As a poor boy on the sun-scorched streets of the Dominican Republic, Marcelino Leonardo was the kind of kid who enjoyed going to church almost as much as he loved playing ball.
On those early Sunday mornings, he learned the basics of prayer, studying the word of God, and showing kindness toward others. But one lesson in particular stuck with him: Through God, all things are possible.
More than a decade later, the idea is more than just a saying for Leonardo. It’s a way of life and a heavenly promise that guides him from day to day and from decision to decision.
Even the expensive ones.
As a teen, the energetic Leonardo developed a passion and a rare gift for baseball. When friends went home because the sun burned bright or the rains dumped, Leonardo pressed on with workouts and drills.
Baseball became a greater priority in Leonardo’s life and while it didn’t replace his faith, it did change his perspective.
A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Leonardo knew sharing the message of Jesus Christ with others was important. He had long viewed missionaries as those young men in white shirts, ties and black name tags who leave their homes and preach abroad, but as buzz built around his formidable talents on the baseball field, Leonardo’s vision of missionary work evolved.
“I saw that you can be a missionary and you don’t need a name tag,” Leonardo told me during a recent interview. “Really, what is a missionary? … It’s sharing with everyone that Christ is your Savior.”
He wavered on whether or not he’d serve a formal mission for his church but continued daily habits of earnest prayer and diligent scripture study. He didn’t realize it at the time, but the decision was making itself.
In July 2016, Leonardo moved to Provo, Utah. He brought with him a dream of playing for Brigham Young University, his faith and everything he owned. He shared his faith along the way and threw himself into practicing both baseball and English, skills that would allow him secure a scholarship and play baseball for BYU.
One day, a friend and baseball guru in Salt Lake City, Ernso Pierre, asked Leonardo to meet him downtown. Pierre knew a scout who wanted to become acquainted with the young star.
After the typical small talk and schmoozing, the scout slid a thick stack of papers across the table and offered Leonardo the opportunity to join a Major League team and collect a $700,000 payday.
The easiest answer would have been, “Yes! You got a pen?”
Instead, another answer came to mind.
Moments later, Pierre asked the question that changed Leonardo’s story forever. “Marcelino, do you want to play baseball or do you want to go on a mission?”
Faster than the speedy middle infielder can turn a double play, Leonardo gave the answer years in the making: “Mission first. Then college. Then baseball.”
As fast as he’d answered, the scout slid the contract back to his side of the table and with it, more money than Leonardo had ever imagined.
“I knew I needed to go,” Leonardo said. “The Lord keeps His promises when we put Him number one. And I knew He was calling me! I wondered how many of His children might be blessed if I went on a mission? Mostly me!”
A few months later, Leonardo accepted an assignment to serve as a full-time missionary for the LDS Church in Baltimore, Maryland.
One year into his two-year mission, Leonardo has no regrets, even if a professional baseball career isn’t what the Lord has in mind upon his return.
“My choice was right for me, but every story is different,” he said. “And it’s not really about money or baseball — it’s about each of us serving the Lord. I could have kept being a missionary and sharing my faith without the name tag, but I knew what the Lord wanted for me and I knew God would make the way possible.”
Through all God, all things are possible.
Marcelino Leonardo knows it.
Have a little faith, and you can know it too.