I was originally going to use this piece to highlight a true pioneer for the LGBTQ+ baseball community, Billy Bean. No, not Moneyball Billy Beane. The lesser-known of the two Bean(e)s who would not go down in any history books for his baseball statistics. However, he would have a greater impact on at least one minor league player and hopefully others in the future.
Announced at the All-Star break in 2014, Commissioner Bud Selig would appoint Billy Bean as Major League Baseball’s Ambassador for Inclusion. The goal of this position is to uphold Jackie Robinson‘s legacy and encourage inclusion, respect, and equal opportunity across MLB. Little did Bean know, there was a player in the Brewers minor league system who needed his help. This man’s name is David Denson.
Who is David Denson?
Unless you’re an avid Brewers farm system fiend, you’ve probably never heard of Denson. He is an imposing 6 foot 3 inch 250 lb first baseman/outfielder hailing from La Puente, California. Known for his sheer power in high school (and an insane 500 foot home run at a showcase), Denson was chosen in the 15th round in 2013 by the Milwaukee Brewers.
He would then go on to bounce around the Brewers minor league system, never reaching past single A. However, it’s what happened off the field that would put him in the history books. After Bean accepted the Ambassador position, Denson had a tough decision to make. He could continue to play baseball like any other ball player, or he could decide to become the first professional active baseball player to come out.
In 2015, Denson gave Bean a call and said “Hi, my name is David and I’m a player. I’m wondering if you could call me back.” The two of them spoke about what it was like to be gay men in professional baseball. The only difference was Denson was about to come out while still in uniform.
He then mustered up the courage to come out to his Wisconsin Timber Rattlers teammates first. He was extremely nervous as homosexuality is still not as accepted in sports as it is in normal life. However, the support he received from the team was unlike anything he’d expected.
“I thought it would basically be me on my own. But all I’ve gotten from teammates was support. They’ve had my back through everything. They’ve said they respect me as a player and a person.” After Denson came out to his teammates, it was time to come out to the world. With the help of Bean, he contacted the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and officially, his secret was out.
It’s one thing to come out after you’ve made it to the pros or when you’ve retired. It’s another thing to take the leap of faith while you are in the minor leagues and hope you won’t get blackballed from the league. Denson took the chance and was accepted by his peers.
He wouldn’t have the most successful professional baseball career, though. After he came out in 2015, he decided to hang up his cleats in 2017 and call it quits. The decision had nothing to do with him coming out. but rather his performance on the field and his passion for the game itself. He would retire with a career .229 batting average with 29 home runs over 318 games.
Denson definitely did not have the greatest professional statistics but what he did mattered much more than baseball. With his coming out, he was able to help carry on Bean’s mission of inclusivity. Additionally, I hope he has inspired other young athletes to not be afraid of showing who they are to the world.
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