Oakland Athletics minor league prospect Grant Desme was on fire in 2009. He hit 31 homers and 89 RBIs with a .288 batting average in 131 games. Then he threw down an MVP performance in the Arizona Fall League, where some of baseball’s top AA and AAA prospects compete. In an unprecedented display of power during the 27 game season, Grant batted .315, hit a league-leading 11 homers, and drove in 27 runs! During an 11 game hitting streak from October 14-28, he hit 10 homers in 10 games.
This kind of success meant a move up to Class AA for the 2010 season, just two steps away from the Major Leagues. But with his chances of being a major league player now as real and close as the smell of his leather glove, Grant Desme shocked the baseball world. No, it wasn’t by crushing a home run or making a spectacular diving catch. He informed the Oakland Athletics that he was retiring at just 23 years old…
…to become a Catholic priest. People who didn’t know Grant may have thought this was a joke or a publicity stunt. However, Rob Fai, Assistant manager for the Oakland affiliate in Vancouver, BC, isn’t surprised about Grant Desme’s choice: “If you know Grant, the spiritual side of his life has always been a priority.”
Get in the Game
Gregory Grant Desme was born April 4, 1986, in Bakersfield, California. He attended Stockdale High School and was an all-area baseball selection his Junior and Senior year. “For my entire life, baseball’s been my life,” Grant told the LA Times. Like most young athletes, he grew up dreaming of being a professional player and one day being in the Hall of Fame.
It takes a serious amount of practice and dedication to reach this level in a sport, and growing up Grant devoted every available second he had to working on his baseball skills. In an interview with Catholic.org he said, “I could never get enough baseball in my life.”
After playing for San Diego State University, and later for California Polytech State University, he was drafted in the second round by the Oakland Athletics. He played the 2007 season for one of the A’s minor league teams, but was injured early in the 2008 season.
Grant suffered a separated shoulder which allowed him to play only 2 games in 2008. For the first time since his childhood, he had to live life without baseball. He finally got to think about who he really wanted to be and what he really wanted out of life.
“My injuries were the biggest blessings that God’s ever given me,” he said, “[…]I’ve defined myself as a baseball player. When it was taken away, it was kind of an eye opener, a real shock. Either way, if I played in the big leagues and became a Hall of Famer, you never know when it’s going to end.”
Reading the Signals
During this time, Grant visited an order of priests called the Norbertines at St. Michael’s Abbey. During this time, he had a chance to pray undistracted. He got to see first hand what it meant to be a priest and a monk, and what life is like when you are wholly devoted to God. “I started doing some soul searching about who I was, and this is where it’s led me.” The monks at the Abbey lead a life of quiet and prayer, something Grant found refreshing compared to the circus parade of public attention in which a pro athlete lives. “I could see that being home,” he said.
Grant felt a pull in his heart; a deep sense that God was asking something of him. This is called a vocation. Not only did Grant feel this calling from God, but he truly in his heart felt the desire to follow it. He quickly knew this was where he would find his truest peace and happiness.
Bottom of the ’09th
Grant made an interesting decision next. He wanted to leave baseball on a different note. It would mean one thing to leave for the priesthood after a year off from injury. But he wanted to try one more season of professional play before he made his decision final. Desme returned for the 2009 season, and as you read earlier, it was an incredibly successful one for him.
On his nationally syndicated radio show, Dan Patrick asked Desme if he had trouble concentrating on the game while having already made up his mind to become a priest. Grant answered, “I still had my job to glorify Him, to use it to the best of my abilities.” It took a lot of patience, discipline, and self-control to keep playing well while his mind was on the priesthood. He realized that we must do our very best at everything to give glory to God.
Now Grant felt he could peacefully make his decision. Knowing that he freely chose to walk away from a baseball career, in the midst of success and not injury, gave Grant the last bit of assurance he needed.
The Slugger Fires a Bombshell
On January 22, 2010, Desme publicly announced his change of plans. He had called Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane and told him that he would be retiring from baseball to enter a Catholic seminary in order to become a priest. Grant explained his choice to the LA Times, “I love the game but I aspire to higher things.”
Despite his recent professional success, Desme realized he wasn’t completely at peace as a baseball player. “Unfortunately this dream [of being a major league baseball player], as I became older, turned into more of an idol. I ate, drank, and slept baseball…”
During his season off, Grant had realized that his love of baseball had been competing with his love for God. Once he truly felt inspired to be a priest, Grant said it would have been selfish for him to keep playing baseball. “Baseball is a good thing,” Desme said. “But that felt selfish of me, when I felt that God was calling me more. It took awhile to trust that and open up to it and aim full steam toward him […]” he explained.
Training is Key
As physically challenging as Grant Desme’s road toward the Major Leagues has been, it’s prepared him for the challenges that he’ll meet in the priesthood. Grant is joining an Abbey where the priests are required to do lot’s of prayer, work, and private study. He’ll spend hours and hours of study and preparation for homilies and preaching. A priest’s day starts very early in the morning, and often he has to answer calls in the middle of the night, too. Along with his work at the Abbey, Desme may also be asked to perform additional jobs just like your parish priest: celebrating Mass, baptizing babies, weddings, funerals, and hearing confessions.
Right now in the United States, there is only roughly one priest per 1,600 Catholics. This number clearly shows that Grant has a lot of work ahead of him. He’ll need all of the patience, discipline, self-control, energy, and determination of a professional athlete in order to successfully meet the demands of his priestly duties.
When asked about having to start his “career” all over from the beginning, Grant said, “It’s about 10 year process of studying, so in reality, this is kind of a comparison. It’s like I’m re-entering the Minor Leagues.”
His Crowd of One
Professional athletes have a lot of opportunities to use their talent and public status to show God’s love to the world. Kurt Warner, Troy Palomalu, and Tim Tebow are all football stars who use their sports image as a platform to talk about God, and whose stories have appeared in other articles in Our Faith In Action®. You may have recently even seen Tim Tebow use his star power to put a personal pro-life commercial on TV during the Super-bowl XLIV. Grant himself had said that he could have given glory to God by playing baseball. So why would Grant Desme choose to give up his position of influence?
In his radio interview with Dan Patrick, Desme was asked if he thought he’d be able reach more people for God as a professional baseball player than a priest. “[God is] the one in control,” Grant answered, “and whatever He wants is going to be the best for me and for everyone else.” But it goes further than that.
Grant is not the first professional athlete we’ve seen forsake his career to follow God in this way. In the November 2008 Issue of Our Faith In Action®, we learned about Chase Hilgenbrink, a professional soccer player, who entered the seminary. Both men had very similar things to say about their experiences. When you get very close to God, you start to think like He thinks, and you begin to want what He wants. Once they had tasted that closeness to God, they truly wanted to be with Him and do His will more than anything else.
Grant Desme sums it all up very well: “I wanted to give my life completely to God for love, for everything He has done for me,” Desme said. “I’m very thankful for that. Something like this is very little in comparison to what he has done for me.”
You’re On Deck
We should be very happy for Grant. He has found something that all the money and fame in the world can’t provide. “Deep down, I think I knew it was the right decision,” Grant Desme said. “I can’t explain the peace and joy I’ve experienced from making it.”
We can learn a lot from Grant’s decision and the process he went through to make it. Not everyone is called to be a priest or a nun, but we all want to be happy and find peace. Grant found it by getting close to God, and allowing his heart to be drawn to what God wants. If we can do the same, God will lead us to that same place of peace and contentment.