SALT LAKE CITY — Only four years after starting in Game 7 of the World Series and one year of retirement, former MLB pitcher Jeremy Guthrie is stepping to the mound in a new game.
The 38-year-old Guthrie and his wife Jenny have been called to preside over the Texas Houston Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A list of more than 100 new mission president assignments, including the Guthries, was released Thursday morning by the LDS Church. The Guthries are expected to begin their 3-year assignment in July in a city recovering from last fall's flooding. In addition to going to a city where Guthrie suited up as a pro baseball player, their mission is also home to the Houston Astros, who claimed the World Series title last season.
Despite his lack of LDS Church leadership experience, Guthrie and his family are thrilled for the chance to make a difference in people's lives.
"We're excited to go to Houston," Guthrie told the Deseret News Friday afternoon. "This is the next three years of our lives. ... I am living proof that the Lord likes to work with the simple and weak sometimes. But hopefully I can be someone who learns well and more importantly, is able to find his direction through the Spirit in all the many tasks that will be placed before me as a mission president."
The Guthries were called in October and learned of their Houston assignment around Christmas. His wife was thrilled, having always wanted to serve a mission but as a young woman instead opted to marry Guthrie. Their children, a 13-year-old daughter and sons ages 11 and 7, were somewhat nervous at the prospect of going to a Spanish-speaking country because Guthrie speaks the language. But the pressure was instantly erased when they received their call to Houston, Guthrie said with a laugh.
"I think they are feeling pretty good about things," Guthrie said.
Since the new mission president assignments were released, the Guthrie family has been overwhelmed by an outpouring of love and support from other family, friends, people in the Houston area and future missionaries with call in hand, waiting to report. One special shout out came from his former BYU coach, Gary Pullins, who lives just outside the Houston South Mission boundaries, Guthrie said.
On social media, Guthrie sent this reply to a tweet by James the Mormon.
"What a humbling calling for my wife and I," Guthrie wrote. "We want to serve the missionaries and people in Houston as the Lord would. Come down and visit our group anytime."
To another congratulatory tweet with the suggestion that a son coming of age could possibly be assigned to the Texas Houston South Mission, Guthrie replied: "We would welcome him with open arms. What an incredibly humbling assignment we have been entrusted with. We are learning every day and hope to carry out the work in the Lord's way. #best3years."
An Eagle Scout and valedictorian of his Oregon high school, Guthrie played baseball at Brigham Young University before serving an LDS mission in Bilbao, Spain from 1998-2000. Guthrie spoke of his mission experience in a press conference during the 2014 World Series.
"When I left, baseball was not something I foresaw in my future, at least long term," Guthrie said in the press conference. "I loved the game, I enjoyed playing it, but I was burned out. I had pitched poorly as a freshman and quite frankly it was not fun. So when I took my call to be a missionary for two years, I left my glove behind, I left the ball behind, and that was really because that is what is asked of a missionary."
Following his mission, the right-handed pitcher transferred to Stanford where he excelled and was eventually drafted by the Cleveland Indians.
During his 13-year major league baseball career, Guthrie also took the mound for the Baltimore Orioles, the Colorado Rockies, the Kansas City Royals and the Washington Nationals. He announced his retirement with an article in the Players' Tribune in Feb. 2017.
His most memorable years came in Kansas City. Guthrie defeated his former team, the Orioles, in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series and went on to start two games in the World Series. He went 1-1, with the loss coming in Game 7. In the process, he became the first returned Mormon missionary to play in the World Series, according to Foxsports.com.
Guthrie and the Royals bounced back the following year to cap a special season with an unforgettable victory over the New York Mets, he wrote in his Players' Tribune article.
"Celebrating a world championship with a million friends in 2015 was unforgettable!" Guthrie wrote. "I’m Forever Royal!"
Soon to be 39, Guthrie acknowledged his limited leadership experience in the church. In fact, while playing baseball, he has only had four official callings. He's served as a Sunday School teacher for different ages of kids, a young men leader, he's taught gospel doctrine and he's also been a seminary instructor.
"I haven’t ever served in a church leadership position," Guthrie said. "I will rely heavily on, and already am relying heavily on people with more experience in leadership positions to try and better understand how I can be an effective leader and work alongside bishops, stake presidents, ward mission leaders and specifically, most importantly, my young missionaries."
Guthrie believes his experience as a full-time missionary will be beneficial, along with the example and lessons learned from his mission president, Derk W. Pelton, who was also called at age 38.
"When I think back about my mission president, President Derk Pelton, I can remember vividly his service and love for each one of us, and the members in the mission boundaries, as well as his love for the gospel and of the Savior, and how that deeply impacted me and gave me a desire to want to be a worthy and obedient servant of the Lord," Guthrie said. "Of course, by doing that, the blessings I experienced still impact my life and my testimony today. That is the ultimate foundation for what I hope to be able to do alongside my wife, kids and missionaries in sharing the gospel and strengthening individual testimonies, as well as those of other people striving to follow the Savior."
Guthrie has often spoken to Mormon gatherings about baseball and his faith. One such event was featured in the LDS Church News in 2014.
Another was recalled by Jack Johansson, a member of the church in Troy, Michigan, who said that someone noticed Guthrie sitting in the pews of his ward one Sunday morning in April 2015. He was in town with the Royals but not pitching that day so he rode a bike from his team hotel to attend worship services.
"We snatched him up to talk to our young men," Johansson said in a Facebook message to the Deseret News. "It was an excellent experience for our boys. ... Impressive guy."
Guthrie isn't the first former Major League Baseball player to serve as a mission president. Two-time National League MVP and seven time All-star Dale Murphy and his wife Nancy presided over the Massachusetts Boston Mission from 1997-2000.
"Being on a mission, or serving as a mission president, is hard to compare to anything," Murphy told the Deseret News in 2014. "I think one of the things as a mission president is stamina and I think with a baseball schedule, playing 162 games maybe that's the thing that helped me the most. It's just like anything else, you go at it and don't know quite what you are doing. I didn't know what I was doing, but I worked at it and had a great experience. The missionaries were unbelievable. Their sacrifice and hard work was very motivating for me."
Guthrie is in the process of reaching out to Murphy to glean from his knowledge and experience and hopes to set up a conversation soon. Guthrie, who owns a large collection of athletic shoes, already knows he can't wear Nikes as a mission president.
"I don’t think I’m allowed to wear Nikes, probably won’t do that," he said with a laugh. "I hope I can be an example to the missionaries and we can keep a good appearance for everybody. The shoe collection will be probably stuck in storage for a number of years. If anybody knows of a large storage unit, that would be helpful."