When impressive Oakland prospect Grant Desme reached the crossroads of baseball and faith, he found himself at an intersection many others have contemplated. But the 24-year-old chose the path few have taken, embarking on another long road leading to priesthood. Desme retired from baseball and will enter a seminary in August -- about the time another solid Minor League season could have earned him a September promotion to the big leagues. Desme didn't care about a callup as much as about a higher calling.
John Werhas has never heard of Desme, but the former Dodgers infielder is familiar with the process that led to his decision. During two decades as a Baseball Chapel minister that took him into Major and Minor League clubhouses every Sunday morning, Werhas listened to many players struggle with a similar choice. "They were torn by their desire to lead a more balanced life that accommodated their faith," Werhas said. "Actually, I was one of the few voices that encouraged them -- if they were good enough to play and get to the big leagues -- to stay in the game as long as they had the God-given ability to play. "If you think about it, there aren't too many other things you could do where the two, sports and faith, better complement each other." Desme clearly viewed the two as mutually exclusive. "I love the game, but I aspire to higher things," he said on a conference call with reporters on Friday afternoon. The fair-haired Californian's decision separates him from the crowd, but not the quandary he clearly faced. For many, their faith runs deeper, is far more profound, than a simple skyward index finger when something good happens for them on the field. Josh Fields, the infielder dealt by the White Sox to Kansas City in November, also considered retiring from baseball a couple of months after his 2007 rookie season. The devout Fields was disenchanted with the clubhouse culture, telling the gathering at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes luncheon of the "many things going on in the clubhouse that I really questioned if professional baseball was for me." Ultimately, Fields "prayed about it and realized there is nowhere I could have more influence right now than in that clubhouse." Some have answered faith's calling before committing themselves to baseball. Jeremy Guthrie was a first-round Draft pick in 2002 as a 23-year-old -- because he had interrupted his collegiate pitching career for a two-year Mormon mission to Spain. Fireballing Matt Lindstrom was a Marlins rookie at 27 -- because he also had first gone on a two-year Mormon mission, to Sweden. The first thing shortstop Jimmy Scholzen did after signing in 2005 with Tampa Bay, which had taken him in the 10th round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, was embark on the two-year Mormon mission. It did not work out for Scholzen, who retired from the game after hitting .162 in 142 at-bats in the Rookie League in 2007. Werhas' path into priesthood was not much different: He played his last game for the California Angels in 1967, when he was only 29. However, he left with a career average of .173 in 168 at-bats across three seasons. "The truth was, I didn't have much baseball left," he said. "And I didn't really enter religion until many years later. I certainly wasn't a young man with a lot of talent, as [Desme] appears to be. So my situation was different. I was through with baseball." Desme, in contrast, turned his back on the game just as the two of them started to get along really well. Very few baseball players have done that but, ironically, another was a highly-touted A's prospect. Steve Stanley was a 2002 second-round Draft pick also coming off a breakthrough Double-A season when he announced his retirement early in 2006, after an offseason spent assessing a Minor League life's toll on his family. Countless nascent baseball careers have been curtailed by injuries, but seldom by choice. The option is more common in football, where the constant physical punishment makes alternatives more appealing. Running backs Jim Brown (30), Barry Sanders (31) and Robert Smith (28) all walked off as young men. Vince Young also considered doing so, following his 2006 rookie season with the Tennessee Titans, for reasons that will resonate with Desme. "I really thought long and hard about it," Young recently recalled to NFL.com. "There was so much going on with my family. All I was doing was worrying about things. My teammates helped lift me out of it. I prayed really hard. And I began to focus on God's calling for me. Play football. Be a role model." That had been Werhas' sermon to torn ballplayers, before he took another high road and six years ago became senior pastor of The Rock, a church in Yorba Linda, Calif. He didn't get a chance to deliver the message to Desme, whom he has not yet met. Perhaps soon their crossroads will merge at a pulpit.