KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Since he was a child, Steven Packard had a goal. Through his years of playing youth baseball and then at the University of Oregon, his goal never changed.
“Ever since I was a little kid, my goal was always to go on a mission, and I completed that,” Packard said.
Packard is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and his mission took precedence over baseball.
“That was always in the plan,” Packard said. “It kind of became a hard decision once I had a successful freshman year.”
Packard still chose to pursue his lifelong goal and serve his church. That took him to Bolivia for two years; two years away from the game of baseball.
“At first I was a little, kind of concerned about it, but I think we always have learned to put God first and He always will do the rest so He’s done so much for me and all He asks is two years,” Packard said.
After two years that Packard called the best of his live, he came back to the States and back to baseball, but in a different role.
“It was really hard,” Packard said. “I’ve always felt like I work pretty hard and when you work hard and it doesn’t work out, it’s weird.”
In 2013, Packard’s first year back from his mission, he started only 23 games and hit .232, nearly 100 points less than his freshman year.
“Coming back to a game that’s very difficult after being away for two years is going to be a struggle for anybody,” Gems coach Mitch Karraker said.
Karraker witnessed Packard’s struggles. The two played together during Packard’s freshman year and now Karraker coaches him at Oregon and Klamath Falls, where as of Thursday he was hitting .478 in West Coast League play.
“It’s just a tribute to his hard work,” Karraker said. “He’s just one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever seen so it’s no surprise that he’s having such success.”
“Honestly I think it’s just, things finally start feeling good with my swing, and I just continue to work on it,” Packard said. “When I came back from my mission, I couldn’t remember. It was kind of hard to feel what I used to feel.”
Packard said he feels even better than he did before his mission, both on the field and off.
“In Bolivia, those two years, the hardest, most tiring two years of my life, most uplifting two years, I guess, of my life, but it definitely helped with baseball,” Packard said. “Absolutely. Almost everything in life: relationships, family, baseball, how to work, how to manage time, set goals.”
The mission itself was one goal achieved, but Packard’s drive to work hard and set new goals never stops.