Out in the World: Ruby spreads his message in Europe: 'You can be gay in baseball'

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Thursday August 18, 2022
Share this Post:
Gay pro baseball player Bryan Ruby batting for Oregon's Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. Photo: Courtesy Bryan Ruby
Gay pro baseball player Bryan Ruby batting for Oregon's Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. Photo: Courtesy Bryan Ruby

Bryan Ruby is spreading his love of baseball and bringing visibility to LGBTQ ballplayers in Europe this summer.

The 26-year-old gay professional baseball player landed in Paris at the beginning of the month to play for Switzerland's Hunenberg Unicorns and to promote his nonprofit organization, Proud To Be In Baseball.

Ruby, who played with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Minor League Baseball team in Oregon, teamed up with colleagues Michael Holland and Sam Culwell and launched Proud To Be In Baseball on National Coming Out Day, October 11, 2021, a month after he came out.

Holland is a former Felician University pitcher. Culwell is a three-year varsity starter, team captain, and Section 9 champion for Rondout Valley High School in upstate New York.

Ruby played with the Volcanoes until July. He hasn't decided on his future with the team yet, he wrote in an email to the Bay Area Reporter last week. Proud To Be In Baseball serves as a resource for LGBTQ players and empowers the next generation of LGBTQ people in baseball, Ruby said.

The Hunenberg Unicorns is not an LGBTQ team. According to the team's website, the unicorn comes from Hunenberg's coat of arms. The team formed and has played competitively in Europe since 1989.

"I guess it's fitting. Right?" Ruby quipped.

It's been a busy summer for Ruby. The rising star's side hustle as a country singer chasing his Nashville dreams is also becoming a reality. Ruby dropped his first single, "Left Field" on June 7. It's received nearly 350,000 downloads on Spotify.

Filming for a feature documentary, "Coming Home," directed by award-winning filmmaker Clay Westervelt ("Life In The Doghouse" and "Miss You Can Do It") about his life and following his rise in baseball and country music wrapped before the summer. The film is currently in production.

Right now, Ruby is focused on baseball. He's excited about the opportunity to play for the Unicorns and be an LGBTQ baseball ambassador building visibility and taking Proud To Be In Baseball's mission to European baseball players and coaches.

"I get to bring our charity around the world and meet players and talk to them," he said, adding that baseball is huge in Europe. He's already spoken with some pro and minor league teams after games about being gay in baseball. "This trip was an opportunity to maximize impact on a global scale and do some really cool stuff. It's very fulfilling to be able to do this."

Baseball is gaining popularity globally. Ruby has played baseball professionally in Austria, Chile, Germany, Guatemala, and Peru, prior to playing for the Unicorns. He also coached a youth team in Cuba.

"It's truly a global game with millions of people playing around the world," said Ruby, noting that in his youth, if someone like him today had showed up "that would have changed my life."

Surviving 'bro' culture

Nearly a year after Ruby publicly came out, he is on a mission. He wants any LGBTQ baseball player at any level of the game to live their truth, not in fear. His message is being openly gay will not limit their baseball dreams.

It's a lesson Ruby learned the hard way, but not without reason.

Ruby explained to the B.A.R. during a video call August 8 before heading to the dugout in Frankfurt, Germany that baseball is a "game that is built on being macho." It is drilled into the players from an early age. The gay jokes are freely slung from the dugout to the field, and in the locker room. "Fag" is used as an insult "if they don't play well," he said.

"You're on the baseball field and you're hanging with the jocks every day," he continued, stating that there is an unspoken and sometimes "very loudly spoken" attitude "to be[ing] gay in baseball, it is like the cardinal sin."

Baseball's bro culture has pushed many gay Major League Baseball players into the closet, even in 2022. Ruby told the B.A.R. that he knows other gay pro baseball players who have reached out to Proud To Be In Baseball, but they won't publicly come out. They are scared that they will never be able to play baseball again, he said.

It's a fear Ruby understands, knows well himself, and isn't exactly unfounded.

Players Bio reported that only two players — Billy Bean [LINK: http://billybean.com/] and Glenn Burke — have publicly come out in 150 years of MLB. Bean, who came out after retiring from the game, became MLB's part-time ambassador for inclusion in 2014 before being promoted to vice president of social responsibility and inclusion in early 2016. Burke, who played for the Oakland A's, among other teams, was outed to his teammates and owners, and came out publicly after he left the game. He later died of AIDS-related causes in 1995.

Former MLB umpire Dale Scott also publicly came out in 2014 and retired five years later. He recently wrote a memoir, "The Umpire is Out."

Off the field, only two team owners have come out — former Pittsburgh Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy and current Chicago Cubs' co-owner Laura Marie Ricketts, the first and only lesbian co-owner of a major league sports franchise.

Coming out

A minor league journeyman, Ruby didn't necessarily want to be the only out pro baseball player in the world, he said about the title he held for nearly a year. The day after the B.A.R. spoke with Ruby, pro pitcher Solomon Bates came out on Instagram on August 9.

Bates had just been released from the Richmond Flying Squirrels, a San Francisco Giants Double-A affiliate. Two days later, the gay pitcher was signed by the Sioux City Explorers, part of the American Association of Professional Baseball, an independent league, on August 11.

