"But that doesn't mean I'm leaving baseball behind for the year," Desmond said. "I'll be right here, at my old Little League, and I'm working with everyone involved to make sure we can get Sarasota Youth Baseball back on track."
His announcement came at the end of a lengthy post lamenting the lack of diversity across MLB, increasing costs of youth baseball, and the racism he has experienced in his life.
Jesse Dougherty @dougherty_jesse
Desmond wrote: "In clubhouses we've got racist, sexist, homophobic jokes or flat-out problems. We've got cheating. We've got a minority issue from the top down. One African American GM. Two African American managers. Less than 8% Black players. No Black majority team owners."
Desmond opened by saying he visited the Little League fields in Sarasota, Florida, on which he played growing up. He said the fields looked "run down" and "neglected," lamenting how traditional Little Leagues have given way to travel baseball and showcase events that can be cost-prohibitive for some young players:
"I had the most heartbreak and the most fulfillment right there on those fields – in the same exact place. I felt the hurt of racism, the loneliness of abandonment, and so many other emotions. But I also felt the triumph of success. The love of others. The support of a group of men pulling for each other and picking one another up as a team.
"I got to experience that because it was a place where baseball could be played by any kid who wanted it. It was there, it was affordable, and it was staffed by people who cared.
"But if we don't have these parks, academies, teachers, coaches, religious institutions – if we don't have communities investing in people's lives -- what happens to the kids who are just heartbroken and never get that moment of fulfillment?"
Desmond also said there's a "puzzling lack of focus" on increasing diversity in MLB and "a lack of focus on making baseball accessible and possible for all kids, not just those who are privileged enough to afford it."
Diversity has been a longstanding issue across MLB—particularly in front offices and ownership—and it's extending beyond the league as well. Echoing what Desmond said, Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Josh Bell told Al Jazeera America's Ray Glier in 2014 that baseball is simply becoming far too expensive, especially in relation to other sports.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could exacerbate the situation, with many minor league players finding themselves out of a job. Most minor league players never go on to great MLB careers, but Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore explained how they can be invaluable toward the long-term health of baseball:
Should some of those released minor league players fall out of the game altogether, the sport could lose out on the same kind of people who helped Desmond ultimately reach the majors.
The 34-year-old will at least do what he can to pay it forward.
He's the fourth player to opt out for the upcoming 60-game season. The Washington Nationals announced Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross removed themselves for this year, while the Arizona Diamondbacks confirmed they'll be without Mike Leake.