As I'm a lifelong baseball fan and a current suffering Pittsburgh Pirates fan, it was always sort of a dream of mine that a player would come out during my lifetime.
The Pirates came close to making that happen when their former owner Kevin McClatchy came out as gay. I took some comfort in the fact that he was warmly accepted by the players.
I wrote recently about why the former gay Los Angeles Dodgers star Glenn Burke’s story still matters. After a troubled career in the major leagues, he died penniless and of AIDS. Burke’s traumatic life is truly sad.
Major League Baseball is certainly lagging behind other professional sports when it comes to its players coming out. Over the past two years, I’ve talked to the former NFL star Ryan O’Callaghan — the league currently has Carl Nassib — the NHL’s only out player, Luke Prokop, and Major League Soccer’s only gay current player, Collin Martin.
For baseball, two players came out this year, however, they were both minor league players. First it was Bryan Ruby, who plays for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in Oregon. Then came the story of pitcher Kieran Lovegrove.
Assigned to the Los Angeles Angels’ Rocket City Trash Pandas farm club in the Deep South of Madison, Ala., Lovegrove came out as bisexual in a harrowing interview with ESPN. Lovegrove’s most shocking revelation was that he had tried to commit suicide — it was the safety lock on the pistol that saved his life.
I had the opportunity to speak to Lovegrove, and began by telling him about my conversation with O’Callaghan which dealt with the dangers of remaining in the closet, and how it causes some, like it did him, to rely on drugs, alcohol and destructive behavior to mask the pain of being queer.
“Yes, all that behavior was something I had most of my life and something I didn’t deal with for a long time,” Lovegrove tells me in a call this week. “I had to work through a lot of problems and figure out what was happening to me.”
Lovegrove says that his brain was so overwhelmed, and while he struggled to make sense of who he was, he relied on alcohol to help him deal with all the agony. “There was so much self-loathing, so when the gun didn’t fire, I tried to compartmentalize it by saying, ‘Oh, you just had too much to drink, so don’t think about it.’ Looking back now with a clear mind, I would never want to go through with something like that ever again.”
In order to come out as unscathed as possible, Lovegrove worked hard to deal with all of the trauma. “I had to truly make myself understand what had taken place and deal with the fact that I was still here. I came to realize that it was a temporary condition that was brought on by my severe depression and anxiety.”
I shared with Lovegrove my story about being on disability during my year-long battle with severe depression and anxiety and also episodes of threatening my own life. I think you immediately bond with someone who has been through that horrible experience and lived to talk about it. I asked Lovegrove how he dug himself out of such a deep, dark hole.
“Through lots of therapy and behavioral study, and working hard to understand what was causing all that suffering. With the help of counselors and therapists, and working on my own to figure out who I was, I started to appreciate the fact that my time here had been extended.
“It was unbelievably reassuring to hear from therapy that it’s just fine to open up and be honest, that you are OK, that you can do whatever you want with your life, and you are just fine the way you are, and it’s not a bad thing to be your authentic self. I know it sounds like a cliché, but I really began to feel that I had a renewed lease on life.”
It took an enormous amount of time for Lovegrove to feel comfortable with who he was and to be confident in front of the people he was with. “I need people, I need a tribe to confide in, to be human with, to make deep interpersonal connections with. I think the lack of that, despite going out to bars and meeting people, really hurt me. I never had a deep network.”
Just being himself led Lovegrove to be happy for the first time in his life. “From a sexuality standpoint, just being authentic leads to peace of mind. I wasn’t who I thought I was for a long time. And it became imperative to want to be who I was and get to know myself for the first time and embrace my sexuality. Fighting myself all those years was terrifying and tumultuous.”
For Lovegrove, it’s now much easier to be a distinct individual rather than to act like the rest of the group. “I was always trying to fit in for a certain masculine crowd, and nothing came of it. Now, as I’ve been open about who I am, I find commonalities with my teammates who are really like a family. Coming out to your team, who you’re with 24/7, is a big thing. I really felt like the players I told supported me. They were just good people.”
I was intrigued with one of the things he brought up in his ESPN interview. He said, “Baseball is a game of statistics. And if you want to tell me that I’m the only queer person in baseball, I’m just not going to agree with you.”
Baseball is a game of statistics, and then some. Every baseball fan knows the history behind numbers like .367, 714, 4,256, 5,714, and 511 (Ty Cobb’s batting average, home runs by Babe Ruth, hits by Pete Rose, strikeouts by Nolan Ryan, and wins by Cy Young). And while we’re all caught up on the numbers in baseball, I ask Lovegrove why there are no other queer players in baseball driving up his lonely statistic.
“I don’t really know," he admits. "There isn’t as much homophobia that used to exist. Nowadays, I think the reasons for being in the closet are diminishing. Yes, there are rationalizations about not being out — I made them. Namely, I never thought it was important for anyone else to know.
“I come from a privileged, heteronormative life, and your teammates come from all different types of backgrounds. The vast majority of players care about their teammates, and I think they would surround anyone who came out. They also care about the fact that you are a good teammate, and you play the game the right way. I really do believe that there is a beautiful and accepting culture in baseball.
"From my own personal experience, I would encourage players to come out. It’s a huge weight off their shoulders. Coming out also helps foster others to try and be a better teammate or ally.”
Lovegrove says that since he came out, he has heard from players who are allies. “Their support was incredible. [Bryan Ruby and I] are working on putting together an independent network of players so that we have each other. If someone wants to reach out and talk, I am here.”
John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.