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.
I was pretty nervous walking into the clubhouse for my first day back on the ballfield this season. Usually I take the field in early spring, but this year I didn’t begin playing in games until midsummer, focusing my early-season efforts instead on a ballpark tour in support of Proud To Be In Baseball.
I had played in games last season after coming out in early September, but a lot has changed over the past 10 months. A quick scroll through my social media shows a whole lot of rainbow, and as they say: once you’re ‘out’, there’s no going back ‘in’ (the closet).
Walking back into the hyper-masculine world of the locker room last month, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about being treated differently by my teammates this season. My guard was up as I stood at my locker, changing with the rest of the guys before my first practice back with the squad.
Guys were making small talk and I was keeping a low profile, like usual, when one of our starting pitchers turned towards me and asked a particularly loud question.
“So Ruby, how’s your boyfriend doing?”
So much for keeping a low profile.
“He’s good, thanks for asking,” I responded.
“How long have you guys been together?” He asked.
I answered the pitcher’s question and he then began telling me about his girlfriend. Looking around the locker room, I saw guys who had heard our conversation but couldn’t care less.
That was something I never, ever thought could be possible to talk about so nonchalantly in the locker room. Now I know for the first time how good it feels to have a workplace conversation in which you don’t have to lie about your personal life. I felt so much validation in that moment. It was a gigantic relief.
Speaking of relief…
A few nights later, we were catching fly balls in centerfield during batting practice when one of our hard-throwing relief pitchers approached me. Love was in the air after we’d all just attended the wedding of one of our other teammates that weekend, and this particular pitcher (a straight guy) had been very popular amongst the bridesmaids at the afterparty.
“Ruby!” He asserted. “I need you to tell me EVERYTHING you know about gay weddings!”
He then explained that he’d started a ‘side hustle’ officiating weddings after clicking on a ‘Become Ordained As A Minister In 30 Minutes Or Less’ ad online, and that he’d heard gay weddings were a ‘good market’ for business.
I stood there giggling, thinking “This has to be a first in the history of baseball...”
When has a queer player ever advised a straight teammate about officiating gay weddings during batting practice?
All of this is a long winded way of saying that if anybody reading this needs a pro baseball player to officiate their wedding, I know a guy.
A few days ago, I was running off the field after practice when I opened my phone to find several missed texts and calls from people in the LGBTQ sports world. Our small but ever-growing network of LGBTQ people in baseball was filled with pride and excitement to see former San Francisco Giants Minor League Relief Pitcher Solomon Bates come out publicly.
As the news broke and Bates’ Instagram post received an outpouring of supportive comments, there was one piece of information I saw that stuck out. Bates has already been out to his teammates since 2019 and is the latest of the recent crop of players in college or professional baseball who have taken that extra meaningful step of coming out publicly, in most cases after already receiving support from their teammates.
Between Bates and Kieran Lovegrove in Minor League Baseball, myself in Independent Baseball, and Brian Zapp in college baseball, it seems like we are really starting to gain some momentum. It’s already quite a different picture than the one that existed at this time last summer, when exactly zero pro baseball players were out publicly. At this rate, Proud To Be In Baseball might even have to start thinking about fielding a team. Gay Games 2024, anyone?
The moral of this story is simple, yet it is one that deserves repeating until there has been an out player on every single baseball team at every level of the game. There really is nothing more meaningful in a queer athlete’s journey than receiving the support of one’s teammates. It can be everything from life-saving to career-making.
As Bates continues his journey up the ladder of the minor leagues — he’s already landed on another team, the Sioux City Explorers — his story will continue to inspire and pave the way for the next generation of LGBTQ people in baseball. The road to The Show may be long, but Bates has a wave of momentum and an outpouring of new supporters who are rooting for him. I’ll be the first to tell you that I am one of them.
Be sure to follow Bryan Ruby and Proud To Be In Baseball on Instagram.