Touching All the Bases

What happens when one of Major League Baseball's top prospects decides to touch all the bases? He ends up at home.

That's where outfielder Grant Desme hopes to find himself, changing from a baseball uniform to a priest's collar.

Desme, a second-round pick of the Oakland A's of the American League in the 2007 draft, shocked the baseball world this spring when he retired to pursue a priestly vocation. Desme feels he has been called to be a Catholic priest.

Breakout Year is Not Enough
Last season, playing right field for Oakland's single-A farm team in Stockton, Calif., Desme batted .288, with 31 home runs, with 40 stolen bases. In the off-season of his breakout year, he continued his prowess. He played in the highly regarded Arizona Fall League, winning Most Valuable Player honors. That earned him an invite to spring training with the parent A's.

His future seemed unlimited, except for one thing: He wasn't fulfilled.

"I was doing well at baseball, but I really had to get down to the bottom of things," Desme told the BBC early in the year, prior to spring training. "I love the game, but I aspire to higher things. I wasn't at peace where I was at. I have no regrets. Baseball is a good thing, 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."

The San Francisco Chronicle did a story on Desme, sending sportswriter Bill Mitchell to interview the young man in November 2009 to see how the hot prospect was faring in recovering from a shoulder injury. But what was supposed to be a baseball story took an interesting twist when Desme talked about the injury. He focused on the redemptive aspect of the setback, as though God were trying to tell him something.

Father Knows Best
The Catholic ballplayer saw the event not in athletic but spiritual terms, premised upon an all-knowing, all-loving God who knows best.

"I think [getting hurt] needed to be," he said, speaking of how baseball had wrongly become the center of his life. He said getting hurt helped put his priorities in order. "There are much bigger things in life. Baseball could be taken from you at any moment. You step on that field, and that could be your last game. There are a lot of other things that matter more."

Desme said that he "heard within his heart" a call. In its coverage of Desme's conversion, U.S. Catholic Online called this "the same call [that] has echoed for over two millennia in the hearts of millions of others. This young Catholic athlete has decided to pursue he Lord's invitation."

Desme says in his discernment, he had not only to realize God was in charge but also to act on that knowledge. He said he could only do this in humility, that is, sacrificing what he wanted for what God wanted for him. It calls to mind this Diary passage from St. Faustina:

"Without humility, we cannot be pleasing to God" (270).

Setting an Example for Young People
Desme's "career change" has an evangelistic aspect. By leaving the fame and potential riches of a Major League ballplayer behind, Desme serves as a witness to faith, especially to young people who often elevate professional sports to a pseudo-devotional level that mimics religious belief. Desme's decision certainly can reach young men and women who follow sports more than they do their faith.

The point is not that everyone is meant for the religious life. Rather, everyone has a calling in life, and it's a person's responsibility to listen for the call, try to determine what it is, discern as to its suitability, and finally, when heartily convinced act on it. Indeed, some are called to be athletes. Others are called to be writers. There's a call to marriage. The many calls - authentic calls, that is - come from one divine source. The point is, be yourself, the "self" that God calls you to become.

Riches that Won't Perish
Desme resembles the young rich man in the Gospels, who walks away forlornly after Jesus tells him to sell all he has, give the money to the poor, and follow Him. The young man in the Gospel hears Jesus' call but doesn't respond. Desme heard and acted.

His story also calls to mind an insightful passage from St. Paul:

Do you not know that in a race, all runners compete but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we [run for] an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly. I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that - after preaching to others - I myself should be disqualified. (1 Cor 9:24-27)

Desme is now enrolled in a Catholic seminary in Orange County, Calif. There, he will begin the process of discernment, seeing if God is calling him to pastor or to play. The 24-year-old already possess the most important quality he'll need for that process, one familiar to those who live the message of Divine Mercy.

That quality is trust.

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal.

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