Rob Gronkowski threw out the opening pitch for the Boston Red Sox for Patriots' Day. No, not those Patriots. | Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

In the pantheon of memorable first pitches, Rob Gronkowski probably just earned his spot on the Mount Rushmore.

While others have earned their spot for futility — Mariah Carey may have the all-timer, though Baba Booey is in consideration — Gronkowski’s pitch spiked directly into the dirt of the pitchers mound was pure Gronk.

Nobody within 1,000 miles of Fenway Park thinks Gronkowski can’t throw a baseball over home plate. An incredibly athletic football player, in high school he also played ice hockey, basketball and, yes, baseball.

In fact, Gronk several years ago, while still with the New England Patriots, threw out a beautiful first pitch to David Ortiz.

Yet his 2024 pitch may have been perfection.

In case you haven’t seen it, behold. Gronk smash pitcher’s mound.

For those not in the know, Gronkowski was well-known in the NFL for spiking the football after he scored a touchdown. He played 11 seasons with the Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, catching a touchdown from Tom Brady and spiking it into the ground with gusto.

It’s become known as the Gronk Spike.

On Monday, he could have taken the mound and tossed the ball cordially across home plate, the way he did to Ortiz.

But Gronk is Gronk. And when he gets an idea of how he can express himself fully, he expresses it.

Convention or your expectations be damned.

We see more and more of this self-expression in men’s sports today. Cam Newton breaking convention with his attire. Red Sox player Triston Casas, NFL Draft prospect Caleb Williams and Duke basketball player Jared McCain painting their fingernails. Athletes speaking their minds on topics once thought taboo.

It all sends a message to younger people, including younger male athletes, that they don’t have to conform to what they see as society’s standards.

At Outsports we hear this all the time from young LGBTQ athletes, that they were afraid to not fit in. They hid their identity, dressed how others expected them to. They shut their mouths and towed the company line.

To be sure, Gronkowski has a strong athletic reputation as the foundation of that spike. With four Super Bowl rings and five Pro Bowls, he’s likely headed to the Hall of Fame.

Yet shaking people out of doing what’s expected of you takes people like Gronk. It takes people like Newton. And Williams and McCain.

Gronkowski has also expressly supported gay athletes and the LGBTQ community. I talked with him a decade ago about the topic. And he appeared in an NFL campaign about LGBTQ inclusion for National Coming Out Day.

We may not all be a 6-foot-6, 265 pound beast. Yet it’s great to see beasts like Gronk give everyone permission to express themselves freely.

Hopefully gay athletes in the Boston area and beyond saw that pitch and thought, in a very different context, “I can do that too.”