Bryan Ruby, a minor league journeyman baseball player who plays first base and third base for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, has become the only gay currently active professional baseball player.
Ruby, who is also a country music songwriter, says he’s hidden his sexual orientation for a number of years due to fears over being accepted by the baseball and country music communities.
“Those are worlds where people like me are told they can’t belong. I’m not a hot-shot prospect,” the 25-year-old told USA Today in an interview. “But today, you can’t find a single active baseball player who is out publicly. I want to help create a world where future generations of baseball players don’t have to sacrifice authenticity or who they really are to play the game they love.”
Ruby says he first became aware of his sexual orientation around the age of 14. He told his family and closest friends he was gay four years ago, and his teammates earlier this summer.
“Being closeted for basically 10 years, it was a struggle the whole time,” he said. “I used to hate myself. Hate how I felt. I’d ask why am I feeling this way?”
He also notes that those close to him cautioned him about being public about his identity.
“I kept having people tell me, ‘Be very cautious of who you tell’ or ‘They don’t need to know your personal life.’ The best way to describe the hiding as an athlete is like you’re running with a weighted vest on,” he said. “It’s on all day and you can’t take it off. I’ve been gradually taking that weight off.”
Ruby’s acknowledgement of his sexual orientation comes on the heels of two other sports stars coming out. In June, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib made history as the first out gay active NFL player, and became the league’s only gay man to make an NFL 53-man roster earlier this week. Shortly after Nassib’s coming out, Luke Prokop, a hockey prospect for the Nashville predators, became the first player under an NHL contract to come out publicly.
Ruby is not the first professional baseball player to come out as gay, but is currently the only gay active player at any level in the sport. Glenn Burke, an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics between 1976 and 1979, became the first Major League Baseball player to come as gay while still active, although the team pressured him into keeping his sexual orientation a secret.
Billy Bean, a former outfielder who now serves as the vice president of Major League Baseball and special assistant to MLB’s commissioner, came out in the 1990s after he retired. Sean Conroy, a pitcher for the independent Sonoma Stompers, was the first professional baseball player to come out publicly while still active, in June 2015. Helena Brewers minor league player David Denson also came out in 2015, becoming the first active MLB-affiliated player, but retired shortly afterward.
Bean, who has used his position as special assistant to the commissioner, to encourage LGBTQ inclusion and outreach to LGBTQ fans by professional teams, praised Ruby’s coming out process.
“The beauty of it for Bryan is that he’s not playing to only become a big leaguer,” Bean told USA TODAY. “He’s playing because he loves the game. I imagine he’ll be proud of himself when he’s 40 years old in his country music career knowing what he’s doing for baseball. I couldn’t be prouder, and I definitely think Bryan’s story is a stepping stone in the right direction.”
Gehrig Richins, the Volcanoes’ assistant coach, said he imagines teammates would be protective of Ruby if he were to be targeted with gay slurs by other players or fans.
“It’s almost better if we know as a team,” Richins said. “Because then there’s a sense of respect and guys can watch their language to avoid harm. We can have his back.”
Ruby calls Nassib and Prokop “heroes,” and noted that he bought his first-ever NFL jersey the day after Nassib came out.
“Each time somebody comes out in industries where queer people have not been historically represented in the mainstream, it helps to crumble the myth that you can’t be yourself. But we’re in the 2020s. It’s about damn time for this,” he said. “If I can help just one person from this, then that’s greater than any single hit or home run or win that I ever get on the field.”
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