This week I head off again on one of my “walkabouts.” About once a month, to crib a thought from Mark Twain, I like to light out for the territories.
This time, the destination is San Diego.
I’m going down to watch Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals play baseball.
I want to catch him before he cools off. As I write this, Harper has hit six home runs in the past four games. If he keeps up the pace, he’ll have 210 by October.
Harper, as many know, is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But he’s not your father’s Mormon. He has shaggy hair, a beard and a brash style, and he plays the game with abandon.
When Harper first came into the league, one pitcher hit the rookie with a pitch and admitted he did it on purpose.
For Latter-day Saints who get a sense of security from uniformity, Bryce Harper can be tough to digest. But at heart, he’s all LDS.
As a 16-year-old high schooler in Las Vegas, Harper was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline of "Baseball's Chosen One." The story talked about how he attended "religious education classes nearly every morning."
He chose to pursue his baseball career rather than serve a mission, but he told the Washington Times, "I try to be the best walking Book of Mormon as I can."
As an amateur player, he had the words “Luke 1:37” printed on his bats ("For with God nothing shall be impossible").
His tweets often have religious overtones.
He’s a good kid.
Needless to say, others think Harper’s style and substance are in conflict. We Mormons tend to steer clear of showiness. If someone showcases his own talent too much, showcases a personal look or agenda, we wonder if he’s more committed to himself than to the kingdom.
But I think we need to go beyond that level.
Personally, I believe Bryce Harper’s unique style is a good thing. Like Sen. Harry Reid, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Gladys Knight and others, Harper breaks down the Mormon stereotype. He shows people they shouldn’t try to shove all Mormons into the same pigeonhole.
I won’t be interviewing Harper in San Diego, which is just as well. I’m sure, given his current torrid pace at the plate, he’ll be mobbed by journalists and juveniles at every turn. Besides, if I did get a chance to chat with him, I’d ask what the media would call inappropriate questions.
I’d say: “You’re only 22, but you’ve been through a ton of turmoil with fans, the media, you’ve had injuries. What advice do you have for youngsters about dealing with adversity?”
I’d want to ask about receiving priesthood blessings. I’d want to know if his favorite Book of Mormon character as a kid was Captain Moroni.
Those are not questions the national press enjoys. In fact, to keep other writers from shunning me like the Ebola virus, I’d probably need to ask Harper such things in private. And these days, getting some “alone time” with Harper is like getting a private interview with Pope Francis.
Still, if Bryce Harper has taught me anything, I think it’s this: You can be yourself; you can be guided by your own star and still be true to yourself.
Today, I hold that truth to be self-evident.
It keeps me sane and striving.
And I have Bryce Harper, among others, to thank for it.