The hate mail came as a surprise, but for Eric Bach, it wasn’t entirely unexpected.

The young broadcaster foresaw something like this some time ago. Three years earlier, while he was studying journalism at Michigan State University, he publicly came out as gay in an essay he wrote for Outsports.

During the essay, he prepared for a backlash, but nothing materialized. He worked his way up from internships to full-time broadcasting jobs, and while anyone with an Internet connection could learn he was gay, no one asked, and he didn’t say so publicly again. He simply showed up to work, pulled his headphones over his ears and described the action for the audience at home.

Then, a few days after he called a contentious Division II lacrosse game between Wingate and Lenoir-Rhyne in North Carolina, an email arrived. It was bilious and ugly, filled with “every gay slur you could think of,” Bach said. It also contained a threat: “Don’t show your face at Wingate.” It was sent from an anonymous email account that was quickly deleted, and its author was never discovered. Bach was disappointed but not dismayed.

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

More than a year after that incident, that email represents something of a juncture in Bach’s evolving career as a sports broadcaster. It was painful at the time — the worst thing that happened to him as a gay man, he said — but receded far enough into his memory that it didn’t come to mind in an hour-long interview about his experiences as a gay broadcaster. His mother had to remind him to bear it.

Today, Bach, 24, is the primary broadcaster for the Class A Fredericksburg Nationals, a minor league affiliate of the Washington Nationals. The road he took to get to this point was smooth, but it was also lonely.

There are 120 full-season affiliates in Minor League Baseball, most of which employ someone to call games on radio and television. As far as Bach knows — and as many of his counterparts with other teams are aware — there are no other openly gay broadcasters in the sport. He rarely meets anyone in baseball, broadcaster or otherwise, who is like him.

Years after his Out of Sports essay, he’s sharing his story again with the goal of encouraging more LGBT people to pursue careers in a straight, male-dominated sport like baseball.

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

His father was a coach, and love for sports ran through the family. The music of the Bach household was Tiger Games called by Mario Impemba and Rod Allen – before a physical altercation between the on-air duo led to them both being fired.

When Bach was only 2 or 3 years old, his mother found him “announcing” games into the handle that opened one of the casement windows of their home. He would spend hours narrating the action while playing video games, with his little sister acting as his test audience. “Alyssa, can you tell what’s going on by the way I call the game?” he would ask. (Her usual response, according to their mother, Lynn: “Yeah. Whatever.”)

He began to accept that he was gay during his sophomore year of high school, but with that acceptance came anxiety. As a multi-sport athlete, Bach was often in locker rooms filled with choruses of homophobic slurs and gay jokes. He didn’t take them personally, but they made him uncomfortable, as did the idea of ​​going out.

“I knew the stuff wasn’t directed at me,” Bach said, “but I thought, ‘Oh, is this what my whole life is going to be like?’

By the start of his sophomore year at Michigan State, Bach was ready to tell his parents he was gay, catching his father off guard but confirming what his mother had previously assumed. “I probably said, ‘It’s okay!’ a hundred times,” said Lynn Bach. The following summer, Eric Bach wrote his Outsports essay, revealing himself to the world.

If any of his relatives, friends or hometown acquaintances didn’t approve, they never told him. Mostly he was supported and was left to read the tea leaves of the silence of others. But that left him no less certain of his place in the world.

“Not everyone is meant to be in your life forever,” he said. “Doing that was almost like removing someone who really cares, who will treat me and see me the same way.”

Bach graduated from college in 2021, first landing with an independent baseball club in North Carolina and then leaving to take the gig with Lenoir-Rhyne. Last year brought him to Fredericksburg. He did every job to the best of his ability, and his sexuality never came up.

However, he found that there was a difference between being gay in baseball and being completely comfortable as one.

In May, several members of the Fredericksburg staff took in the early evening at a local rooftop bar. Bach and manager Jake Lowery were enjoying a meandering chat when the young broadcaster asked a self-conscious question.

“I was casually like, ‘You know I’m gay, right?'” Bach said. “And he says, ‘Yes.’ That was literally.”

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

“I feel like that’s the burden that a lot of gay people live with — trying to be perfect for straight people,” he said.

His job requires frequent interaction with the players and the coaching staff — in addition to his duties as play-by-play announcer, Bach is also the primary public relations contact for the team — and he said he hasn’t fully relaxed in any. them When he enters the clubhouse, he is hyper-aware of what he says and where his eyes might rest, fearing that a player might get the wrong impression. “My filter on what I can say and where I am is turned up to 11 the whole time I’m working,” he said. The environment is not hostile, but Bach never forgets that he is the only openly gay person in the room.

That feeling is a bit “self-inflicted,” Bach said, but he thinks the solution is to bring more openly gay people into sports and create a safe environment for those who are already there but felt the need to hide their identities.

Major League Baseball has shown itself to be a place of inclusion. Billy Bean, an openly gay former player, was named the league’s first ambassador for inclusion in 2014 and was later promoted to senior vice president and special assistant to commissioner Rob Manfred. In February, Anderson Comás, 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 game.

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

Only after organizations like LA Pride and the Los Angeles LGBT Center pulled out of the event was the invitation reinstated. And the sisters were honored in a mostly empty stadium long before the game started, with religious groups protesting at the stadium’s gates.

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

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

“I don’t think some stupid initiative by Rob Manfred is going to help anything,” Bach said of the league’s creation of a diversity fellowship. “People on the ground just being visible and existing and thriving in the baseball space is how it gets better.”

In the air, Bach’s voice is smooth and timeless. He handles the action perfectly, interspersing it with analysis and narration. Lowery, the Fredericksburg manager, listened a few times after being ejected from a game, and he said he was impressed with Bach’s baseball knowledge. Bach once did an in-booth interview with his parents at a game they were attending. That interview made his mother nervous, but Bach’s behavior calmed her down.

This is a common phenomenon with Lynn Bach and her son. She worries, he reassures. She worries that widespread knowledge of his sexuality will limit his professional opportunities, but Bach believes he will be fine. Like many through the minors, he strives to reach the majors one day.

He wants to get there on merit, not “as some charity case,” he said. His current position is already a privileged one – there are many fresh broadcasters who would beg to take his place for next to no money – and he knows he’s lucky to have it. But he also decided that if he wanted to realize his dream of calling major sports, he didn’t want to leave a part of himself behind.

“Those of us who are in this very small minority in sports have to keep having these conversations, keep working very hard to earn your place in this space,” he said.

He aspires to be a gay person at home in a big league bullpen. And if that time comes, he hopes he’s not the only one.

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