Eric Bach, an openly gay baseball broadcaster, wishes there was more

Eric Bach, an openly gay baseball broadcaster, wishes there was more

The hate email was a surprise, but for Eric Bach, it wasn’t entirely unexpected.

The young broadcaster had been expecting something like this to happen for some time. Three years earlier, while studying journalism at Michigan State University, he came out publicly as gay. an essay he wrote for Outsports,

At the time of the essay, he faced backlash, but there was no result. He worked his way up from internships to full-time broadcasting jobs, and while anyone with an internet connection could have known he was gay, no one asked, and he never said so publicly again. He simply showed up to work, pulled his headset over his ears and described the action for viewers at home.

Then, a few days after he called a controversial Division II lacrosse game between Wingate and Lenoir-Rhine in North Carolina, an email arrived. It was bilious and ugly, said Bach, replete with “every homosexual slur you can think of”. It also contained a threat: “Don’t show your face on Wingate.” It was sent from an unknown email account that was quickly deleted, and its author was never found. Bach was disappointed but not discouraged.

“It was almost like, ‘It finally happened,'” he said.

More than a year after that incident, that email represents some nexus in Bach’s developing career as a sports broadcaster. It was traumatic at the time – the worst thing that ever happened to him as a gay man – he said, but it’s so ingrained in his memory that in an hour-long interview about his experiences as a gay broadcaster I didn’t remember this. His mother had to remind him to bring it up.

Today, Bach, 24, is the lead broadcaster for the Class A Fredericksburg Nationals, a minor league affiliate of the Washington Nationals. The path he has taken to reach this point is easy but also lonely.

Minor League Baseball has 120 full-season affiliates, most of whom employ someone to call games on radio and TV. As far as Bach knows – and as far as many of his counterparts on other teams know – there are no other openly gay broadcasters in the sport. He rarely encounters anyone in baseball, broadcaster or any other field who is like him.

Years after his Outsports essay, he’s sharing his story again with the aim of encouraging more LGBTQ people to pursue careers in straight and male-dominated sports like baseball.

Long before he learned he was gay, Bach knew he wanted to be a sports broadcaster.

His father was a coach and the love of sports ran in the family. The soundtrack to Bach House was Tigers Games called by Mario Impemba and Rod Allen – before a physical altercation between the on-air pair led to both of them being fired.

When Bach was only 2 or 3 years old, his mother would find him “announcing” games in the window knob of their house. Hours passed while he played video games, narrating the activities to her, while his younger sister served as his test audience. “Alyssa, the way I’m saying the name of the game, can you tell what’s going on?” he will ask. (According to his mother, Lynn, his typical response: “Yeah. Whatever.”)

During his sophomore year of high school, he began to accept that he was gay, but with this acceptance came anxiety. As a multisport athlete, Bach often found himself in a locker room filled with homophobic slurs and gay jokes. She didn’t take them personally, but they made her uncomfortable, as did the idea of ​​coming out.

“I knew things were not directed at me,” Bach said, “but I kept thinking, ‘Oh, is this how I’ll live my whole life?'”

By the beginning of his sophomore year at Michigan State, Bach was ready to tell his parents that he was gay, which surprised his father but confirmed what his mother had previously assumed. “I probably said, ‘It’s okay!’ A hundred times,” said Lynn Bach. The next summer, Eric Bach revealed himself to the world, writing his Outsports essay.

If any of his relatives, friends or acquaintances in his hometown didn’t approve, they never told him. Mostly they were supported and left to read the tea leaves of others’ silence. But that didn’t make him any less sure of his place in the world.

He said, “Not everyone is made to be in your life forever.” “Doing this was almost like a process of eliminating who really cared, who would treat me and see me that way.”

Bach graduates from college in 2021, first landing a job with an independent baseball club in North Carolina and then going on to work with Lenoir-Rhine. Last year he was brought to Fredericksburg. He did each job to the best of his ability and his sexuality never came to the fore.

