Tiny league makes history with first openly gay player to enter pro baseball ranks

Sonoma Stompers pitcher Sean Conroy, left, warms up during practice at Arnold Field, in Sonoma, Calif. on Tuesday, June 23, 2015. Conroy, 23, of Clifton Park, N.Y., is the first openly gay player to enter the professional baseball ranks, according to the Stompers.

Sonoma Stompers pitcher Sean Conroy, left, warms up during practice at Arnold Field, in Sonoma, Calif. on Tuesday, June 23, 2015. Conroy, 23, of Clifton Park, N.Y., is the first openly gay player to enter the professional baseball ranks, according to the Stompers. Christopher Chung, The Press Democrat via AP

Sonoma Stompers pitcher Sean Conroy, left, warms up during practice at Arnold Field, in Sonoma, Calif. on Tuesday, June 23, 2015. Conroy, 23, of Clifton Park, N.Y., is the first openly gay player to enter the professional baseball ranks, according to the Stompers. Christopher Chung, The Press Democrat via AP

Sonoma Stompers pitcher Sean Conroy, left, warms up during practice at Arnold Field, in Sonoma, Calif. on Tuesday, June 23, 2015. Conroy, 23, of Clifton Park, N.Y., is the first openly gay player to enter the professional baseball ranks, according to the Stompers.

Updated: 11:30 p.m. PDT

SAN FRANCISCO — Baseball history was made in Northern California when the sport’s first active professional player to come out as gay pitched a shutout before an enthusiastic crowd that seemed more impressed with his performance than his role as a pioneer.

Sean Conroy, 23, led the Sonoma Stompers to a 7-0 victory Thursday night during his first start with the 22-man team that is part of the independent Pacific Association of Baseball Clubs. The right hander struck-out 11 players and allowed three hits over nine innings.

“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 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.”

The atmosphere at Arnold Field, the Stompers’ 370 seat home field, was low-key, with no obvious signs it was a historic game or even gay pride night at the ballpark – except for the rainbow-striped socks and arm warmers some players – but not Conroy – wore.

The Stompers did not make a special announcement or call attention to the milestone so Conroy could focus on his pitching, General Manager Theo Fightmaster said.

When the starting lineup was announced, however, Conroy got the loudest cheer.

“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.”

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The Stompers recruited the upstate New York native out of college in May. Fightmaster says Conroy privately shared his sexual orientation with teammates and management before agreeing to come out publicly in time for the team’s home field gay pride night.

“His goal has always been to be the first openly gay baseball player, so he was very much in favor of telling the story, of carrying that torch,” he said.

Nancy Dito, 67, attended the game with 25 friends from a local group for LGBT seniors and was one of three fans picked to throw out a first pitch.

“It’s great they cheered for him,” Dito said of the warm reception for Conroy. “I think it’s courageous and wonderful he’s doing this.”

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