(This story was published in 2007).
By: Ross Forman
To make it in professional baseball, Tyler Garrison went back in the closet. Being openly-gay was not an option, even as an umpire. Or, particularly because he was an umpire.
Garrison came out to his family and friends in 2002, shortly after graduating from Lewis-Clark State College. But when he went to umpire school, run by former major league umpire Jim Evans, in January 2004, Garrison went straight, so to speak; Even though his boyfriend, Frank Caruso, was at home in the Washington D.C. area.
“When I went to umpire school, Frank was really supportive and I knew it was going to be tough,” Garrison said. “I knew being out wasn’t really an option. If you want to make it, it’s just not possible because of the macho environment and the competitiveness.”
Garrison was among the elite umpire students in 2004; one of about 400 from the nationally-credited baseball umpire schools that send umpires into the minor leagues.
“Being out would be more than just a strike against you. Maybe I’m pessimistic, but I can’t even imagine being gay and making it,” he said. “As competitive as it is, you don’t really want anything to affect you.”
Garrison landed in the Northwest League for the summer of 2004. It was a Boise-based, eight-team, 76-game Short Season Class-A league with teams in Eugene, Ore., Yakima, Wash., and Vancouver, B.C., among other places.
The job was “awesome” for Garrison. Originally from Mt. Vernon, Ore., he had family and friends attend almost every game.
His umpiring partner was Neil Turner, “who was a really cool guy and we got along really well.” But Garrison never told Turner that he was gay. “I didn’t feel comfortable coming out to him, as cool as he was.”
Garrison retired after the ’04 season, opting not to return for the 2005 season, though he had an offer to return to the field.
Umpiring professionally, he said, “is not a life I now want. I don’t want to jump from hotel room to hotel room, not being home.”
But if he was going to return to the game, Garrison would do one thing different for sure: “If I had it to do all over again, I would do a season or two completely out, just to do it and maybe make a point,” he said. “I contemplated returning in 2005 and being out. I wish I had had the balls to do it.”
GETTING TO KNOW … Tyler Garrison
Birthday: November 22, 1978
High School: Grant Union (Mt. Vernon, Ore., Class of 1997)
College: Lewis Clark State College, Class of 2002.
Lives in: Washington D.C.
Status: Boyfriend, Frank Caruso, 28, is an economist.
Hobbies: Working out, softball, volleyball and snow skiing.
Favorite stadium: Camden Yards in Baltimore.
Favorite TV Show: Baseball Tonight
Favorite movie: Field of Dreams.
Could a minor league umpire be openly-gay: “Yes, though I don’t know how far they’d go (up the ranks). Being out and trying to make it (to the majors), I’d like to think that it’d be possible, but I have my doubts.”
Umpiring in 2007: He still umpires adult leagues and occasional college games.