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Explorers pitcher true to himself

Only second pro ball player to come out as gay

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Solomon Bates arrived in Winnipeg late last week feeling like the weight of the world was finally off his shoulders.

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Opinion

Solomon Bates arrived in Winnipeg late last week feeling like the weight of the world was finally off his shoulders.

The 25-year-old from California no longer had anything to hide. Bates had publicly come out as gay only days earlier, making international headlines as the only current professional baseball player to do so. And as he entered the game on Friday night at Shaw Park, making his American Association debut against the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the righty experienced a cathartic moment on the mound.

“It felt like I could finally be my true self,” Bates told me on Saturday afternoon as we chatted in the lobby of the Radisson Hotel on Portage Avenue, where he and his new teammates with the Sioux City Explorers were staying for the three-game series against the Fish that ended Sunday.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sioux City Explorers pitcher Solomon Bates publicly came out as gay only days earlier, making international headlines as the only current professional baseball player to do so.

“It also put a chip on my shoulder. I just want to prove all those people who say I shouldn’t be in this sport wrong.”

Sadly, Bates has experienced plenty of that lately, especially since he made an Instagram post last Tuesday after being released by the San Francisco Giants organization.

“Being gay in this sport you don’t know what comes at you!” Bates wrote on social media. “I thank the Giants for giving me the opportunity to be myself and go out there and play the game that I love the most. I’m still in shock [over] what just happened. But I’m not giving up on what I want to do. Baseball I’m not done with you. I’m leaving on my terms and my terms only. Gay men can play a manly sport if you give us a chance to.”

Bates was drafted by the Giants in 2018, working his way up to their Double-A affiliate in Richmond where he’d posted a respectable 4-1 record and 4.02 earned run average in 23 relief appearances this year. But with a crop of newly drafted players entering the system and bumping some Single A prospects up a level, his tenure came to an abrupt end.

“They just told me they didn’t have a spot for me in Triple-A,” he said. “I’m unsure if that’s the truth. I really don’t know. It surprised me, and it surprised a lot of the coaches and players. It’s hard to say what they thought and what was going on in their mind. I wouldn’t say it was my stats. There’s guys that have like five, six, seven ERAs that are still there.”

Bates is the just the second-ever pro baseball player to come out, joining former Milwaukee minor-league first baseman and outfielder David Denson, who did so in 2015 and retired in 2017. No active Major Leaguer has followed suit, although a handful have after their playing days ended.

“David DMd me and told me I was brave. The strength he gave me helped me as well,” said Bates, who also drew inspiration from Carl Nassib, who became the first pro football player to come out last year.

“I know there’s a lot more than just me out there in baseball. But the people who are very one-sided makes it harder for us to come out,” he said.

The matter of Bates’ sexuality was known by the Giants organization since 2019, but he’s hoping that didn’t ultimately play a role even though it made for some ugly moments at times. While the majority of teammates were accepting, a few bigots made life difficult.

“If they didn’t feel comfortable with me showering with them I would wait until everybody was done and shower by myself. Or I’d hop in first and get out as quick as I could. I would always face forward into my locker,” he said. “You’d hear things like ‘Oh, that’s the gay guy, what’s he doing here. I don’t want him staring at my (penis).”

There were also occasional slurs directed his way — something he’d already grown accustomed to within his own family. While his parents, brother and two older sisters were all accepting of him, another sister and two cousins were not.

“She told me she never should have a gay brother, she doesn’t want that. She said you’re supposed to be a man. I said I am a man,” said Bates. “I felt like they weren’t seeing me for the good persona I am, that they were always bringing up my sexuality. I’d hear it from a lot of random people as well. I’m used to the word (a homosexual slur). It doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m happy with who I am and just want to play baseball.”

He quickly got another chance last week, with his agent finding him a fit with the Explorers. Sioux City is known as an organization that has quickly got players back into affiliated baseball, which is the ultimate goal. Bates signed his contract on Thursday morning, then had a marathon travel day which included flights to Boston, Richmond, Denver and Sioux City, where he quickly met his new teammates and jumped on a bus for a nearly 10-hour ride north to this place called Winnipeg.

“I didn’t really know where it was. I’d been to Vancouver before, that’s it,” he said.

With only a couple hours sleep, Bates convinced veteran Explorers skipper Steve Montgomery to hand him the ball on Friday night with his team clinging to a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning. He responded by tossing three frames, striking out seven Goldeyes batters while giving up three hits and two earned runs. Sioux City scored a pair as well to keep the advantage intact en route to a 7-5 victory.

“I told him I had four innings in me if needed,” said Bates. “I’ve always wanted to show that I can be versatile, I can be middle relief, long relief, a closer, a starter.”

Saturday night didn’t go quite as well, as he was tagged with the loss after giving up two runs over an inning and a third, along with two strikeouts.

Bates said he’s thankful to be pitching at all, especially after a 2020 took him down a “deep, dark path.” The global pandemic had shut minor-league baseball down, and life began spiralling out of control.

“I felt like everything was over with because I didn’t have baseball. And then I wasn’t happy with myself because I felt like I wasn’t being who I truly was. I just didn’t like me,” he said. Anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts became an everyday part of his life.

Fortunately, he was referred to a therapist through the Giants organization that helped him get back on track and process the many emotions he was struggling with. And his love of baseball, something the developed as a child using a Barry Bonds hitting set his mother bought for him, was back.

“Once I grabbed a ball I just felt like I was at home. Whatever was going on in my head wasn’t there, whatever I was trying to hide wasn’t there. It was just me on the mound,” said Bates. “It feels like nothing in this world can bother me. It’s just me and that glove.”

Now that he’s come out publicly, the spotlight grows even brighter.

“I knew what it would come with. I knew it would bring extra pressure on me, and that it would make a lot of people try to watch me fail. But I’m not backing down. I can do it,” he said.

“I’m here to do what I’ve always wanted to do, and that’s play baseball and show what I can be. I have much more to prove. I have thick skin. I’ve always been judged, ‘Oh, you’re gay, you’re not good.’ I love proving them wrong. I don’t really get mad, I don’t really get angry. It just defeats the purpose. I feel you should just love everybody in this world. I’d rather just have peace and equality rather than anger. Because anger gets you nowhere.”

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

History

Updated on Monday, August 15, 2022 12:08 PM CDT: typo fixed

Updated on Wednesday, January 4, 2023 2:35 PM CST: Deck fixed.

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