Like Burke, Bates came out to his team first, in 2019, reported Outsports, but he wasn't worried about being open about his sexuality conflicting with his career. Bates was confident that he would be picked up by another team and he was.

Ruby was excited to learn of Bates and of college baseball player Brian Zapp at Miami University in Ohio, who came out as bisexual in December 2021.

"Bates coming out is great for baseball. For our sport to become more inclusive, we need to have out and proud players confident that they can get a job at all levels of the game," said Ruby, congratulating Bates on coming out and joining the Sioux City Explorers. "Each one of us that comes out helps to further tear down the antiquated belief that queer people can't play sports, in our case male team sports."

Like Ruby, Bates and Zapp told Outsports that they wanted to inspire other gay and bisexual players.

"I'm a masculine man who loves the sport of baseball, and now I want to open up doors for gay athletes like me," Bates told Outsports.

Zapp, a junior third baseman, acknowledged there were issues in sports accepting LGBTQ players. He wanted to help change that by being open about his sexuality.

Ruby started playing baseball when he was about 7 years old. His father, who was a pro baseball player, told him stories and put his first bat into his hands. Ruby fell in love with the game, but he spent much of his teens and professional life in the closet. Like his mentor and friend Bean, Ruby feared having to choose between his love of baseball and living openly with the love of his life, Max. (Ruby only identified his boyfriend by his first name to protect his privacy.)

Bean, 58, walked away from baseball at the height of his career after he lost his partner to AIDS in 1995. Bean was an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Diego Padres in a career that spanned from 1987 to 1995. Four years later he publicly came out in 1999. The Southern California native's 2003 memoir, "Going the Other Way," became a bestseller. In 2014, MLB tapped Bean as the league's first ambassador for inclusion.

Living authentically

Ruby didn't want to take the same path Bean and some other LGBTQ professional athletes have taken. Like out players in tennis, soccer, basketball, football, and other sports, he wanted to live his truth in the dugout and on the baseball field as a gay pro baseball player.

"We need to be able to be living authentically from the start," said Ruby, who didn't want to wait until retirement or to walk away from the game or music to be out. "I was proud of who I am. I got a boyfriend and we're, like, in love."

The Pennsylvania native wanted Max, whom he has been with for three years, to cheer him on from the baseball stands like all the other players' partners. A dream coming true, Max was flying in to join him to finish out his European tour, he said.

Ruby carefully planned his public coming out for five years. He heeded Bean's and others' warnings. He studied the past and current climate in baseball. He took note of reactions to each of his coming out experiences, first privately and then professionally.

In June 2021, Ruby took a leap of faith against his advisers' advice. He laced up his lucky baseball cleats, a gift from Bean, with rainbow shoelaces. He quietly came out to his teammates on the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. Then he walked out onto the field in the cleats for the first time for Pride Month. Nothing bad happened.

His teammates and coaches' positive responses fueled his confidence. At the end of his third pro season, Ruby officially publicly came out on September 2, 2021.

"Everything has been really wonderful for me since coming out. I'm very lucky," Ruby said about his experience.

Ruby acknowledged that his family and he received some hate messages over the past year. He scrubbed his family's personal information from the internet to protect them.

Still in the game

Coming out had a tremendous effect on him and his career. His end-of-season batting average improved 90 points from where it was before he came out, he said.

"It was a weight off my shoulders for sure," Ruby said about the instant effects of coming out. "I played better."

He also received three job offers, not including his current summer European gig that could get extended to the playoffs, he said.

"It's been an honor to actually be able to continue to play baseball," Ruby said. "I really do love it and it sucks that there isn't more LGBTQ representation, especially in the professional ranks, but I want to change that. We have to be visible. It's important.

"Who you date has nothing to do with whether you can swing and hit a 95-mile-an-hour fastball," he continued. "They are two completely different things."

Ruby's experience living authentically is even more reason LGBTQ baseball players should come out and baseball should enter the 21st century in his mind.

"We have this environment in baseball that is way behind the times," said Ruby. "I want to do something about this and help improve the environment."

Baseball at all levels can do better for its queer fans, team owners, coaches, and players than Pride Nights, he said.

"Pride Nights are great. Having a Pride Night versus not having a Pride Night is a lot better to have," but it's only one night, Ruby said, pointing out that MLB teams like the San Francisco Giants will play 162 games this year.

"There's a huge difference between a promotional event, which is what Pride Night is," he continued, "and actually, supporting LGBTQ people in your organization [and] creating an environment that is safe for players."

Ruby believes it doesn't have to be that way.

"We recognize there's a lot of work to do and we want to work with the powers that be in our sport to help move the needle a little bit and make it a safer environment for LGBTQ people," he said about Proud To Be In Baseball's work.

Ruby's goal is to create a better baseball environment for the next generation of LGBTQ players, so when they question if they should play or not, "they decide to stay in baseball."

Despite the challenges, Ruby does feel baseball is starting to accept LGBTQ people.

"I do feel like baseball is becoming more accepting, but I feel like we need to push it over the hump," he said, so that fans and players anywhere can "actually feel accepted and feel like they belong."

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

Updated, 3/3/23: This article has been updated to indicate Bryan Ruby came out at the end of his third pro season.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.