MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee Brewers minor leaguer has become the first openly gay player on a team affiliated with Major League Baseball.
David Denson, with the help of former major leaguer Billy Bean, reached out to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to tell his story.
The 20-year-old first baseman plays for the Helena Brewers in the rookie Pioneer League. Bean, MLB’s first Ambassador for Inclusion, disclosed he is gay after his playing career.
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"Talking with my teammates, they gave me the confidence I needed, coming out to them," Denson told the newspaper. "They said, "You’re still our teammate. You’re still our brother. We kind of had an idea, but your sexuality has nothing to do with your ability. You’re still a ballplayer at the end of the day. We don’t treat you any different. We’ve got your back.’
"That was a giant relief for me," he added. "I never wanted to feel like I was forcing it on them. It just happened. The outcome was amazing. It was nice to know my teammates see me for who I am, not my sexuality."
On Sunday, the Brewers lauded Denson as a "highly respected member" of their family and "a very courageous young man."
General manager Doug Melvin said in the statement: "Our goal for David is to help develop him into a major league player, just as it is for any player in our system, and we will continue to support him in every way as he chases that dream."
Added star outfielder Ryan Braun: "Hopefully, everybody is at a point where we can just be supportive, not just understanding, but accepting and supportive of him and his situation."
MLB said it backs Denson’s decision "to share his personal story and wishes him continued success with his goal of becoming a major leaguer." MLB added that is "very proud" of the Brewers organization and this disclosure represents a "tremendous example of baseball’s desire to give every player the opportunity to play at their very best."
In June, pitcher Sean Conroy of the Sonoma Stompers of the independent Pacific Association revealed he is gay. The Pacific Association is not affiliated with MLB. Denson’s coming out follows similar disclosures of late across sports: Michael Sam (NFL draftee); Jason Collins (NBA); Derrick Gordon and Edward Sarafin (NCAA basketball, football) and Dale Scott (major league umpire).
Denson was selected by the Brewers in the 15th round in 2013 after playing for South Hills High School in West Covina, California. He spent last season with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in the Class A Midwest League, hitting .243 with four homers and 29 RBIs in 68 games. He started this season with Wisconsin, hitting .195 with one homer and eight RBIs in 24 games before being sent to Helena. In 42 games with the Montana team, he’s hitting .245 with four homers and 18 RBIs.
On Saturday night in a doubleheader at Idaho Falls, Denson was 1 for 3 in a 6-1, seven-inning loss and 0 for 5 with an RBI in an 8-7 loss in nine innings.
"It’s a lot to take in right now," Denson told the Idaho Falls Post-Register. "I’m a ballplayer first. That’s what I’m focusing on."