Desme Once A Prime Prospect Retired to Become a Priest, Back on Diamond
This is a Q&A I did with Father Matthew Desme in March of 2016. He is now playing for the Lancaster team in the independent Atlantic League, where he is listed on the roster with his given name Grant Desme. When he went into priesthood he was known as Father Matthew Desme.
It is not like Desme ever turned his back on baseball. Desme is also the head baseball coach at Ave Maria University in Florida. He served as an assistant coach at St. Michael's Preparatory School in California during his time in the seminary. During the 2016 season, St. Michael's Prep posted a 12-0 record in Express League play, and put together a winning season.
In his first 12 games with Lancaster, Desme is hitting .293 with two stolen bases, three doubles, a home run and two stolen bases. He appeared in three games May 30-31, including a doubleheader on May 31, and rejoined the team two weeks later. After appearing in six games June 14-20, he was in the lineup on Monday night in a game at Sugarland.
A's executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane was driving home from an off-season luncheon with sponsors in late January 2010 when the phone call came. Grant Desme, coming off a breakthrough year and in Beane's estimation one of the two top prospects in the organization, dropped a bombshell.
Coming off a 30-30 season, followed by earning MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League, Desme was giving up baseball to become a Catholic priest.
"You are speechless," Beane said. "There is no point questioning him. I told him I am a Catholic and respect his decision. I just said, 'I want to hear your first homily.'"
Six years later, Desme is continuing his work toward becoming a priest at St. Michael's Abbey in Orange County Calif., and Beane said, "The fact we are talking about this shows he made the right decision."
That, however, doesn't mean Beane hasn't wondered what might have been. Desme -- the Big West Conference Player of the Year in 2007, whose roommate at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo was big league outfielder Logan Schafer -- was the A's second-round draft choice in '07.
A nagging wrist injury limited Desme to 14 Class A Short-Season games his first two years. In 2009, however, he hit .288 with 31 home runs and 40 stolen bases at the full-season Class A level, and then was the talk of the Arizona Fall League.
It was no surprise to the A's. It's what they felt Desme was capable of doing.
"Dale Murphy is probably the best comparable," Beane said. "He was athletic, ranging and could create leverage with his wing that creased power. Like Murphy, he was a center fielder with raw power. And he wasn't a good kid -- he was a great kid."
Desme was such a good kid, said Beane, that he accepted the decision without debate.
"I could tell when I spoke to him he had thought long and hard about the decision," Beane said. "I knew with his maturity it was something he was committed to doing."
Desme, who has taken the name Father Matthew, discussed his change of careers.
Tracy: After being limited by a wrist injury that required surgery your first two years in pro ball, you had what would seem like a breakout season in 2009, capped off by earning MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League. Was it difficult to give up baseball and pursue the priesthood in the aftermath of that season?
Matthew: The injury was a big wakeup call. I was [all] baseball all the time, I loved to play. I was very goal-driven. I was hurt my first year [in pro ball], and it shook me up. It would not heal. I was supposed to be out six weeks and ended up being out a year and a half, requiring surgery. To have something out of my control take away something I worked for all my life was difficult. To have it taken away from me without an option was tough.
Tracy: At that time, however, you were torn between priesthood and baseball. What kept you from giving up baseball instead of battling the injury?
Matthew: One fear I had was I did not want to run from baseball because for the first time, I faced a difficult situation and failed. That's one reason I played that last season. I wanted to make sure the call to priesthood was strong enough. It was the only way to sort it out.
Tracy: But you were considering giving up baseball for the priesthood while you were hurt?
Matthew: I could feel it tug on my heart. After I had a better year, I wondered if it would go away. And at the end of the season, I met a girl I could see myself being serious with. That did not take away the tugging at my heart. The decision to not be a husband and father was more difficult than walking away from baseball.
Tracy: The big season when you were healthy didn't convince you to stay in baseball?
Matthew: There was still unrest in my heart. I knew there was something bigger in my future.
Tracy: How did your family, friends and teammates react to your decision?
Matthew: My family was surprised by my timing, but was supportive of what I wanted to do. I was the only one who had the experience that spoke to me in a strong way.
Tracy: Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said he played in the AFL in 2009, and he said you dominated the league. He said you had the power-speed combination. And when you walked away from the game, he was surprised, but respected your strength of conviction. Do you remember him?
Matthew: Yes. In my last game, he threw me out trying to steal second. It was a slide step.
Tracy: I'm sure there were people who wondered what you were doing, walking away from baseball.
Matthew: It was a great opportunity, playing a game and getting paid for it. Going to a religious life was not easy. It is difficult for a guy to live it, but it was good for me. It helped me appreciate what I have now. It takes commitment. Anything worthwhile is a challenge.
Tracy: Do you still follow baseball?
Matthew: For the most part, it is not part of my life. Although I still enjoy baseball, my other responsibilities keep me busy. Since this year is my apostolic year, I am taking a break from my studies and have been assigned to teach in the boarding school that we run on our monastery grounds. Part of my assignment is to teach first-year Latin and help out with the school's baseball team. I am enjoying getting back out on the field and teaching the boys about the game.
Tracy: So you see a value to the students playing the game?
Matthew: There is a different approach I take to the game after stepping away for a few years of study and prayer. Baseball can be used to help the young boys become good men. It can be used as an educational tool. It can prepare you for the trials of life. It can help you get along with people. It is something to enjoy. Rather than simply performing the best, you can work to make yourself better. It teaches you about being more selfless and use your ability to make yourself the best person you can be and to help others be better. It's about teamwork.