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Finding love and drama at umpire school

(This story was published in 2007).

By: Ross Forman

Within days after arriving at umpire school in January 2002, Shane Wright was dealing with off-field drama. His roommate at the Harry Wendelstedt School for Umpires in Florida was paranoid-schizophrenic, and the staff took the situation very seriously. They moved Wright to another room and assigned a member of the staff, who was then a minor leaguer, to personally watch Wright and make sure he could handle the situation and would stay in school.

Wright and his mentor developed into boyfriends, and that was Wright’s first gay sex experience.

In the hotel room at umpire school.

“We kind of dated [during umpire school], if you can call it that, for the five weeks of school, even though we never hung out outside of his hotel room so not to get caught,” Wright said. “We were really good friends. I always called him for advice when I was in baseball, whether it was baseball-related, or about being gay in baseball or something else.”

Wright, now out of baseball and living in Tacoma, Wash., does not talk to his ‘first’ anymore, the fallout of an argument this past spring. Or, as Wright calls it, “gay drama.”

Wright umpired in the Arizona Rookie League in 2002, a 56-game season that is the bottom-rung on the professional baseball ladder to the majors. He worked with six other umpires, rotating his partner every game yet all living in the same Scottsdale hotel. Instead of hanging out with his fellow umpires at night, Wright told them he had local friends and was going to spend time with them. In reality, Wright was going to Phoenix-area gay bars. And he did so almost nightly, never worrying that he’d bump into anyone he knew or anyone who would recognize him.

“I was just never afraid," said Wright, who told locals that he was a minor league umpire instead of making up a fictitious job. "I didn’t want being gay to interfere with baseball. But at the same time, I didn’t want baseball to interfere with being gay. I just figured, whatever happens happens.”

Quickly, Wright developed a close group of gay friends.

“Looking back, I know the guys I was umpiring with [in 2002] were talking about me, but none confronted me [about being gay] until the next year,” he said.

Wright returned to Arizona in 2003 for spring training, and recalls the day at the Oakland A’s spring complex when his partner confronted him about his sexuality. His partner asked if he was bisexual since he was regularly hanging out with other known gay umpires.

Wright cleared the air, saying he was gay.

Wright was assigned to the Class-A Northwest League in 2003, where he worked with Ryan Arasato. Wright told Arasato that he was gay before their first Northwest League game, “and he was really cool with it,” Wright said.

Wright began dating early in his Northwest League run, and he had no problem introducing his boyfriend to Arasato. In fact, they took Arasato, who is straight, to his first gay bar.

But midway into the 2003 season, Arasato was promoted to the Midwest League and replaced by another man.

“My new partner was unbearable. We didn’t get along at all,” Wright said. “We didn’t really have anything in common and our personalities didn’t really mesh. We became that (umpiring) crew that every team dreaded to see.

“I felt like, during my second-half of the season, I spent every night putting out fires on the field. It became very monotonous and was very draining on me.”

Wright's new partner soon met Wright’s boyfriend, but the boyfriend was simply introduced as a friend, “because I didn’t know how cool he’d be with it and things already were strenuous enough,” Wright said.

“I have a lot of good memories of working with Ryan; we never really had that many issues on the field. The new guy was just a big drain on things, and that’s when I started hating life and hating baseball. I couldn’t see myself going on in baseball.”

Wright now umpires high school and college baseball near his Tacoma home.

He is also finishing his degree at the University of Puget Sound and bartending at R Place, a gay bar in Seattle.

So, could an openly-gay umpire make it to the majors?

“I don’t think so,” Wright said.