As a pro rookie in 2008, Dusty Coleman had advanced quite far athletically. He was being paid to play baseball and was closing in on his dream of playing in the Major Leagues. That season he encountered another player who would impress him, not only with his baseball skills, but with his devotion to Catholicism.
Grant Desme became roommates with Coleman in 2009, was named the Arizona Fall League MVP later that year and in early 2010 left pro baseball to become a priest.
Coleman supported Desme in his pursuit of priesthood, despite most people being shocked over it. Coleman, a “Shocker” himself at Wichita State, knew that some things were more important than baseball, although he himself had a home in the game.
The Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native now has more than nine years of professional experience, including a Major League stint with the Kansas City Royals in 2015. He is currently with the El Paso Chihuahuas, the AAA affiliate of the San Diego Padres, and his top career goal is to get back to the big leagues.
Coleman, who turned 30 on April 20, spoke of his career, the appreciation he has for his wife and children, and the great influence Grant Desme, a Norbertine seminarian, had on him. It was a conversation on natural fatherhood and spiritual fatherhood with a member of the Padres’ organization.
You’ve been on the Major League roster of the Kansas City Royals. Is your goal to get back to the Major Leagues this season with the Padres?
Yes, the top career goal for me now is to get back to the big leagues. I was there a couple years ago, and I’m ready to go again. For that to happen, I have to play well, but there also has to be an opening. I have control over the first part, but not the second, so it will take both hard work and patience.
The goal I have for life in general is pretty much the same as the one I have for baseball. I want to be the best version of myself each and every day. That won’t result in being called up to any rosters outside of baseball, but it will be good news for my wife and our two kids.
My wife, Sarah, is so dedicated that she travels with me and the team. Most wives of players don’t do that, but she wants us to be a family year-round and wants me to do well in baseball. She brings our two kids, a 2-year-old boy who is always moving around, and a 6-month-old girl.
What do you enjoy most about being a husband and father?
I enjoy how my wife inspires me to be a better man. If I didn’t have her around, I’d probably be satisfied with being less than I could be. Her presence gives me a major reason to be better and gives increased meaning to my life. That’s even more the case now with kids. Looking after them can be tiring, but it’s a meaningful exhaustion.
I found single life to be easier, but less fulfilling, than married life. There weren’t the duties and challenges of marriage, but that didn’t result in much beyond me. With a wife and kids, there’s much more to do, but it’s done to positively affect other human beings who are so close to you, so it is worth the effort.
You played on the same team as Grant (now Frater Matthew) Desme in the Oakland Athletics organization in 2009. What was that like?
We were roommates in the minor leagues in 2009. He was often reading a Catholic book, talking about Catholicism, or going to Mass. He had an ability to explain the faith very well — an ability I wish I had. He talked to Catholics about God, but he also shared Catholicism with Protestants. He provided a vision of faith that sometimes gets lost in pro baseball, because most of its ministries are Protestant.
Frater Matthew had a big influence on me and the practice of my faith. I am a cradle Catholic who had advanced spiritually, but who also needed a further push. I had gone to a public grade school and then to a Catholic high school. That transition helped me to pray more and see the faith as something that could be lived out. I did that fairly well, but certainly not perfectly.
When I became roommates with Frater Matthew, he showed me how being Catholic could be an all-encompassing thing — something you do, not just on Sundays or other special occasions, but every single day. He would go to daily Mass when he could and later in the day talk to players about faith. He never did it in a pushy manner; he had a great feel of knowing when to bring it up. It was just so obvious that being part of the Church that Jesus established was a vitally important thing to him, and he wanted other people to share in the same blessing.
What did you think of his decision to leave baseball to become a priest?
After the 2009 season, which included a 10-game stretch in which he hit 10 home runs, he became the Arizona Fall League MVP. That’s a big award for a prestigious league, and it was clear that he was Major League material. By then we were on different teams, but he called me after the season and said that, despite things going so well in baseball and other parts of life, it just seemed like there was something more that he had to do. Being a great ballplayer, getting married and having kids was not his calling; his calling was to be a priest, so I was supportive of that.
Probably most people didn’t understand his decision to leave baseball; that’s why it got so much attention. It bowled people over because most of us think of pro sports as being more important than religious beliefs or callings. If there’s a conflict, the easy, almost-automatic response is to side with sports. But Frater Matthew saw past this life and into the next. He knew that eternity is a long time, so no matter what he might accomplish athletically, it would be meaningless if he didn’t follow the calling God intended for him.
After he entered St. Michael’s Abbey, he couldn’t call or email, so that made our communication less frequent, because we had to write letters. Less conversation with outsiders probably helped him to converse with God even better. Even if we don’t live in abbeys, it would be a good thing for all of us to stop using our phones and other devices so much. That’s one of the blessings I have with my family being near me as I play; there’s not as much free time to waste on social media or other things like that. I’m able to communicate with real human beings face-to-face.
Do you have a favorite devotion?
I do pray the Rosary, but the Divine Mercy Chaplet is faster to pray than a set of mysteries of the Rosary. I have a CD of the chaplet in the car so that when I drive around, I can pray along. The chaplet is so simple and straightforward that anyone can understand it. Even if someone doesn’t get Marian intercession like we have in the Rosary, he can still pray the chaplet without any confusion. It’s our offering of Jesus’ sacrifice to God the Father for the forgiveness of our sins. Every Christian should be doing that.
I also pray the Divine Mercy novena, which has a different set of people to pray for on each day. It can be prayed throughout the year, but it’s especially suited for the days leading up to Divine Mercy Sunday.
Is it difficult to get to Mass, not only because you’re a pro ballplayer, but because you’ve spent so much time in the minor leagues, which have fewer churches nearby and fewer priests who offer Masses at stadiums?
In most pro baseball organizations, it is tougher to get to Mass in the minor leagues, but it can happen if you make the effort. I’ve been to Mass in lots of cities — small and large — across the country. Most of the time I don’t know anyone else there, but every church feels like home because Jesus Christ is the same in the Eucharist. He’s the one who makes a church special, regardless of the city or the priest or the people in the pews. Jesus is the one who draws us to him for worship in the Mass or in adoration aside from Mass.
Along those lines, I read a book called Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre. It gives a context in which the Mass was instituted, how it was connected to the Old Testament practices of the Jews and how it was a fulfillment of those practices. I think I got that book from a Lighthouse Catholic Media stand in one of the dozens of churches I’ve been to.
Speaking of Lighthouse, I’ve heard different CD talks from them, too. Scott Hahn and Mike Sweeney are two of the speakers I remember. I even got to meet Mike through the Royals, where he works for the team as a special assistant. He’s an amazing player and person who has been a great influence on me.
If you weren’t playing baseball, what would you be doing?
Aside than baseball, I played football, soccer and basketball in high school. Most people thought if I played a sport professionally it would be football, but it ended up being my first love, baseball. It’s not necessarily the sport I was the best at, but it is the sport that I enjoy the most. It‘s not easy to play baseball well, so when things are going smoothly, it’s a more satisfying experience.
It’s been said many times, but baseball is like the game of life. There are so many new, often unexpected, experiences in both “games,” there’s always an opportunity for being humbled, and there’s always something more to learn. That’s like life in general, and I’m experiencing that now as a father with fatherhood. It’s fitting that I’m with the Padres — “Fathers” in Spanish — and I hope that it’s within the will of God the Father that I get back to the big leagues.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book, Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic, 2015), contains numerous Catholic sports
interviews, most of which have appeared in the Register.