Outfielder Grant Desme phoned A's general manager Billy Beane, and his news came from out of left field. One of the fastest-rising players in the A's farm system, Desme explained he was retiring from baseball to enter the Catholic priesthood.
The team made the announcement Friday, one day after Desme told Beane of his decision.
"It kind of knocked him off his horse," Desme, 23, said of Beane's reaction.
Desme, 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, delivered one of the finest statistical seasons in the minor leagues last year, hitting 31 homers with 89 RBI and 40 stolen bases. He was ranked the No. 8 prospect in Oakland's organization by Baseball America, and in November was named Most Valuable Player of the Arizona Fall League, the most prestigious talent showcase for minor leaguers.
But even as his career was beginning to blossom, Desme felt a tug from somewhere other than the diamond. During an injury-plagued 2008 season, in which he missed all but two games because of wrist and shoulder problems, he began reassessing his priorities.
Then Desme, born and raised in a devout Catholic family, said he had a powerful religious experience before last season.
"I had a really strong feel of a calling, a real strong desire to follow it. But I guess in a way I fought it," he said on a media conference call Friday. "As the year went on, God blessed me and I had as good a year as I could have ever imagined. But that almost reconfirmed my desire (to become a priest). I wasn't at peace with where I was at."
Desme knew going into his final Arizona Fall League game that he might not play again. What memories did he take away?
"Considering I hit a home run and proceeded to strike out twice afterward, it kind of defined my career a bit," he joked.
Desme visited St. Michael's Abbey, a Catholic seminary in Orange County, shortly after the AFL ended in November and got a good feeling from the place. The seminary considered his application quickly — spring training begins in February — and accepted him. He'll enroll in August.
Desme said he wasn't sure how he'd feel breaking the news to Beane, who drafted Desme in the second round out of Cal Poly in 2007.
"I was surprised in a way when I called Billy to inform him of my decision," he said, "knowing ... that when I was done with the phone call, I'd be done with baseball for the rest of my life. I was able to experience a great amount of peace because of it."
"We respect Grant's decision and wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors," Beane said in a team statement.
Keith Lieppman, the A's director of player development, said in 40 years around the game he's never known of a player to make such a decision. But he could tell how sincere Desme was after talking to him.
"I posed a couple questions to him about what was important, and once I understood his direction, at that stage it was (all about) support," Lieppman said. "At certain times you try to run players through things (they might be) giving up. In this case, he knew what he wanted to do."
Desme said he's entering what's likely to be a 10-year period of religious study on his road to becoming a priest, and believes he's ready for the sacrifice and commitment required.
The major league minimum salary in 2009 was $400,000. By comparison, priests in the Oakland Diocese make $29,000 annually, according to a diocese spokesperson.
Catholic priests also are prohibited from marrying.
A's minor league second baseman Jemile Weeks, a teammate of Desme's at Single-A Stockton and in the AFL, said he initially was shocked at Friday's news but added:
"It's not as big of a surprise as you'd think it would be, because he took that lifestyle on and off the field. I know a lot of people are probably asking, 'Why is he doing this?' But when God asks you do to something, you can't put it off. I just want to congratulate him for taking that stand that so many people probably wouldn't."