The set-up and ending were perfect: Sean Conroy, a 23-year-old baseball prospect with the Sonoma Stompers of the independent Pacific Association of Baseball Clubs, came out as gay prior to the team's Thursday Pride Night. He then threw a three-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts as the Stompers beat the Vallejo Admirals, 7-0, in his first start.
With his announcement, Conroy has become the first publicly gay professional baseball player, though there have been Major League Baseball players like Glenn Burke and Billy Bean who came out after retiring. The team posted this tweet after the game ended with Conroy being hugged by teammate Isaac Wenrich:
"It's not that I wanted it to go public, but I didn't care if it was open information. It's who I am," Conroy said. "I am definitely surprised that no one else has been openly gay in baseball yet.
"I've always played baseball because it was fun and I loved the sport. Being gay doesn't change anything about the way I play or interact with teammates. I hope that in leading by example, more LGBT youth will feel confident to pursue their dreams, whatever those dreams may be."
Conroy's teammates wore rainbow socks and armbands in support, but he did not:
(Photo by Mark Volger)
This is such a cool way for an athlete to come out and also for how the team and its players are embracing the history. The Stompers website has a list of the news stories about Conroy and Pride Night, showing that they see it as something to celebrate and not a "distraction."
It's still a long way to go before Conroy makes a Major League Baseball roster, if he ever does. AP reports that "players live with host families during the June-to-August season, earn $650 a month on average, and supply their own cleats, batting gloves and elbow guards." But he has already made history and should serve as an inspiration to other athletes.
Listen to an interview with Conroy by Eddie Robinson on SiriusXM.