fears and doubts.
"The article was a confirmation to me that Heavenly Father knows us and wants nothing but the best for us," Toone said. "Especially when it is something we do not think will work out. Serving a mission is by far the greatest experience one person can have in their life."
Email: [email protected] Twitter: tbtoone