This article is part of a series of op-eds that out professional baseball player Bryan Ruby is sharing with Outsports readers. 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.
Sometimes you have to venture far away to reignite passion and discover a renewed purpose. That is precisely what happened on my end-of-season road trip.
I started writing this op-ed almost four months ago. The dog days of summer coupled with constant travel (52,229 miles during the season) slowed me down considerably.
In a season split between games and advocacy work, exhaustion caught up to me. I needed a shock to my system to cure the burnout.
A chance to venture overseas, plus play some games while promoting the Baseball Jobs Overseas organization (a group working to grow baseball around the world), provided just the jolt I needed. How often does one get the chance to play ball internationally and speak to dozens of international athletes?
The conclusion of the 2022 season pushed me further out than I’ve ever been — literally and metaphorically.
I visited six countries on the voyage: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium and the United Kingdom. It was a great opportunity to share Proud To Be In Baseball’s inclusive mission and expand our network with interested parties in places not typically known as “baseball hotbeds.”
What I found overseas was an enthusiasm for learning the game, an “open to all” pragmatic approach that encourages girls and LGBTQ people to participate in our sport, and a heavy dose of competitive fire in an area unencumbered by the glitz and glamor of the American MLB spectacle.
I first played a doubleheader with the Hünenberg Unicorns (yes, that is a real team and no, it is not a gay-themed team).
As the opposing team took pregame batting practice, I noticed a young woman lacing line drives all over the field. When I inquired with my Swiss teammates about her skill level, they reported rather nonchalantly that she is “a solid ballplayer.”
A line drive hit hard by her over my head at third base during the game would prove just that.
A few countries later, I found myself caked in dirt and sweat during an intense intrasquad scrimmage in Germany. As we finished, a larger group of local German ballplayers – from teens to 40s – gathered and peppered me with questions about coming out, our Proud To Be In Baseball nonprofit advocacy organization, and building the mental toughness (and physical toolset) to become a “solid ballplayer.”
The young manager of the Frankfurt Eagles, Dennis Seyerlin, then surprised me with a request to permanently hang a Proud To Be In Baseball banner at his team’s ballpark.
It was a “homecoming” of sorts-an especially meaningful gesture given I played most of the 2019 season for the Eagles (though I was not out publicly at the time).
The following weekend, I laced up my rainbow shoelaces and played a scorching-hot doubleheader for the London Mets against the Essex Arrows in Enfield, a suburb of London.
At the pub after the game with my new Mets teammates, they told me confidently that I am now “the third gay lad” who has played for their team. They were proud of that fact.
When I asked about the previous two from years past, my teammates told me those guys were “solid ballplayers.”
After the games in London, I had a long flight heading back stateside to think about my time experiencing baseball around the world. Scrolling through the montage of memories from the adventure of a lifetime, one particular phrase kept coming back to me: Solid Ballplayer.
From the young woman in Switzerland to the German kids to the “lads” in the UK, “solid ballplayer” seemed to be the barometer of determining peer-to-peer acceptance on the ballfield, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
With the offseason approaching, the road trip ended the year on a high note and left me with a desire to play more baseball overseas this summer.
It was inspiring to see a mostly younger generation of international baseball players react so positively to our nonprofit work. Many of them asked for additional information and how to support Proud To Be In Baseball. I think it’s a great sign.
Author’s Note: My next piece will be a Question-and-Answer interview style article with some of my straight teammates from the past. ‘Ask the straight guys what they think of LGBTQ topics in baseball’ is a good way to describe it. I am building a list of questions, so if you have one you’d like me to ask my teammates, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try to include it (if appropriate).