TRINITY — Marcus Begg’s faith has always been his choice.
He chose to be baptized as a Mormon at age 8.
He chose to start asking more questions about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before he became a teenager.
And even after recruiters showed interest in his powerful frame, smooth stroke and deceptive speed, the Mitchell senior third baseman chose to put a potential college baseball career on hold to serve a two-year mission trip.
“There’s more to life than just baseball for people,” Mustangs coach Scot Wilcox said.
Begg fell in love with baseball long before he became an active participant in church. A home video shows him swinging through with his hips and keeping his hands back while hitting off of a tee — in diapers.
When he was 12, he set a little league record for home runs in a season. Begg stopped counting after eight.
“I don’t think anyone hits a ball as heavy as he does,” said his father, Joe.
But religion always trumped baseball for the family.
Begg didn’t play AAU ball for most of his childhood summers because many of the tournament games conflicted with church services. The Beggs spend every Sunday night at home, reading religious texts, singing hymns and praying as a family.
Although religion was a constant in his family, Begg’s parents never pressured him to adopt their dogma. They explained their beliefs but wanted him to find his own.
“He really took that to heart, and he really applied those principles that you need to know for yourself,” said his mother, Odalys. “You see that change.”
The shift began when Begg was around 11 or 12 and his older brother, Michael, was getting closer to his mission trip. Begg started asking more questions during Sunday family nights. He studied more and listened more closely.
“It just comes,” Begg said. “When you pray, you just feel that it’s true.”
Begg’s faith expanded. By high school, he was going to 6 a.m. seminary classes every day.
His baseball opportunities grew, too. He finally competed in AAU ball the past two summers and once blasted a 390-foot line drive off Durant’s Florida signee, Tyler Danish. Begg was an all-star at shortstop and a home run derby participant in an Orlando showcase.
After three years at Steinbrenner, he transferred to Mitchell this year and has become one of Pasco County’s top players. He leads the North Suncoast with four home runs, ranks third with 20 RBIs and is first for the 16-3 Mustangs with a .397 average.
“He can put the ball wherever you need him to put it at any time,” teammate Eddie Goscicki said.
Colleges have noticed. His coach said Begg’s sturdy 6-foot, 220-pound frame and light feet make him a Division-I prospect. Alabama State, Saint Leo and others have recruited him.
Eventually they learned about his missionary, and the interest cooled. Too much can happen during two years away from the game, knocking on doors instead of knocking in runs. Coaches don’t have roster spots to risk.
“Once they heard you’re going on a mission, they kinda stopped talking to you,” his mother said.
But the two years of service are a rite of passage in the Mormon faith. His father served a missionary when he was a young adult.
So did Begg’s older brother.
And Begg isn’t willing to give that up, even if it means turning down opportunities other players spend years chasing.
“He stands for something,” his mom said. “A lot of times he stands alone.”
So on July 3, Begg is headed to Mesa, Ariz., not far from where his dad served 26 years ago. He’ll study religious texts, perform community service and teach strangers about his faith.
“Baseball’s just a game,” Begg said. “I love it to death. I’ll give it my 100 percent all the time. But I feel like my heavenly father deserves more than that.”
Begg hasn’t given up on college baseball yet; he’s only put it on hold.
He keeps emails from recruiters in his inbox, in case he needs to get in touch with them two years from now about a scholarship or walk-on spot. His parents plan to stay in contact with coaches when Begg is in Arizona, and maybe he’ll sneak in a few swings during the eight hours of free time he gets each week.
“He’s got the bug pretty bad,” his dad said. “I don’t think two years is going to get rid of that.”
Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.
Photo: Mitchell's Christopher McCormick, left, and Marcus Begg celebrate a run in the Northeast Spring Break Tournament.