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Mission comes first then major league baseball

Jeremy Guthrie delays professional contract

Church News periodically reprints articles from major publications that are of general interest to our readers. This article appeared in the Cleveland (Ohio) Plain Dealer.

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — The [Cleveland] Indians really don't know what kind of pitcher Jeremy Guthrie is going to be. They scouted Guthrie last year when he went 13-2 for Stanford University. They were impressed enough to draft him in the first round and give him the largest signing bonus in team history.

But exactly what they're going to get for that $4 million still isn't clear.

The Indians saw Guthrie briefly in the Florida Instructional League. They watched him make four starts in the Arizona Fall League in November.

Yet, there is still much to learn. Guthrie didn't sign until late September, which means he missed the minor-league season. Since he pitched 157 innings at Stanford that's not a bad thing, but pitchers are judged by how they handle the workload of a professional season.

Guthrie, sporting a buzz haircut and wearing No. 67, is in spring training for the first formal workout with pitchers and catchers.

The Indians may be a little hazy on the daily workings of Guthrie, but they have a definite plan for him.

He's scheduled to open the year at Class AA Akron, and could be a member of the big-league starting rotation in a year.

Former Tribe pitcher John Farrell watched Guthrie pitch for the first time this past fall in Phoenix.

"I saw a guy with an ability to throw multiple pitches for strikes," said Farrell. "He threw a put-away slider, fastball, change-up and curveball. When you have that ability with above-average velocity, you have a guy who can attack hitters."

There were questions as well.

"I thought this is a guy who can compete in the big leagues in terms of stuff," said Farrell. "But we have to see how he adjusts to game situations. How does he handle pitching every fifth day? Can he handle the amount of innings a starter pitches during the season?"

The Indians know a lot more about Guthrie off the field.

For two years, he roamed a foreign land, preaching a strange religion in a language that was not his own. He was the mouse that roared and loved it.

The New York Mets drafted Guthrie as a high school senior in 1997. He had just finished giving his valedictorian speech after being named MVP in baseball, basketball and football at Ashland High School in Ashland, Ore.

What kept him from signing a pro baseball contract with a team that would reach the World Series three years later?

The Mets wouldn't let Guthrie take two years off to fulfill his Mormon mission.

"That was completely understandable," he said. "Why take that kind of risk on a 18-year-old pitcher?"

Guthrie went to Brigham Young University for a year and then became a missionary. After studying Spanish for two months, he spent the next two years preaching in Spain.

When Guthrie returned to Oregon, he felt better than when he left.

"The greatest thing I got out of it was being humble," he said. "The importance of the message we delivered strengthened my faith. It solidified in my mind and heart what I'm trying to do on Earth. It helped me relax in all parts of my life."

Baseball, which had rarely entered Guthrie's mind in Spain, was waiting for him. He attended Stanford in 2001 and went 13-4. Pittsburgh drafted him in the third round, but Guthrie declined.

Guthrie, by then newly married to the former Jenny Williams, was more than happy to spend another year at Stanford.

His two-year totals for the Cardinal printed out like this — 26-6 with a 2.65 earned run average and 264 strikeouts in 291 innings. Guthrie's 157 innings in 2002 are a school record.

There has been little time to slow down since Guthrie signed. Instructional League, Arizona and the winter development program in Cleveland have come and gone. But he did take his wife and parents to Spain for two weeks to meet the people he helped convert.

Now for a curveball. Jeremy Guthrie, former missionary, has made his full-time home in Las Vegas. What is Mr. Clean doing in [this city]?

"Las Vegas has a very strong Mormon community," said Guthrie. "There's over 100 temples throughout the world and Las Vegas has one. My wife and I went there after Stanford's season last year and the faith of the people there attracted us."

© 2003 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.