‘If I knew somebody like me as a kid, it would have changed my life’: Bryan Ruby hopes to empower future LGBTQ people in baseball
Ruby, who played at Friends' Central, is the only active openly gay baseball player. He recently returned to town for Proud to be in Baseball, his organization that aims to help future LGBTQ athletes.
Growing up, Bryan Ruby never saw someone in baseball like him. There was never a hero to admire or a superstar to emulate.
He first picked up baseball at 6 years old. Later, playing at Friends’ Central High School, Emory University (2015-16), and Vassar College (2017-19) afforded him a professional career spanning seven countries — USA, Austria, Chile, Germany, Guatemala, Peru, and Switzerland.
In September 2021, Ruby came out, becoming the only out professional gay baseball player active at any level, while playing for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, an independent baseball team based in Oregon.
“I had these big major league dreams,” Ruby said. “I kind of kept waiting for someone to come out. It would have helped me a lot to be able to point to someone on TV when somebody made a homophobic comment in the locker room. If I knew somebody like me as a kid, it would have changed my life.”
Ruby, 25, returned to his high school, in Wynnewood, on Tuesday — his first time back since graduation in 2014. He spoke with students and faculty, recounting his experiences while promoting his new organization, Proud to be in Baseball.
Proud to be in Baseball launched its website on National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11, 2021, with the goal of empowering the next generation of LGBTQ people in baseball.
Ruby vividly remembers the moment he realized his sport-shaking potential. It was on Sept. 4, 2021, two days after he had come out publicly, when he stepped to the plate against Campesinos de Salem-Keizer in the Mavericks Independent League championship game.
“I was actually very cautious about not wanting to be a distraction for my team at all,” Ruby said. “I wanted to just be a positive voice for LGBTQ people in baseball.”
The imagery of traveling to the ballpark, his head spinning with scenarios, is ingrained in his mind. Would an opposing pitcher fire a 95-mph fastball at his head? Would he be treated like a hero, trailblazing a path for greater acceptance?
Ruby walked up to the plate. He was batting seventh and playing first base that night. He glanced down the third-base line.
Two fans stood up and started waving a rainbow flag. Then the opposing pitcher tipped his cap. Ruby subtly tipped his helmet right back.
“From that moment on, I knew that I was going to be OK,” Ruby said. “And we went to work. All the attention that this has brought has given me a platform to advocate for LGBTQ acceptance in baseball. But the most powerful, most meaningful thing for me was when I received that peer-to-peer acceptance on the field.”
It’s taboo to talk about anything LGBTQ-related in baseball, according to Ruby. He said that in the time before coming out to more than just his family and friends, it felt like uncharted territory.
In 2020, about a year before publicly coming out, Ruby was at a holiday party with his partner, Max, and Max’s family. He pulled out his phone with the intention of posting a picture they had taken together. But the voice of a former coach seeped into his head, stopping him in his tracks.
If you ever post anything or tell anybody, you won’t get a job in baseball.
Feeling alone while hiding his sexuality in college, Ruby wrote a hand-written letter addressed to Billy Bean seeking guidance. Bean, 58, a journeyman outfielder, along with Glenn Burke, is one of only two gay men to have come out and played in the major leagues.
Bean and Ruby have since forged a strong friendship, Bean becoming a mentor and idol for Ruby.
“I think a big thing I picked up from him was just don’t bite off more than you can chew, initially,” Ruby said. “Which is why I came out to my family and friends first … before I put myself on an island, becoming the only one out in pro ball.”
Proud to be in Baseball has compiled a list of 30-plus books featuring stories of professional athletes across all sports who are publicly out. Friends’ Central was the first stop on what is expected to be a long tour of speaking appearances and book donations.
Ruby’s alma mater was gifted his personal collection on Tuesday, fit with annotated copies of Bean’s Going the Other Way: Lessons from a Life In and Out of Major League Baseball, former United States women’s soccer legend Abby Wambach’s Forward, and WNBA star Brittney Griner’s In my Skin: My Life On and Off the Basketball Court, among others.
Sharing those books and retelling his story — along with a documentary on his life that is in the works — gives the next generation something Ruby never had. It gives them a hero to point to on TV to say, “I can be like them.”