This article is part of a series of op-eds that out professional baseball player Bryan Ruby will be sharing with Outsports readers throughout 2022. Bryan is also a co-founder of Proud To Be In Baseball, an advocacy and support group focused on elevating LGBTQ inclusion in the sport.
Five years ago, I would have thought you were crazy if you told me that one day I’d be on Big League fields holding a rainbow flag. Over the course of the last month, that has become a reality, thanks to Proud To Be In Baseball.
It started with an invitation to speak in front of employees of the New York Mets, and an opportunity for representatives of our charity to throw out (and catch) the first pitch on the team’s Pride Night.
Fourteen flights and thousands of miles traveled later, I’m finally able to take a breath to write this after one crazy, hectic Pride month spent ballpark-hopping between Major League, Minor League, and even collegiate summer-league stadiums.
Why did Proud To Be In Baseball get so busy so quickly? Well, as the first and only nonprofit dedicated solely to helping LGBTQ baseball players, it makes sense why we’ve been invited to participate in Pride Nights put on by baseball teams of varying levels.
Proud To Be In Baseball tour of Pride Nights
During my June road trip, my duties consisted of speaking to players, running the Proud To Be In Baseball info booth on stadium concourses (usually in the designated Pride Pavilion area, if the team had one), throwing out the first pitch, and even singing the National Anthem a few times.
Because we are still in our first year of existence as a charity, it was very important for us to pack in as many Pride Nights as we could this June. Our group has to be as visible as possible in order for other gay ballplayers to find us.
I was getting ready to go on the field at Baltimore Orioles Pride Night – my favorite of all the Pride Nights because of the warm and welcoming, almost familial environment at Camden Yards – when a fan asked me: ‘As an out baseball player, don’t you just LOVE Pride Night?’
I do, on the surface.
Deeper down, it’s a lot more complicated.
As a player, I see pride nights for what they are: promotional packages geared towards fans. It’s nice to see that 28 of 30 MLB teams have a “Pride Night” on their promotional calendar this year, with the New York Yankees also supporting the LGBTQ community at a game. It’s also nice to see rainbow merchandise being sold and dispersed into the community.
However, what pains me is that Pride Night is, by definition, only one out of 162 regular season games. After it’s over, for most teams the rainbow merch comes down and things return to normal.
Unfortunately ‘normal’ is an environment where, for the 146th consecutive year — the entire history of Major League Baseball — zero active Big League players have felt safe or supported enough to come out publicly. There is so much more that can be done to actually help the people on the field who are in the LGBTQ community. It’s not as simple as slapping a rainbow logo on your team’s social media page during June and calling it a ‘win’.
This really hit me as I was sitting in our info booth at Los Angeles Dodgers Pride Night, which was a world-class promotion by all measures. Tired from a grueling travel schedule and missing being on the ball field myself, I began to question why we’d put so much effort into our organization.
Was Proud To Be In Baseball a needed entity? The team seemed to be selling plenty of merchandise — We found that out when we tried to buy rainbow Dodgers hats, only to hear they were sold out.
What was the role of a ragtag group of gay ballplayers like us during celebrity-filled, fan-focused pride nights? Had we wasted countless hours tediously going through the 501(c)(3) nonprofit application process, only to find out that everything was already great in baseball?
After Dodger Pride, I was exhausted and getting ready to board a red-eye flight back to Nashville when a friend sent me an article about five Tampa Bay Rays players who refused to wear team-issued rainbow patches on their Pride Night jerseys.
In the following days during the fallout of the episode with the Rays, I received a private message from someone in baseball. The message was a reminder of why Proud To Be In Baseball needs to exist.
This person, who asked to remain anonymous, sent me a long text message expressing how upset he was and to “keep pushing.”
In turn, I was sad that the guy who messaged me felt like he had to come to me in the first place. Imagine how powerful it would be if he had felt the ability to speak up publicly. Unfortunately, that person felt completely powerless to do so.
Little me, an independent baseball player many levels down from the Majors, was the only person he could confide in to vent his frustration.
Private messages away from the ball park
The culture of fear is so prevalent that not once in my travels has a fellow gay ballplayer approached me in-person at a stadium on a Pride Night. I suspect they fear being labeled “gay by association” if their teammates see them talking to me.
Often, however, I quietly receive private messages from fellow gay ballplayers after the stadium lights have been turned off and the game is over.
So, what is my biggest takeaway now that June is in the rearview mirror and all the rainbow logos have been removed from baseball stadiums?
We have to keep fighting. Proud To Be In Baseball needs to raise as much money as possible so that we can build a better environment for the next generation of queer ballplayers.
To those ballplayers, I say this:
Treat Pride Night not as the end-all-be-all, but instead as a night for information gathering. There is a great country song by Tracy Lawrence called ‘Find Out Who Your Friends Are.’ The song is a metaphor for learning who you can trust when times are tough. Notice who is wearing rainbow on Pride Night, and make a mental note of teammates and coaches who will support you.
If you don’t see anybody you can talk to, contact Proud To Be In Baseball. We’re here if (and when) you decide to reach out.
To support the next generation of LGBTQ+ athletes in baseball, visit www.ProudToBeInBaseball.org. Be sure to follow Bryan Ruby and Proud To Be In Baseball on Instagram.