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Gay umpire overwhelmed by positive response

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Openly gay umpire Billy Van Raaphorst, the subject of a homophobic rant by a manager, was back on the diamond last weekend for the first time since the incident and the news was that there was no news on the field. Off of it, Van Raaphorst has been deluged with positive reaction.

“It was good to be back, Van Raaphorst said of being back on the field. “Everything worked out smoothly. It was no big deal. The umpires were great, the players were great.”

The incident July 31 became a big deal after minor league Edmonton Capitals Manager Brent Bowers quit following his suspended for the rest of the season by the Golden Baseball League. Bowers uttered a stream of homophobic epithets at Van Raaphorst after the umpire kicked him out of the game. The aftermath became news after it was reported by Outsports and mainstream sports websites such as Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports.

Since then, Van Raaphorst, 34, has been surprised and moved by the outpouring of reaction he has received. He has received well in excess of 1,000 Facebook messages (see examples below) and heard from close to 100 umpires and other sports referees nationwide.

He has also been invited by the Capitals to Edmonton to umpire games there this weekend. But it’s the reaction from his fellow league umpires that in many ways has meant the most.

“I always knew we had each other’s back,” he said. “I didn’t know it ran this deep.”

When Van Raaphorst umpired the recent series in Fullerton, Calif., between the Orange County Flyers and Tijuana Cimarrones, his first action since the Bowers incident, he did not know what to expect. But at least five players came up to him and welcomed him back. Included among those was Mark Prior, the former Chicago Cubs All-Star pitcher now in the bullpen for the Flyers. “It’s good to see you, bud,” Van Raaphorst recalls Prior as saying.

The Capitals, owned by the same group that also owns the NHL Edmonton Oilers, also reached out to him. “The way they’ve handled it has been totally amazing,” Van Raaphorst said. He spoke with Patrick LaForge, Oilers president and Edmonton group CEO, who invited him to umpire two games, address the baseball team and meet with others in the Edmonton community. LaForge also reiterated that the organization is implementing diversity training for its employees.

Van Raaphorst said he has been surprised by the depth of the reaction. “You think you’re doing the right thing, but you never know how you come across,” he said. “By just being me I’ve gotten all these amazing responses.”

On Facebook, he’s heard from preachers and parents and ex-athletes and current athletes in the closet, among others. The closeted athletes have praised him for being brave and standing up for who he is. Canadians have apologized to him for the actions of Bowers, who is not Canadian but was employed by a Canadian company. One mom told Van Raaphorst that he was a role model for her gay son.

The response has taught Van Raaphorst a lesson. “I need to reach out more to people and telling them when they’re doing good stuff.”

In discussing his umpiring the recent series, I asked Van Raaphorst if he ejected anybody. “No,” he laughed. “They were all really nice.”

Following are some of the comments Van Raaphorst received via Facebook:

  • "You strength is incredible, Billy. You've got A LOT of supporters, and I am most certainly one of them. Continue living life the noble, courageous man you are - with your head held high. It is our generation's duty to eliminate this kind of behavior in an effort to pave the way for a brighter tomorrow (sans hatred). Sending you love ..."
  • "Billy, you rock! People don't know how bigoted they can be about homosexuality. Having two gay brothers even opened my eyes with what I said even when I thought I was joking around."
  • "Amazing story and awesome job keeping things in check, Billy. Were I in your position I am not sure I'd have been able to show that much restraint, though I hope I could. You are an inspiration to all for your patience as well as your ability to make it through a very trying personal ordeal! "
  • "Just read the article about that intolerant, insensitive former baseball manager and what he put you thru. Also, what Major League Umpire profession has done to your career. I'm so sorry people are still ignorant. I wish you the best in your life, sir. Never believe you have been foresaken by God; she's a good ol' gal! Look at people thru love and acceptance, and you will be seen the same way. Your life is still set for many experiences both good and bad. You handled things with grace and dignity, and I know you will continue to do so. You rock! "
  • "You don't know me Billy, but I am writing to say that I'm sorry about wawhat you went through, and to applaud the grace with which you handled it.That is true PRIDE. Continue to stand tall, and your brothers will stand behind and beside you."
  • "Hi Billy,You don't know me - but I read an article about the horrible thing that happened to you while umpiring. I was horrified! You are the better man then that fool -- congrats for taking the high road. Just to note, I am not a gay man. I am just someone that has seen the horror that my Uncle has gone through --- especially when he came out to my Grandfather. I just wanted to send you words of enouragement and wish you a great day."
  • "I must admit, I have NEVER heard of you until I read what happend to you the last of July... THANK YOU for being an example that you can't alway settle things with a punch to the face... It all so speaks volumes about YOU and the person you are with all of the support you had from your fellow colleges... i just wanted you to know that there is an old black preacher in Kansas that thinks you are a super person!!!! Be blessed my brother... "
  • "I just read an article on what I am sure you will find makes you a hero to many, many gay men. Especially those of us who played college football/sports in general! Your quotes (in the story) hit me to the heart and very hard to the core... I wish you the best. I hope for the best. WAY TO GO."