Published January 23, 2010
NEW YORK – As a top prospect for the Oakland Athletics, outfielder Grant Desme might've gotten the call every minor leaguer wants this spring.
Instead, he believed he had another, higher calling.
Desme announced Friday that he was leaving baseball to enter the priesthood, walking away after a breakout season in which he became MVP of the Arizona Fall League.
"I was doing well at ball. But I really had to get down to the bottom of things," the 23-year-old Desme said. "I wasn't at peace with where I was at."
A lifelong Catholic, Desme thought about becoming a priest for about a year and a half. He kept his path quiet within the sports world, and his plan to enter a seminary this summer startled the A's when he told them Thursday night.
General manager Billy Beane "was understanding and supportive," Desme said, but the decision "sort of knocked him off his horse." After the talk, Desme felt "a great amount of peace."
"I love the game, but I aspire to higher things," he said. "I know I have no regrets."
In a statement, Beane said: "We respect Grant's decision and wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors."
Athletes and the priesthood have overlapped, albeit rarely.
Al Travers, who gave up 24 runs during a one-game career for a makeshift Detroit Tigers team in 1912, became a Catholic priest. More recently, Chase Hilgenbrinck of the New England Revolution left Major League Soccer in 2008 to enter a seminary.
Desme spoke on a conference call for about 10 minutes in a quiet, even tone, hardly sounding like many gung-ho, on-the-rise ballplayers. As for his success in the minors, he said "all of it is very undeserving."
The Athletics picked Desme in the second round of the 2007 amateur draft and he was starting to blossom. He was the only player in the entire minors with 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases last season.
Desme batted .288 with 31 homers, 89 RBIs and 40 steals in 131 games at Class-A Kane County and high Class-A Stockton last year. He hit .315 with a league-leading 11 home runs and 27 RBIs in 27 games this fall in Arizona, a league filled with young talent.
Desme went into the AFL championship game well aware it might be the last time he ever played. "There was no sad feeling," he said. He homered and struck out twice, which "defines my career a bit."
The Big West Player of the Year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Desme was ranked as Oakland's No. 8 prospect by Baseball America. There was speculation the Athletics might invite Desme to big league spring training next month.
Rather, Desme intends to enter a seminary in Silverado, California, in August. He said abbey members didn't seem surprised someone who would "define myself as a baseball player" was changing his life so dramatically.
Desme said he didn't consider pursuing his spiritual studies while also trying to play ball. His family backed his decision and he said the positive reaction to his future goal — the surprising news spread quickly over the Internet — was "inspiring."
"It's about a 10-year process," he said. "I desire and hope I become a priest." In a way, he added, it's like "re-entering the minor leagues."
Desme's first two years in the minors were beset by shoulder and wrist problems. He said his days off the field gave him time to think about what was most important to him, to read and study the Bible and to talk to teammates about his faith.
In retrospect, he said, those injuries were "the biggest blessings God ever gave me."