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Returned missionary Chip Beck celebrates a big hit during a recent game for the Salt Lake Community College baseball team. The Bruins squad — which rosters several Latter-day Saints — recently qualified the NJCAA College World Series, a first for the school. (Photo courtesy of SLCC Athletics)

Heavy-hitting returned missionaries playing key roles in Salt Lake CC’s first-ever run to the JC College World Series

The title-seeking Bruins baseball team is made up of players from varied backgrounds — including several Latter-day Saints.

By Jason Swensen

26 May 2023

Returned missionaries can bring several high-value skills to an athletic team: A solid work ethic. A “team-first” mentality. And perhaps a second language to connect with teammates from other backgrounds.

 

It's a bonus when a few RMs-turned-college-baseball-players can also hit dingers in big games.

 

The Salt Lake Community College baseball team will make school history this week when they play for the first time in the NJCAA College World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado. The #8-seeded Bruins will open the tournament on Saturday, May 27, against #3-seed Wabash Valley College (Illinois) at 7:30 p.m. MT.

 

The Bruins’ roster features several returned missionaries — including a trio of RMs who banged home runs at key moments in the recent NJCAA Western District tournament where the team qualified for its maiden JC College World Series.

 

Early in the decisive do-or-die game on Saturday, May 20, Bruin outfielder Trey Gambill (a COVID-era returned missionary who served in Ecuador and Tennessee) hit a three-run homer that helped pace the Bruins to a 14-1 win over Southeast Community College. A day earlier, designated hitter Jaxon Weatherly’s (Mexico Cancún Mission) solo home run helped secure his team’s win over Pima College.


Meanwhile, SLCC shortstop Chip Beck (Mexico Chihuahua Mission)  knocked three balls out of the park in the Bruin’s opening game in the NJCAA West District baseball tournament.

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Salt Lake Community College designated hitter Jaxon Weatherly rounds the bases in a recent baseball game. The Idaho native served a mission in Mexico. (Photo courtesy of SLCC Athletics)

When Church Ball Magazine caught up with the trio of RMs/heavy hitters, they were counting down the hours until they could make school history in the storied College World Series.

 

“This is the experience of a lifetime,” said Weatherly, an Idaho Falls, Idaho, native. “I’m ready to go and see what this team’s got.”

 

The Bruins’ path to the NJCAA College World Series has been a bit bumpy. With a record of 31-18, the team knows both the joy of victory — and the sting of defeat. 

 

But resiliency, added Weatherly, has been a defining characteristic of the 2023 Bruins.

“We’ve just done a good job always bouncing back, moving forward and getting the next thing done.”

 

Beck agreed with his teammate and fellow Mexico mission alum. 

“I’m really proud of this team. We’ve had some tough games where we didn’t come out on top. But we’ve been able to pull things together in the playoffs and play our best brand of baseball.

“It’s been super fun.”

Returned missionary Trey Gambill readies for a pitch during a recent game. The Salt Lake Community College baseball player hit a pivotal home run in the team’s recent run to the College World Series. (Photo courtesy of SLCC Athletics)

Gambill said everyone connected to the Bruin team is aware that the 2023 squad is a history-making bunch.

 

“We’ve earned the right to keep playing and we're thankful for the opportunities that we've been given,” he said. “ As far as school history goes, qualifying will go down in our memories forever — but we have to brush it off for now and [focus] on the World Series.”

 

Despite playing in the Church’s headquarter city, the returned missionaries on the Bruins squad say there are still opportunities to share the gospel.

“Sometimes I’ll be talking to someone on the team about our missions and someone else on the team will walk by and say, ‘Wait, what’s that about?’,” said Weatherly.

He and his fellow RMs are always open to Church discussions.

 

Beck also enjoys swapping missionary stories with the other returned missionaries on the team. “But it’s also fun to be able to share a little bit of light with those who are not quite as familiar [with the gospel].”

 

On Easter Sunday, for example, Beck was asked to share a Christ-themed holiday message with his team. “That was a cool experience. There was a special spirit.”

 

The 2023 Bruins baseball team reflects the diverse city it calls home.  Several Latter-day Saints are on the roster. But several others are not Church members. The majority of the Bruin players grew up in Utah. But the team also features players from Australia and Japan.

 

“But we have all gelled together,” said Weatherly. 

 

Gambill added he is appreciative of the way his teammates accept his religious faith, regardless of their own beliefs. He’s also thrilled to still be playing for a national title.

 

“It’s all about winning at the right time and coming up with hits at the right time,” he said. “It’s been amazing for us to see things come together…. We’re fully prepared — and we’re excited.

“It’s going to be a fun time.”

 

The Bruins open College World Series play against the Warriors of Wabash Valley. The tournament is played in a double elimination format, with the winner advancing to play the winner of the game between Johnson County College and Shelton State College.

 

To watch the Bruins, go to  www.njcaa.org/network 

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