Still, he has found that there is a difference between being a gay man in baseball and being completely comfortable as a gay man.

In May, several Fredericksburg staff members were spending the evening at a local rooftop bar. Bach and manager Jake Lowry were enjoying a whirlwind conversation when the young broadcaster asked a self-conscious question.

“I was casually saying, ‘You know I’m gay, right?'” Bach said. “And he says, ‘Yeah.’ That was it, in fact.”

That conversation was a relief, although Bach is unsure how widely known his sexuality is among those around the team. That uncertainty makes him feel self-conscious in a way he believes is common for gay people in most straight spaces.

He said, “I think a lot of gay people live with that burden – trying to be perfect for straight people.”

His job requires frequent interactions with players and the coaching staff – in addition to his duties as the play-by-play announcer, Bach is also the main public relations liaison for the team – and he said he has never had any of these interactions. Also not completely relaxed. Them. When he enters the clubhouse, he is unaware of what he is saying and where his eyes may rest, afraid of making the wrong impression on the player. “When I’m at work the filter of what I can say and where I am is turned up to 11 at all times,” he said. The atmosphere is not hostile, but Bach never forgets that he is the only openly gay man in the room.

The sentiment is somewhat “self-inflicted”, Bach said, but believes the solution is to bring more openly gay people into sports and create a safe environment for those who are already gay. They are there but consider it necessary to hide their identity.

Major League Baseball has promoted itself as a place of inclusivity. Billy Beane, an openly gay former player, was named the league’s first ambassador for induction in 2014 and has since been promoted to senior vice president and special assistant to commissioner Rob Manfred. In February, Anderson Komus, a minor leaguer in the Chicago White Sox organization, came out as gay with a post on Instagram, and the announcement was met with public support from his club and some people around the sport.

Other incidents suggest that there is more work to be done. In June, Dodgers’ plan to honor the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a protest group that describes itself as “a major order of queer and trans nuns”, drew complaints from politicians and religious groups, prompting the team to had to disown the group.

The invitation was reinstated only after organizations such as LA Pride and the Los Angeles LGBT Center pulled out of the event. And the sisters were honored in an empty stadium long before the start of the game, with religious groups protesting at the stadium gates.

Issues of inclusion continued to emerge throughout June, even as Pride Nights were observed by every team except the Texas Rangers. The Boston Red Sox called out Matt Dermody, a minor leaguer, who posted an anti-gay message on Twitter in 2021, and Anthony Bass, a reliever for the Toronto Blue Jays, reposted a video on social media that criticized LGBTQ boycotts. was invoked. Friendly companies.

Dermody and Bass were later released by their teams, although their poor performance on the field was likely a major factor in those decisions.

Bach said of the league creating a diversity fellowship, “I don’t think any of Rob Manfred’s silly initiatives are going to help anything.” “It’s better for people on the ground to simply be visible, to exist, and to thrive on a baseball field.”

On air, Bach’s voice is smooth and timeless. He effortlessly handles the action along with analysis and storytelling. Fredericksburg manager Lowry listened to him several times after he was ejected from the game and said he was impressed by Bach’s baseball knowledge. Once, Bach conducted a booth interview with his parents at a game he attended. The interview unnerved his mother, but Bach’s demeanor put her at ease.

This is a common occurrence with Lynn Bach and her son. She worries, he reassures. He is concerned that the extensive knowledge about his sexuality will limit his professional opportunities, but Bach believes he will be fine. Like all other minors, he too strives to reach the age of majority one day.

He wants to get there on merit, he said, not “as a charity case”. K is ready to take his place – and he knows he’s lucky to have it. But he is also determined that he will leave nothing behind if he is to achieve his dream of making a name for himself in a major sport.

“Those of us who are a small minority in the game have to keep this conversation going, keep working really hard to earn our place in this field,” he added.

He aspires to be a gay man at home in a big league booth. And if that time comes, he hopes he won’t be alone.

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