As someone who has cheered for the Chicago Cubs my entire life, I have decades of experience to back me up when I state: Opening Day is the most optimistic date on the baseball calendar. There’s nothing like the promise of a new season to create a sense of good feelings and hope for the months ahead.
For LGBTQ baseball fans, there are many reasons to be optimistic about baseball in 2023, because the game is populated with a sizable number of allies and style icons who welcome our community’s embrace.
To ring in the opener, here is a sample of players our community can feel good about rooting for in 2023. Perhaps the best part of this list is that it is by no means exhaustive.
Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Dodgers
When the Dodgers and Giants decided to play a Pride Day game with both teams wearing rainbow insignia caps last year, there was some risk involved. Look no further than the rainbow jersey fiascos with the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, or Minnesota Wild to see how Pride promotions can go off the rails.
But as out Dodgers Vice President Erik Braverman related on the “3 Strikes, You’re Out” podcast, he knew the best chance of getting his team on board with the idea was to approach its biggest stars first and use their considerable influence to make sure everything would go off without a hitch.
Happily, Kershaw, Betts and Freeman understood the importance of Pride to the organization and what it meant for the community to see all players taking the field and wearing rainbow caps as one unified team.
“I think when you have a Clayton Kershaw or a Mookie Betts or a Freddie Freeman in your clubhouse who are perennial All Stars, they’re leaders not only in the clubhouse but on the field and off the field,” Braverman explained. “When you have guys like that who understand the bigger picture and understand the organization’s history in breaking barriers…when you wear that uniform, part of what goes along with the responsibility of being a Dodger…is knowing that you’re a part of an organization that has a long and storied history of doing things to make a difference.”
Thanks to the influence of Kershaw, Betts and Freeman, every single player on the roster got on board and helped the Dodgers and Giants made baseball and LGBTQ history.
Anyone Hitting Against the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen
Meanwhile, the Rays botched their Pride Night uniforms so badly, they might as well have applied to become an NHL expansion franchise. Last year, five members of the Tampa bullpen refused to join their teammates wearing rainbow caps and went as far as to rip the Pride logos off their sleeves. It was the sartorial version of “No homo.”
So in 2023, we’re cheering hard for literally every hitter taking an at-bat against the Rays bullpen and proposing honorary gay icon status for any player who beats them.
And since Rays closer Jason Adam told the media that being gay is “just a lifestyle that…we don’t want to encourage it if we believe in Jesus,” any hitter who walks him off is an honorary Cher For a Day.
Triston Casas, Red Sox
This is the first time I’ve ever tuned into a baseball game just to see a player’s fingernails.
Ever since writing about Casas’ promise to rock nail polish for the entire 2023 season, I’ve been checking in on Red Sox games just to see if he’s kept his vow. And I’m happy to report that so far, he’s worn painted nails during every game I’ve watched.
What’s more, word has since leaked that last fall, Casas ran afoul of the Red Sox fun police for his habit of sunbathing shirtless before a game, and in response several veteran teammates told him quite literally to get off their lawn.
All of this means that Casas is continuing to express himself by painting his nails in spite of potential backlash from the Neanderthal old guard in his own clubhouse. Every day he takes the field in nail polish is an act of bravery and defiance of the code of outdated macho conformity that has pervaded baseball since the days of Ty Cobb.
Triston Casas forever.
Joc Pederson, Giants
His signature pearl necklace from the 2021 World Series would’ve been enough to land Pederson on this list by itself (not to mention then becoming the first player in baseball history to donate a pearl necklace to the Hall of Fame).
But then in the middle of last season, the Giants outfielder decided to crowdsource suggestions for new walk-up music on Twitter. After dozens of suggestions, he went with…
Iconic. Thanks to Pederson’s efforts, for at least four at-bats a night, the hottest club on the planet is Oracle Park. And it’s no coincidence that during the same season he walked up to ABBA’s greatest banger, Pederson set career highs in several offensive categories.
