Report: Brewers prospect Denson comes out

2013 15th-round pick becomes first openly gay Minor League player

David Denson gets Top Star Award from PIO League president Jim McCurdy at August's All-Star Game. (Jared Ravich/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | August 16, 2015 3:24 AM

While David Denson was busy playing in a doubleheader for Rookie-level Helena on Saturday night in Idaho Falls, his words in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel were making history.

The Brewers prospect told the newspaper he's gay, becoming the first Minor or Major League Baseball player to publicly do so while still active.

According to the newspaper, Denson told his parents and sister the news this spring, not long before informing certain members of the Brewers farm system, including farm director Reid Nichols, thanks to help from Brewers team counselor Becky Schnakenberg. He recently told his Helena teammates of his sexuality and was greeted with open arms.

"Talking with my teammates, they gave me the confidence I needed, coming out to them," Denson told the Journal Sentinel. "They said, 'You're still our teammate. You're still our brother. We kind of had an idea, but your sexuality has nothing to do with your ability. You're still a ballplayer at the end of the day. We don't treat you any different. We've got your back.'"

Nichols was vocal in embracing the first base prospect.

"I told him we supported him and would continue to support him," he said. "I thought the meeting went well. We told him that was his personal business and we would judge him only on his career in baseball, as we do with every player."

Billy Bean, a former big leaguer who publicly came out after his career ended and serves as Major League Baseball's first Ambassador for Inclusion, helped Denson throughout the process of coming out.

"Any player who happens to be gay and is a professional and has kept that secret, they just want to be judged for their baseball or football or basketball ability," Bean told the newspaper. "David would not be playing professional baseball if he wasn't an excellent baseball player.

"The beauty of what could come from this is he can be an example that can help change that perception and change the stereotype that there would never be a gay person on a men's professional sports team. That was something I struggled with."

Denson joins a list that includes basketball's Jason Collins, football's Michael Sam, soccer's Robbie Rogers and independent league pitcher Sam Conroy as professional male athletes who've publicly come out in recent years.

The 20-year-old first baseman, who's ranked as the No. 27 prospect in the Brewers system by MLB.com, started the season at Class A Wisconsin for the second year in a row but struggled in his first month there, hitting .195 with a .569 OPS, one homer and eight RBIs in 24 games. Denson linked his struggles on the field with those he was going through off it.

"There was that stereotype stuck in my head that there would never be a gay player on a team," he told the newspaper. "I was thinking that once they found out, they would shut me out or treat me different.

"That was one of the things that was holding me back. I was always saying, 'Just keep it quiet. You don't need to tell them. You don't want them to see you different. You don't want them to judge you.' It started to affect my game because I was so caught up in trying to hide it. I was so concerned about how they would feel. I was pushing my feelings aside. Finally, I came to terms with this is who I am and not everybody is going to accept it. Once you do that, it's a blessing in itself."

Denson joined Helena on June 20, 5 1/2 weeks after leaving Wisconsin and started to find results. Through Saturday's game, the left-handed-hitting slugger had a .245/.339/.391 line with four homers, 10 doubles and 18 RBIs in 42 Pioneer League games. He represented the circuit at the inaugural Northwest/Pioneer League All-Star Game on Aug. 8 and was named the Pioneer League Top Star after homering in the midsummer classic.

While Denson has begun to perform since opening up, his Helena teammates have been accepting of their newly out teammate, results or not.

"We are professional baseball players first, and I think that's the way they've taken it," Helena manager Tony Diggs told the Journal Sentinel. "They've handled it well. David has always gone about his business professionally. He has shared with me that [keeping the secret for so long] was a burden for him and he feels more freedom after coming out.

"This is a new chapter as he decides to say it publicly. Now, there will be more people that know and they'll have their opinions as to what they feel about it. At least he's being himself."

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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