clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Former Colorado Rockies minor leaguer Jason Burch comes out as gay

New, comments

Burch described his experience as a gay minor leaguer to Outsports' Cyd Zeigler.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Jason Burch, a former minor league pitcher who spent parts of three seasons in the Colorado Rockies organization in the middle part of the last decade, came out as gay in an interview with Outsports' Cyd Zeigler.

Burch long kept his sexual orientation a secret from the public but confided in teammates on multiple occasions, including once as a member of the Baltimore Orioles organization while playing at Double-A Bowie:

Still, through his Minor League career that stretched across six seasons and four Major League Baseball franchises, Burch kept to that mantra: No one asked, no need to tell. During a game for the BaySox in 2008, a rare opportunity presented itself. Sitting in the bullpen, one of his teammates, a pitcher from Latin America, asked him if he had a girlfriend with whom to spend their upcoming break. The door opened and Burch strode right through it.

"I'm not interested in girls. I'm gay. And I don't have a boyfriend."

The Rockies acquired Burch in the 2004 trade that sent Larry Walker to the St. Louis Cardinals. His best season as a Colorado farmhand came in 2005 at High-A Modesto, where he posted a 2.85 ERA with 11 strikeouts per nine innings in his age 22 season. After recording a 4.95 ERA the following season at Double-A Tulsa, Burch was traded to the Orioles in a deal that netted the Rockies veteran starter Rodrigo Lopez.

He retired from baseball following the 2008 season, citing an injury and the "insular and isolated" lifestyle the game provided. Burch ended his pro career with a 3.72 ERA and 311 strikeouts in 297⅓ innings.

The fact that Burch was open with teammates but not the public once again shows that claims that gay athletes are "distracting" or disruptive to "team chemistry" have no basis in reality. At best, such claims are sensationalized headline news; at worst, they are examples of homophobia. Burch's announcement should serve as another nail in the coffin of the "distraction" and "chemistry" narratives.

While not assuming that all of Burch’s teammates were accepting (if they even all knew) or that his experience wasn’t colored by homophobia, his story suggests that sports teams can serve as safe spaces for gay athletes who might not otherwise have a supportive community to turn to. This can especially be the case during a long season of travel and, as Burch put it, insularity and isolation.

We all have multiple identities, and we compartmentalize them based on situation. It shouldn't be difficult to grasp that Burch was a baseball player and a teammate first when on the field. Indeed, it should be no more challenging than acknowledging that, for example, players from Venezuela are ballplayers before Venezuelans when on the baseball diamond.

A final word on why this story is important. The ultimate aim of paying attention to stories such as Burch's is not to cause more players to "come out of the closet" -- as if there were a strict binary of being "in" and "out," which Burch shows that there is not. Instead, the aim is to deconstruct "the closet" entirely and normalize the presence of gay athletes in a still masculinized and heteronormative sports environment. "The closet" has an origin and a history. It can also have an end.