In the year of Shohei Ohtani, Ronald Acuña Jr, Corey Seager and Corbin Carroll, the biggest baseball heroes of 2023 — from an LGBTQ angle — played in two Midwest college towns with populations of 36,000 and 9,500.

On National Coming Out Day, Grinnell College outfielder Cole Philpott and Beloit College pitcher Aiden Phipps told the story of how they became boyfriends after playing against each other on the field last spring.

For sharing their narrative of a romance that — to the best of our knowledge — has never before been publicly acknowledged at any level of baseball, Philpott and Phipps are the 2023 Outsports Male Heroes of the Year.

As several readers pointed out on social media when their story was shared, this was a real-life Baseball Heartstopper.

By opening up about the details of how their relationship blossomed, Phipps and Philpott forever expanded our conceptions of what is possible for LGBTQ athletes in the game (and, frankly, every other game as well).

Boyfriends Cole and Aiden will face each other this season when Grinnell College and Beloit College face off in a double-header on April 20, part of their teams’ Midwest Conference schedule.

That’s what makes them heroes: They had the courage and vulnerability to share their story publicly so that other gay and bisexual baseball players can find hope in what these two young men are building together.

Since Outsports’ original story was published, both players have felt the positive impact they’ve had on others firsthand and experienced the joy of celebrating their relationship out in the open.

“Coming out publicly has been amazing” Philpott told Outsports. “I’ve personally had a lot of people reach out to me with the nicest things to say.

“And I am able to spend the Christmas season with Aiden in D.C. with all my family and friends. It’s really amazing to have my person here for all of that without having to hide any part of who we are.”

Philpott said that numerous current and past teammates reached out to him via text with messages of support. That represents a new milestone for how far baseball has come.

Keep in mind that for generations, this was a game policed by old-timers who wouldn’t even let their teammates say hello to opposing players during batting practice.

In today’s game, as Phipps and Philpott testified, once they revealed that they were dating, their teammates enthusiastically had their backs.

One of the most uplifting parts of interviewing them about their story was asking if they were looking forward to hearing what teammates would yell when they faced each other in 2024 and seeing enormous grins break out on both their faces.

Phipps got a chance to learn about gay baseball players from a previous generation when he spoke to former Major League Baseball player and longtime MLB executive Billy Bean after their story became public.

“He was nice enough to schedule a time to be able to discuss with me his story, which was very inspiring for me,” Phipps said of Bean, who came out as gay after retiring as a player. “We talked about his experiences and what to expect with the recent story and new life Cole and I were experiencing. As a baseball player, Billy helped me not be ashamed of my identity or of who I am [but] to embrace it.”

By providing a new example of how rewarding it is to compete and live as their authentic selves, Phipps and Philpott will also know what it means to help other LGBTQ players embrace their identities. Their story will make the game a better place — just as Bean’s has.

The two continue to redefine what is possible for LGBTQ baseball players and they’re looking forward to experiencing the future together.

As Philpott summed it up, “Aiden has changed my life forever and there’s no other person I’d rather go on this adventure with.”

Other men considered for the award:

  • After coming out publicly in 2022, Scottish soccer player Zander Murray hosted a BBC Scotland Disclosure documentary about the need to change the sport’s culture of homophobia.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars Associate Strength Coach Kevin Maxen came out publicly in a July Outsports profile, becoming the first publicly out male coach in major American men’s pro sports.
  • Pro wrestling superstar Anthony Bowens won the AEW Trios Title at “All In” with The Acclaimed compatriot Max Caster and Billy Gunn. Bowens also finished fifth in the Queer Wrestling Index 200 and a few months earlier, he responded to heel rival Harley Cameron’s in-ring proposition by cutting a promo informing her of his sexuality and prompting a sold out Chicago crowd to chant “HE’S GAY” in admiration.
  • When the Dodgers briefly caved to disingenuous outrage from The Catholic League and disinvited the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence from their Pride Night, Senior Vice President Erik Braverman steered things back on track and made sure The Sisters were reinvited and properly honored. The Dodgers drew 49,074 that evening.

Prior Male Hero Winners

2022: Byron Perkins

2021: Luke Prokop

2020: Kirk Walker

2019: Rob Kearney

2018: Collin Martin

2017: Mack Beggs and Harrison Browne

2016: Amini Fonua

2015: Billy Bean

2014: Conner Mertens