Bold prediction: in 2023, Barry Bonds’ home run record will be as safe as Loosey LaDuca…unless Pederson discovers “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight).”
Anderson Comas and Solomon Bates
It’s natural that we’ll be cheering loudest for the players proudly representing Team LGBTQ in organized baseball. Both will be climbing up the minor league ladder in 2023, hoping to take the next step and put themselves on the big league radar.
Bates, who came out publicly in 2022, is still looking to work his way back into an MLB-affiliated farm system and recently re-signed to pitch with the independent league Sioux City Explorers.
Meanwhile, after posting a coming out announcement on Instagram at the start of Spring Training, Comas is in White Sox Minor League camp and is awaiting his team assignment for 2023.
Minor league life can be a lonely grind, and players need all the support they can get as they fight the odds on a quest to make it to The Show.
An out player earning a roster spot in the Majors would be one of the most exciting stories of the year, and we’ll be cheering for Comas and Bates to fulfill their dreams at every step of their respective journeys.
Joey Votto, Reds
The Cincinnati Reds legend deserves a spot on this list just for being one of the first players in MLB to congratulate Dale Scott for coming out publicly and saying he was proud of him. Votto is a future Hall of Famer and a first-ballot ally.
But then this offseason, he took his image as a superstar with his own unique style into a whole new stratosphere. A chess enthusiast, Votto posted a video on his Instagram of himself arriving at a tournament in a stretch limo. After his path to the entrance was strewn with rose petals, Votto stepped out to reveal he was dressed to play chess…
…in head to toe Gucci.
If it’s possible to create a look called “straight camp,” Votto just nailed it. The category was Searching for Bobby Mackie and he got nothing but 10’s.
We stan a king—until Votto takes it with his rook.
Mark Canha and Taijuan Walker
While every team’s marketing department goes all out to hype our community up for Pride Nights, it’s usually harder to know what players think about the promotion. But not so in the case of then-New York Mets teammates Canha and Walker, who enthusiastically channeled their inner Christina Aguilera to make LGBTQ Amazin’ fans feel welcome…
How many of my beautiful LGBTQ+ people coming to @Mets pride night tomorrow?! ❤️— Mark Canha (@outtadapakmark) June 16, 2022
Happy Pride Day! Hope to see all you BEAUTIFUL people at the game tonight #LGM pic.twitter.com/l0kVxKSIKx— Taijuan Walker (@tai_walker) June 17, 2022
During the game itself, Canha got into the spirit of things by walking up to “Vogue,” “Born This Way,” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” It was the best entrance music for a Met that didn’t involve a live trumpet solo. Meanwhile, Walker stopped by the team shop during batting practice and covered the cost of Mets Pride swag for some very surprised fans.
Quite simply, that’s setting an example for every other player in the league.
Pro tip: Walker has since signed with Philadelphia. So if you’re going to Phillies Pride Night this season, arrive early.
Liam Hendriks, White Sox
Last year, we found out that the All Star Chicago White Sox closer is not only one of the most animated and fun players in baseball, but he’s also one of the sport’s proudest LGBTQ rights supporters. To the point where during his free agency negotiations, he’d straight up ask teams, “Do you guys have a Pride Night?” and informed them that the only answer he’d accept was “Yes.”
This year, however, rooting for Hendriks has taken on a new meaning. In January, the tough-as-nails pitcher publicly revealed that he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and was undergoing treatment.
Since then, he’s been spotted at White Sox Spring Training and has even started throwing in the bullpen but there’s been no timetable set for his return as of yet.
Hendriks has been there for us at every step of his career. Now we need to be there for him. Every LGBTQ baseball fan should be cheering for a full recovery and letting Hendriks know that nothing would make us happier than to see him fully recover — and hopefully in time to raise the Sox Pride flag in June.
If that happens, as a tribute to Hendriks, we’ll all let out a collective scream of the most joyous obscenities you’ve ever heard in your life.