The Oakland A's are mounting a surprising challenge in the American League West, but it's all on the wings of their remarkable pitching staff. For 19 straight games, Oakland starters have pitched at least six innings and given up fewer than four runs -- yet half the time it hasn't been stingy enough for a vapid offense.No Oakland batsman has hit more than 12 home runs or driven in more than 61 runs or is batting higher than .278. You have to figure that the A's could well use a strapping slugger who clocked 31 home runs in the Minor Leagues last year, who was the only 30-30 Minor Leaguer -- and who would be on his way to Oakland in a few days when September brings expanded rosters. But the young man who produced those numbers will not be called up to the A's, because Grant Desme is answering a call from higher-up. Desme, you might remember, is the former A's nugget who announced in late January that he was leaving baseball to become a Catholic priest. His spiritual odyssey toward that goal begins in earnest today, when he is due to enter St. Michael's Abbey in Silverado, Calif., in the southern tip of Orange County. Aug. 27, Desme noted cheerily months ago, is "the feast day of St. Monica." So the 24-year-old starts his fast of earthly delights to obey a calling he received long before finally deciding to make the break. St. Michael's is an autonomous abbey of the Norbertine Order, a discipline demanding prayer and contemplation, as well as obedience and labor. That is the disciplined life, eventually leading through opened doors to help others, which Desme chose mere weeks after reaching the pinnacle of his three-year professional career, by being named Most Valuable Player of the highly competitive Arizona Fall League. According to its website, St. Michael's for 50 years has welcomed men who believe they were called to the priesthood. For most, it has remained a target much of their academic lives. A few are professionals who opt for a path away from the pleasure and glamor of their own lives. That is Desme, who for a year tried to repress the urge to take the spiritual road. As he said while frankly discussing his choice during his final media conference in January, "Last year before the season started, I really had a strong feeling of a calling and a real strong desire to follow it. I just fought it." Subsequently, Desme acknowledged the frustration of "doing well in baseball." "I really had to get down to the bottom of things -- what was good in my life, what I wanted to do with my life. And I felt that while baseball is a good thing and I love playing, I thought it was selfish of me to be doing that when I really felt that God was calling me more." In the eight months since Desme made his decision and announcement, much has changed. Not the mind of a young man who once gave his all on the diamond and now gives himself to all.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.