At first glance, the Division III college baseball game from March 27 between the Beloit Buccaneers and Grinnell Pioneers didn’t appear to be noteworthy.
Beloit starting pitcher Aiden Phipps allowed three earned runs and struck out four in six innings to pick up the victory. It was one of those cold 43-degree Wisconsin evenings that make simply gaining enough feeling in your fingertips to grip a baseball feel like a win.
Grinnell left fielder Cole Philpott didn’t play that night, a Pioneers’ 7-5 loss — He appeared the next afternoon as a pinch hitter against Beloit and drew a walk.
But from the bench he was impressed enough by Aiden’s performance to reach out on Instagram shortly afterward, and the two rivals soon struck up a social-media friendship.
One series in March matching up Division III schools doesn’t usually move the universe’s needle. For Aiden and Cole it proved to be the most impactful series of their lives.
At first, their DM banter was what you’d expect from two college ballplayers, with Cole describing it as “really competitive” and “silly in our own ways.” They argued playfully about everything in baseball (Aiden is a Dodgers fan, Cole cheers for the Phillies) and interests outside of the game.
“I’m kind of a nerd with numbers and stuff,” Aiden explained. “He’s into biology and fish.”
As they continued chatting, the chemistry between the two grew, and their friendship deepened — even as both were entrenched in the grind of baseball season.
Over time, Cole noticed his own intensified feelings for Aiden. He’d known for a few years that he was attracted to men, and while he preferred not to attach any labels to his sexuality, he also described himself to Outsports as “gay-leaning.”
He decided to take a big risk.
“Now that I kind of became comfortable with it, I found someone that I thought I liked and just put questions out there and sent out my feelers trying to figure it out,” Aiden said.
“I didn’t want to be like a weirdo to one of our competitors. So I was trying to walk that fine line. So I was definitely worried about it, but Aiden made the conversation really easy. So it started [with] just friendly stuff and it just kind of went from there.”
At the same time, Aiden was not out to anybody. He knew he was bisexual but had never vocalized that to anyone. So as Cole asked questions, Aiden found himself in uncharted territory.
“I’ve always known as well,” he said. “Being a baseball player, I wasn’t really comfortable with coming out yet. It wasn’t my time. I always knew. But as soon as I met him, I knew and he kinda asked questions and I was like, ‘Yeah, I like guys too.’”
The rapport the players had developed put Aiden at ease as he discussed a vital part of himself for the first time. As things continued to develop, he realized that Cole meant something special to him as well.
“At first it was very friendly, and then when he started asking questions, I was super comfortable right off the bat talking to Cole,” Aiden said. “We just had that connection instantly. So I had no problems letting him know or telling him, and it kind of went from there.
“Ever since I’ve met him, I’ve just been able to tell him literally anything and just be super comfortable and happy about it.”
Over the next few weeks, their relationship grew even closer. The two competitors faced each other on the field for the first time in the conference playoffs on May 12, with Aiden holding Cole to an 0-for-3 day with two strikeouts.
Aiden and his Beloit teammates took home the 2023 Midwest Conference title.
A few days later at the NCAA regional tournament, Aiden decided he and Cole were getting serious enough to come out to his family.
While at dinner with his mother, he mentioned that he and Cole were going to meet up, but he struggled to reveal that they were seeing each other romantically. The words were there, but he just couldn’t quite bring himself to say them.
When Aiden mentioned in a later text to Cole that he was “freaking out,” Cole was there when he needed someone to lean on.
On the bus ride home, Aiden found the courage to text his mom and let her know that he was bi. They talked on the phone, and he found that she was as accepting and loving as he hoped she’d be.
“I didn’t really expect it,” Cole said of Aiden’s coming out to his family. “It just kind of just happened. He was just like, ‘I’m just gonna do it.’ It was really comforting to find someone who was all-in.
“I knew how big of a step that is, so it was really cool to find someone who was willing to take that step for me.”
It also reminded Cole of how being part of a baseball team added an extra layer of trepidation to the coming-out process.
“You’re around the guys all the time, and you never want to feel weird around someone you’re with multiple hours a day,” Cole said. “Especially because as a team sport, so much of it is your interconnectedness. Your way of being good is, you have to play together as a team.
“So if there’s any kind of divide, I didn’t want to be the reason that there was a divide. And I didn’t want to give ammo to other teams.”
Although Cole knew he wasn’t straight, it was only during the COVID-19 pandemic that he began coming out to a few of his closest high school friends and his parents.
Once he got to Grinnell, he found he was starting over socially at a very LGBTQ-friendly school in Iowa. Gradually, his friends picked up on who he was. Eventually the whole baseball team knew and supported him fully.
“All the guys on my team will go to war with me,” Cole said. “I absolutely love them so much. Those are my brothers, and I’m going to really appreciate that forever.”
When Aiden began his time at Beloit, he wanted to establish himself with his new teammates before sharing his full self with them.
“As I grew on the team, played more and more and became a main role player on the team. It was also a lot more comforting for me to come out to the team because I felt more established, and I felt more surrounded by good people with good connections. I felt very comfortable.”
Soon after coming out to his family, Aiden told a few of his closest teammates that he was bi. Initially, they thought he was joking. Once they realized he was serious, they gave him the encouragement and love he needed at such a vulnerable moment.
By the time Aiden returned to campus to start his junior year, everyone backed him and his new relationship.
He had initially used baseball as a distraction from his sexuality. After his fateful meeting with Cole, it turned out that baseball helped him accept who he was and showed him that he had support everywhere.
After cementing their relationship throughout the season, Aiden and Cole officially began dating in June and spent time visiting one another over the summer. This semester, Cole is studying abroad in Turks and Caicos, and Aiden plans to join him later this month.
Once Cole returns to campus, he and Aiden have decided to make the nearly four-hour drive to visit one another on weekends. Next summer, they both hope to land internships in San Francisco so that they can enjoy the Bay Area together.
They’re also looking forward to that moment when they step between the lines and face each other again in 2024.
Aiden enjoyed a stellar season last year as Beloit’s No. 1 starting pitcher, going 11-0 and breaking the school’s single-season record for wins.
Cole, for his part, excelled in the leadoff spot for Grinnell, reaching base in half his plate appearances for an eye-popping on-base percentage of .500.
“Aiden’s pretty good, even though I don’t like giving him credit for it,” Cole admitted. “Even if I wasn’t dating him, it’d be a huge challenge. Now it’s just going to be even more of a fight.”
When asked about hearing what their opposing benches would sound like when they face each other next season, the giant smiles on both players’ faces said it all.
It’s been a whirlwind few months.
Aiden and Cole are navigating a brave new world, for themselves as a couple and as baseball players. Both are in agreement that their incredible experiences together have helped make the journey worth every moment.
“I felt like as soon as I came out, an elephant stepped off my chest,” Aiden said. “I can be my 100 percent authentic self, which is super cool. It’s something I’ve never been able to do. It kind of feels like I’ve completely opened a new book in my life, which I think is super awesome.
“You don’t realize how much support you have until after you come out.”
“My younger self would be so proud. Not only just to play baseball, but to really have found myself. I remember when I was younger going through all that internal turmoil, really struggling with who I was as a person.
“Being able to admit to myself who I am, my younger self would be proud. And then on top of meeting such a great person and someone I really care about through sports, it’s just been a dream come true.”
As baseball shows us time and again, sometimes taking a risk leads to something extraordinary.