In 2009, at 23 years old, former Cal Poly standout Grant Desmé walked away from a professional baseball career with the Oakland Athletics’ organization that many believe would have eventually earned him millions of dollars and a shot at playing Major League Baseball.
He gave up contact with his family, his birth name and the chance to start a family of his own. He did it all to become a Catholic priest.
“I think most people, they either get it or they don’t,” Desmé told The Tribune of his decision in 2010. “I didn’t do it expecting everyone to understand, but it’s something where I felt like God was calling me.”
But after spending years as Frater Matthew Desmé at St. Michael’s Abbey, where he lived a dual life of a priest-in-training and a monk in the Norbertine Order, he couldn’t escape the call of fatherhood.
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“Even when I was playing baseball, my No. 1 goal was I wanted to be married and have a family,” the now 32-year-old Desmé told The Tribune this week. “The time in the monastery was to discern whether or not that life was for me, and at the end of the day, after seven years it became clear — God is calling me to married life rather than the priesthood.”
With that, baseball also came back into his life.
Back to baseball
In August 2017, three years before the completion of his studies to fully enter the priesthood, Desmé left the monastery in Silverado and returned to his hometown of Bakersfield. A return to baseball was a no-brainer, since that’s what he knew how to do best.
But first he needed to find a job.
He found the perfect opportunity as the head baseball coach at Ave Maria University, a small private Catholic university in Southwest Florida. As he worked to rebuild the baseball program, a return to professional baseball kept coming up.
Thanks to former Cal Poly teammate and roommate Logan Schafer.
Schafer, a former Milwaukee Brewers player and MLB player for six seasons, played for the Cal Poly baseball team in 2007 when Desmé was named Big West Conference Player of the Year.
After a season in which he led the conference in hitting (.405), home runs (15) and RBI (53), the A’s picked him as an outfielder in the second round of the 2007 MLB Draft. He battled injuries early in his professional career, but he eventually emerged as a top prospect.
He had 31 home runs and 40 stolen bases playing Low A and High A ball in 2009. He was named the Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League in 2009, playing against many of the best young players in professional baseball including Giancarlo Stanton, Jason Heyward and Buster Posey.
Suddenly, he was on the verge of a Major League call-up — but he walked away from the game to enter the priesthood.
Early this year Desmé wanted to get back on the field, so Schafer put him in touch with the Lancaster Barnstormers, an independent baseball team in Southeast Pennsylvania where Schafer had played in 2016. It had been nearly nine years since Desmé had played competitive baseball, so it took some convincing.
With the blessing of Ave Maria University, Desmé made his Barnstormers debut on May 26. He went 3-for-4 at the plate with an RBI. Through 24 games this season, Desmé is hitting .238.
“It is not as difficult of an adjustment as I thought it was going to be,” Desmé said. “The biggest challenge for me has been getting the confidence to play again. For now, playing wise, I just want to get better every day and do everything I can to be successful off the field and do everything I can to rebuild the program at Ave Maria University.”
A whole new world
Desmé is now able to talk to his family more often. He has a girlfriend, and he’s back around the game he loves.
But re-acclimating to society was difficult.
“At first, being back in the world, I was kind of lonely,” Desmé said. “From the outside we were very restricted (in the monastery), but from the inside we were very close. My best friends were there in the monastery. We did everything together, so you develop a very deep friendship.”
To ease the transition, he reached out to old friends, including Cal Poly head baseball coach Larry Lee.
Lee invited Desmé back to Cal Poly and the two met for three hours. Lee helped him learn how to be a head coach — everything from practice schedules to hitting instruction. Desmé also got advice from Thomas Eager, a former Cal Poly pitching coach who now coaches at Stanford.
“All of the Cal Poly guys have been very helpful and influential on my life,” Desmé said.
Desmé said he’s hoping to blend his baseball knowledge with the lessons he learned at St. Michael’s Abbey to help him become a better coach and mentor.
“I try to keep up my daily prayer and still live an authentic and deep Christian life. It just looks different externally,” Desmé said. “Being a coach is part of that. I just try to bring Christ to wherever I go.”
Does he regret he decision to give up the prime of his baseball career to pursue the journey to priesthood?
“Entering the monastery was a huge blessing, and the fruitfulness of that choice is something that I would have never received any other way,” Desmé said. “Sure, playing in the big leagues would have been nice, but that wasn’t guaranteed to happen.
“Because of the monastery, I am much more well prepared to be a father, and that for me is the number one goal.”