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Before the pandemic, minor leagues were ready to set new standards for Pride

With Pride Nights on the schedule in 81 cities, Minor League Baseball demonstrates why every team is essential to its community.

The Eugene Emeralds wore special rainbow uniforms for their 2019 Pride Night.
Eugene Emeralds

Major League Baseball is currently trying to enact a plan to eliminate 42 minor league teams. Like a lot of things MLB thinks up, this is a very bad plan. For example, MLB once thought the Marlins were a good idea. This is the Marlins of plans.

There are many reasons why contracting minor league teams is a wretchedly shortsighted decision. A major one is that the minor leagues are currently doing yeoman’s work in introducing Pride Nights to areas where they’ve never been before.

We’ve profiled Minor League Baseball Specialist for Diversity & Inclusion Ben Pereira a few times on Outsports. Last year, he oversaw the implementation of 71 Pride Nights throughout the minors and was recognized as one of BEQ Pride Magazine’s Forty LGBTQ Leaders Under 40.

Last week, I spoke with Pereira for the 3 Strikes, You’re Out podcast; based on his plans for 2020, last year’s packed schedule was going to be just the beginning. Before the coronavirus brought sports to a halt throughout the country, 81 minor league teams had scheduled Pride Nights during the coming season.

That rarest of all images: likable Yankees. The Staten Island Yankees wore rainbow pinstripes for their 2019 Pride Night.
Instagram: @milb

Comparatively, as recently as 2017, MiLB celebrated only about 20 Pride Nights during the year. Normally, this kind of statistical improvement in modern baseball is only possible if you conspire to have somebody bang on a trash can whenever a changeup is coming.

Pereira gave an inside look behind Pride’s explosive growth throughout the minors:

“I think there was a little bit of trepidation initially with some clubs. Like, ‘Does this make sense? We’re more rural, we’re more southern, we’re more conservative. How is our community going to respond to this?’ With last year as an example, all of those concerns are null and void.

“There weren’t any markets that had any issues with Pride Nights. Particularly, it was some of the more rural conservative ones that actually did better. And that’s because in those markets, the community might not always feel seen. It might not always have those opportunities where they can go out and celebrate being their authentic selves.”

In small rural or conservative areas, a minor league Pride Night is not just a successful promotion, it’s a time where a rural town’s LGBTQ population can be welcomed and celebrated without fear or the need to hide who they are. Which means that in those areas, Minor League Baseball is performing a public service and an essential gesture of basic humanity.

So you can see why MLB owners would want to get rid of that ASAP.

Indeed, as Pereira detailed, Pride Night’s greatest success goes beyond metropolitan areas like Brooklyn and Hartford. He cited towns like Ogden, Utah and Pulaski, Virginia as examples of new Pride Night markets that he was most looking forward to adding in 2020. Which meant that Pride would’ve been taking place in a Mormon town about an hour’s drive from BYU, and a small village in western Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. That would’ve really been something.

Pride comes to Montana: the Missoula Osprey wear rainbow wristbands for their 2019 Pride Night. The Osprey have since rebranded as the Missoula PaddleHeads.
Instagram: @milb

It wasn’t just the new markets that would’ve made 2020 exciting. Pereira also confirmed what Outsports reported last month: that the Hartford Yard Goats were going to celebrate three Pride Nights throughout the season, one more than in 2019, “because they wanted it to be considered normal that you can have more than one.”

Not to be outdone, the Daytona Tortugas had scheduled Pride events in June and August for their city’s local LGBTQ community and incoming student LGBTQ population, respectively. Which is an especially great idea because a specialized Pride Night for students has the potential to hook a younger LGBTQ generation on baseball. That’s what MiLB does best.

Lessons on turning teens and twenty-somethings into baseball fans are something that MLB could stand to learn. But that would require owners who were committed to something other than the bottom line. And after the Cubs won the World Series, baseball might have used up all of its miracles for this century.

Click here to check out this week’s edition of 3 Strikes, You’re Out. You can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast host.