Watching spring training, no matter what the team, you get to see a lot of young players working their tails off to make the major league roster for a club. Each at bat matters, and every detail therein, regardless of which side of the they are on. For hitters, every aspect of their at-bat is scrutinized, and I am sure they are trying to impress. For pitchers, every pitch matters. Speed, location, movement all matter. Not to mention the judgment calls on pitch selection and their ability to judge their opponent. It is exhausting, I am sure, and I am impressed with how they keep at it. As hard as it is, when you add an emotionally hostile environment to all that, it's almost impossible.
Tyler Dunnington, a minor league pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system, who is gay was facing just such a circumstance. He had a tough choice to make. It's one that I would never judge. After spending one season in the minors having to listen to hate speech, he decided to walk away from the game last spring. That's a tragedy. Last week he decided to open up about his decision, and the hostilities with which he had to deal leading up to that decision. A player in the clubhouse talking about how his brother came out, to be followed by teammates wondering how he could still be friends with him. How he could still be friends with his brother?? This is that exact scenario that screams for a mentor, a leadership figure, to step in and stop the ignorant remarks and set a better tone, set a good example. The leadership figures this kid saw in the clubhouse were coaches who talked bout how they killed back in their home state of Wyoming. You read this stuff and you wonder how in the world this is allowed to go on.
To their credit, the St. Louis Cardinals are investigating these allegations. While some might be tempted to distance themselves from such a controversy, they are at least acknowledging that it's a problem and that they need to make sure their house is in order. I hope they make good on their statement. Likewise, Major League Baseball put in the effort to establish and communicate a Code of Conduct last season, to make sure that these kinds of abuses don't go on. Still, you read the fan comments on various sites that posted this news article and it's scary. There is no end to the reasons people will give to try to rationalize and minimize the problem. Some think this kind of language and behavior would never happen in a locker room and that coaches and players talking about killing gays is a little far fetched. Sure. Because history has shown how abusive language and action never takes place behind closed doors. Note sarcasm. Some say he's just complaining because he wasn't good enough to make it to the majors. Yeah, because after a few months in the minors and getting an invite to return in the spring is a sure sign that you're going nowhere. My personal favorite is the one where that kind of talk is typical in sports, and that it's "it's all done in fun". Those of us who have both experienced and witnessed that kind of bullying know that "fun" is the last word you could ever use to describe this behavior.
I remember watching "42", the movie about Jackie Robinson and what he went through being the first black man to play in the Major Leagues. I read about the social climate of that day, but to see it acted out brought a new level of ugliness to that part of American history. I remember that one particular scene on the field with Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman yelling from the dugout. If you've seen it, you know the scene I'm talking about. I remember digging my fingers into my armrest as I tried to stay quiet and contain my anger. I wondered afterward how things that bad could be tolerated. Then I read stories like that of Tyler Dunnington's experience and I think to myself - look around you! Things like that happen today more often than you realize. It's just not that obvious, or that we're not that sensitive to it.
In a perfect world, the best players get promoted, get the best opportunities, and succeed based on merit. In the real world, bad things happen, like they did to Tyler Dunnington. He is not the first, he won't be the last. That doesn't mean we have to accept it. We don't accept domestic violence from our players, and now baseball has a Code fo Conduct. We don't accept the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and now players get suspended and banned if they use. We don't have to accept this either. Baseball will always be America's pastime. It should reflect our values, that if you work hard, you can get a fair shot at success. Let's demand better.
--Ike Dimitriadis, BYB Senior Staff Writer
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