116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS – As a high school baseball player, David Denson hit a 515-foot home run that has been seen by over 1.2 million people via Youtube.
Yet, that's not the most-famous thing about him.
One day, though, maybe Denson will do things in ballparks that will get him more recognition than what he's received for being the first openly gay player in a Major League Baseball organization.
The 21-year-old (Appleton) Wisconsin Timber Rattlers outfielder made national sports news last August when, as a player for the Milwaukee Brewers' affiliate in Helena, Mont., he made it public that he was gay.
'David Denson's life just got a lot harder,' panelist Mike Lupica said. 'I think way too many people in the professional sports and in the culture of the locker room are as closed-minded on this subject as any politician who opposes same-sex marriage.'
Homosexuality is more accepted in most walks of American life than it is in sports. Only two former MLB players – Glenn Burke and Billy Bean – publicly stated they were gay after their playing careers ended. Bean now works for MLB as its Ambassador for Inclusion.
Times clearly have changed from when those two were in the big leagues, though Denson was concerned about how his fellow Brewers farmhands would respond after his announcement.
'It turned out to be nothing like I expected,' Denson said Tuesday afternoon after taking batting practice at the Midwest League's All-Star Game in Cedar Rapids. Denson was a Western Division reserve who also participated in the event's pregame home run derby.
'I expected worse,' he said. 'I thought my teammates would be weirded out, be a little disgusted.
'I thought it would basically be me on my own. But all I've gotten from teammates was support. They've had my back through everything. They've said they respect me as a player and a person.
'The game of baseball is hard in itself. For six or seven months a year you're with guys who have got to become a family. In a situation like that, if you're alone or pushed to the side, it makes it 10 times harder. You feel there's nowhere to go, no one to talk to. To feel alone, this would be very tough.'
So, progress. Still, that Youtube video of Denson's moonshot homer at Miami's Marlins Park at the Power Showcase Home Run Derby in late 2012 has a few ugly comments attached from anonymous half-wits.
'Everybody can have an opinion on something,' said Denson, 'but what if it was your son, daughter, brother, sister, cousin, whatever? You wouldn't want someone to be degrading them as a person when they're not doing anything to anyone, just being themselves.'
Today obviously isn't free of prejudice and hate. But had Denson been an active player who made a similar announcement 20, 10, even five years ago, his baseball life would surely have rougher and lonelier than it is in 2016.
'At the end of the day, it had to do with my own happiness,' Denson said. 'It was more like a life decision rather than a baseball decision. It affects not only your career, but your family, your friends.
'I thought 'Why am I trying to hide the person I am?' It didn't matter if (he said he was gay) the next day or two, the next year or in 10 years, I'd still be the person I am at the end of the day.'
This is Denson's fourth year of pro ball. He passed up a baseball scholarship with the University of Hawaii to sign with Milwaukee directly out of high school as a 15th-round draft pick. He has never ended a pro season with a batting average over .250, and has struck out a lot.
But his results have improved this year. He's batting .263 with 14 doubles, five homers (three against the Cedar Rapids Kernels) and 27 RBIs, and leads his team in walks with 31. He homered in his most-recent game, Sunday at Beloit.
Like most Class A players, the odds are against him. But being named to the MWL All-Star team was validation to him.
'Honestly, it's a blessing,' Denson said. 'It was eye-opening. It's showing me my hard work is paying off.
'Playing in the majors is my ultimate dream, my ultimate goal. I was always raised not to quit, not to sell myself short, to not get pushed to the side for anything or anyone.'
But if Denson does play his way to the bigs, he will be subject to a lot more attention than the typical rookie.
'I'd handle it as I've handled everything so far,' he said. 'I try to keep focused on the game.
'We are all people. If you judge me, judge me by how I treat other people.'
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