Sean Conroy became the first openly gay baseball player to appear in a professional game on Thursday.
Conroy pitched a complete game shutout to lead the Sonoma Stompers to a 7-0 victory over Vallejo Admirals in the Pacific Association of Baseball Clubs in front of an enthusiastic crowd that seemed more enthralled by his performance than role as a pioneer. Conroy struck out 11 batters and allowed only three hits in the outing.
The Pacific Association of Baseball Clubs is a small, independent league featuring teams from Northern California.
Theo Fightmaster, the Stompers' general manager, told the Associated Press that the team did not make a public announcement so that Conroy could focus on pitching his best, which he did. However, when the starting lineups were announced, Sean Conroy got the loudest cheer. According to Fightmaster, Conroy discussed his orientation with his teammates and agreed to come out on the Stompers' Pride Night.
"It's not that I wanted it to go public, but I didn't care if it was open information. It's who I am," Conroy said, according to the AP. "I am definitely surprised that no one else has been openly gay in baseball yet."
Sean Conroy is a native of upstate New York and was recruited by the Stompers out of college in May. Conroy Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
"He wanted to be that guy, and coming out here and doing this shows you what kind of man he is," Tim Livingston, the team's radio broadcaster, said after a ground ball ended the game and Conroy's teammates jogged over to hug and congratulate him. "To see this little field here in the middle of nowhere, when we look back it will have been the perfect setting for this."
"We've had gay people here forever, it's not like it's a big deal," said Barry Bosshard, who along with his wife, Laura, is putting up Conroy and another player at their home during the Stompers' 78-game season. "But it's major pressure on him because he's never really broadcast it and he is a very humble, private person."
Major League Baseball historian confirmed that Conroy was the first openly gay professional baseball player. Glenn Burke, an outfielder for the A's and Dodgers, and Billy Bean, a utility player with the Tigers, Dodgers and Padres, came out after they retired.
Conroy had made appearances as a reliever before making his first start on Thursday.
"To see Sean walk out and not get booed and have his teammates support him, it's heartwarming," said Mark Vogler, who believed that anti-gay hostility in the area was quite high.
[Image Source: Christopher Chung/AP]