A 20-year-old Milwaukee Brewers prospect has become the first baseball player in a MLB-affiliated league to come out as gay.
David Denson, a first baseman for the advanced-rookie league Helena Brewers, told his story to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“Talking with my teammates, they gave me the confidence I needed, coming out to them,” Denson told the newspaper. “They said, ‘You’re still our teammate. You’re still our brother. We kind of had an idea, but your sexuality has nothing to do with your ability. You’re still a ballplayer at the end of the day. We don’t treat you any different. We’ve got your back.’
“That was a giant relief for me. I never wanted to feel like I was forcing it on them. It just happened. The outcome was amazing. It was nice to know my teammates see me for who I am, not my sexuality.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Denson Came Out to His Family in the Spring & Then to His Team
Denson told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he first came out to his family in the spring, something he said was harder than when he later came out to his team:
It took some stress off me, but it kind of built up a wall at the same time. They weren’t too happy about it at first, though I think they sort of knew since I was little. They were afraid I’d be judged. They jumped right into the stereotype. No parents want to see their child discriminated against and talked about and put down. I don’t question that they love me. They never said they were upset about me being gay. It was harder on my dad than my mom. He’s a very hard-core Christian and he goes off the Bible and all that, which I completely understand, growing up in the church. I’m a Christian myself. It was an eye-opener for him. He finally came to terms with it. Coming out to my father was even harder than coming out to my teammates, because I knew how he felt about it. He grew up in sports, and I heard him talk (in derogatory fashion) about gay guys. That was hard for me to hear at the time. But I’m his son and he said, ‘It’s your life and it’s who you are. I love you.’ There’s a difference between accepting it, and supporting it and respecting it. I know he loves me and supports me and has my back.
Denson told the newspaper he received a positive reaction from his teammates and coaches, and his decision to come out has taken a weight off of him.
Some of his teammates reacted on Twitter after the Journal Sentinel’s story was published:
2. He Sought Advice From MLB’s Ambassador for Inclusion Billy Bean
Denson sought advice from MLB’s Ambassador for Inclusion, Billy Bean, a former player who came out as gay after he retired. Bean gave advice and support to Denson, and helped him set up the interview with the Journal Sentinel, the newspaper reported.
“Any player who happens to be gay and is a professional and has kept that secret, they just want to be judged for their baseball or football or basketball ability. David would not be playing professional baseball if he wasn’t an excellent baseball player,” Bean told the Journal-Sentinel. “The beauty of what could come from this is he can be an example that can help change that perception and change the stereotype that there would never be a gay person on a men’s professional sports team. That was something I struggled with.”
Bean was hired by the MLB last summer.
3. He Was Drafted by the Brewers in 2013 & Is the No. 27 Ranked Prospect in Their System
Denson was drafted by the Brewers in the 15th round of the 2013 draft out of South Hills High School in Covina, California. Before this season, MLB.com ranked Denson as the No. 21 prospect in the Brewers organization.
“Denson looks the part of a big, slugging, left-handed-hitting first baseman. Whether he’ll hit enough to play the part every day remains to be seen. There is little question about Denson’s raw power, as he’s shown glimpses of being able to hit the ball a long way since his amateur days as a high schooler in California,” MLB.com said in its evaluation of the 6 foot 3 inch lefty slugger. “There are some holes in his swing and he’s going to strike out quite a bit. He will have to cut down on it somewhat, as his nearly 30 percent strikeout rate in 2014 is untenable as he tries to move up. There is hope as the big first baseman showed better plate discipline than anticipated, drawing walks at a healthy clip. He’s a below-average runner, though not a clogger, and he’s fine defensively at first.”
4. He Was the MVP of His League’s All-Star Game
Denson represented the Helena Brewers in the Pioneer League All-Star Game in early August, earning Most Valuable Player honors after hitting a home run.
He is hitting .220 with 5 home runs, 26 RBI and a .313 on-base percentage this season over 67 games split between Helena and Single-A Wisconsin.
“I didn’t get drafted because of my sexuality. I didn’t start playing this game because of my sexuality,” Denson told the Journal-Sentinel. “I started playing this game and got drafted because I have a love for this game. It’s a release for me to finally be able to give all of myself to the game, without having to be afraid or hide or worry about the next person who might find out.”
5. An Independent League Pitcher Came Out as Gay Earlier This Year
The first baseball player in a professional league to come out as gay was Sean Conroy, in June. Conroy plays for the Sonoma Stompers, an independent team in the Pacific Association of Baseball Clubs, which is not affiliated with Major League Baseball.