Now he joins Nationals players Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross and Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Mike Leake, who have decided the health risks won’t outweigh the financial reward this summer. Desmond is 34 and a family man. His wife, Chelsey, is pregnant, and they are raising four young kids. That was the crux of why he chose to sit out a 60-game season that is set to begin in late July.
Yet it wasn’t the only reason.
“A few weeks ago, I told the social media world a little bit about me that I never talk about,” Desmond’s post began. “I started it by saying why that was: I don’t like sadness and anger. I’d found an even keel allowed me to move through my days with more ease than emotion did. So, I kept it inside. But that comes at an internal cost, and I could no longer keep a lid on what I was feeling.
“The image of officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on the neck of George Floyd, the gruesome murder of a Black man in the street at the hands of a police officer, broke my coping mechanisms. Suppressing my emotions became impossible.”
From there, Desmond went through his life, touching on his experience playing youth baseball in Sarasota, Fla., and instances of racism as he grew up. He recently visited his old Little League fields and found little there. There was a schedule from 2015 posted to a bulletin board. He described the park as “run down” and “neglected.”
He thought about former coaches who comforted him and memories that stick with him. He attended Sarasota High and recalls white teammates shouting “White Power!” Desmond said the two black kids — he and a teammate — sat in a “stunned silence the white players didn’t seem to notice.” And that memory led him to Antwuan.
Antwuan was a child Desmond met while working with the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Washington. Desmond wrote that Antwuan couldn’t read, “could barely say his ABCs” and once went to school right after seeing a man who was stabbed to death.
“So, no sleep, traumatized by murder literally outside their door, eating who knows what for lunch, they head off to school. And they’re expected to perform in a classroom,” Desmond wrote. “Meanwhile, my kids fly all over the country watching their dad play. They attend private schools, and get extra curriculum from learning centers. They have safe places to learn, grow, develop. But … the only thing dividing us from Antwuan is money.
“It just doesn’t make any sense. Why isn’t society’s No. 1 priority giving all kids the best education possible? If we seriously want to see change, isn’t education where it all starts? Give all kids a safe place to go for eight hours a day. Where their teachers or coaches are happy to see them. Where they feel supported and loved.”
It has been a rough few months for baseball, with headlines dominated by two cheating scandals and a public labor battle between owners and players. Desmond pointed that out before going a step further, drawing attention to the sport’s diversity numbers and lack of inclusion.
“Think about it: right now in baseball we’ve got a labor war. We’ve got rampant individualism on the field. In clubhouses we’ve got racist, sexist, homophobic jokes or flat-out problems. We’ve got cheating,” Desmond wrote. “We’ve got a minority issue from the top down. One African American [general manager]. Two African American managers. Less than 8% Black players. No Black majority team owners.
“Perhaps the most disheartening of all is a puzzling lack of focus on understanding how to change those numbers. A lack of focus on making baseball accessible and possible for all kids, not just those who are privileged enough to afford it. If baseball is America’s pastime, maybe it’s never been a more fitting one than now.”
Desmond then drew a line between baseball and American society, in which he believes black people are pushed to adhere to a white standard. He explained this with the concept of boxes. He started with the ones he feared as a kid, asking him to check whether he was white, black or other. Next, he made those boxes theoretical, showing how the sport’s “golden rules” — “don’t have fun, don’t pimp home runs, don’t play with character” — are “white rules.”
“If we didn’t force Black Americans into white America’s box, think of how much we could thrive,” he wrote, right before explaining what he’ll do while sitting out this summer. He will care for Chelsey. He will work on reviving Sarasota Youth Baseball, saying: “It’s what I can do, in the scheme of so much. So, I am.”
And, maybe most importantly, he will be a dad. He will answer the questions his children are asking. He will teach them about the coronavirus, civil rights and life, as he put it. He will be home.