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Three Dollar Bill

Looking for the next Jackie Robinson

I’m never more happy than when I’m proudly, openly gay and
rooting for my home team alongside my father and friends at a baseball game.
It’s like my worlds are converging. I just wish closeted Major League
Baseball players—and there are many out there—felt the same way.
Until the day our gay Jackie Robinson is prepared to brave jeering homophobes
in ballpark bleachers across North America, though, I say it’s up to
the rest of us to do so. That’s why for years I’ve called upon
Canada’s four most popular professional baseball teams—the
Montreal Expos, the Edmonton Trappers, the Toronto Blue Jays and the
Vancouver Canadians—to host gay days at their ballparks. I always
thought the first ball club to do so would be Nos Amours, since the
Expos—supposedly playing their last season in Montreal (yet
again)—have so little to lose. After all, this is the team that two
seasons ago happily welcomed me and a camera crew from the world’s
first all-gay sports TV show, The Locker Room, to spend a day with the team
at Olympic Stadium—the first time that’s ever happened with any
sports franchise. So I was awfully jealous that the Blue Jays beat Montreal
to the punch when they announced last month they will host their first-ever
Gay and Lesbian Community Day at Skydome on June 25, smack in the middle of
Toronto’s Gay Pride week, when the Jays will play—go
figure—the Expos. The Chicago Cubs (who pioneered Gay Day at historic
Wrigley Field, which, by the way, is located in the heart of Boystown, the
Windy City’s gay district) will host another Gay Day this season on
August 15, as will their crosstown rivals the Chicago White Sox and the
Philadelphia Phillies. Last year’s World Series winners the Florida
Marlins will host their second annual AIDS Awareness Day this season and the
San Francisco Giants will host their 11th annual Until There’s a Cure
Day. So what about Nos Amours, the Edmonton Trappers and the Vancouver
Canadians? The day I heard about the Blue Jays I immediately called
Montreal’s Divers/Cité Gay Pride marketing director Paul Girard
(who used to handle marketing for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) and
introduced him to the Montreal Expos, and I am hopeful both parties can set a
date for this summer. Of course, in Major League Baseball little goes
according to plan. If it did, the Montreal Expos would have moved to another
city years ago. Ironically, while MLB overall attendance plummeted in 2002,
Expos attendance actually rose roughly 25 per cent from 642,748 in 2001 to
812,545 the following season. Then when MLB chopped Montreal’s Big O
home games from 81 to 59 last year (the remaining “home” games
were played in Puerto Rico), Big O attendance climbed even further, to
1,025,639. And they say baseball is dead in Montreal? Imagine all the new
fans the Expos and Trappers could, um, recruit with a Gay Day or two. And if
enough gay fans came out to support their favourite teams across North
America, then maybe, just maybe, a gay ballplayer will make that leap of
faith and do for gay America what Jackie Robinson did for black America.
It’s important to remember Jackie broke pro baseball’s colour
barrier with the Montreal Royals in 1946, where he became a local hero and
led the team to a Little World Series title before moving on to the
big-league Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. “Montreal was such a turning point
in our young lives,” Jackie’s wife Rachel Robinson, now 80, told
me recently. “We were in our 20s and had come from the Deep South where
we had some upsetting [racist] experiences. We were greeted [in Montreal]
with such warmth and dignity. The acceptance was so complete. We were well
prepared to return to the States to do what we did.” In fact, Montreal
baseball fans jeered and booed visiting teams whose racist players gave
Jackie a hard time on the road. “When they came back to Montreal, the
fans gave it back to them,” Rachel recalled. “Baseball fans in
Montreal were rabid fans and very supportive of Jackie and the team.”
It happened before. It can happen again. And I want to be there the day it
happens. V

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