The Gay Baseball Play: What I Thought

I had expected to give the current Broadway revival of Richard Greenberg’s play “Take Me Out,” starring Jesse Williams (pictured) as a star professional baseball player who reveals his homosexuality, a miss. Around the time of the work’s premiere two decades ago I had been dating a closeted pro baseball player, a fact that I revealed publicly, which spurred hopes that a long-hoped-for event – a famous team-sport athlete coming out – would finally come to pass. My ex-boyfriend decided, for reasons that he alone should share, not to be that person. His life has taken another direction. In 2022, I didn’t want to revisit that era of my personal history. But I’m glad I did.
In 2002, the world of men’s pro sports seemed poised for a superstar to come out. Why has that not happened? (If over the past two decades I had a share of Amazon stock for each time I was asked that question I could be joining my friends in their leisurely retirements rather than having to keep toiling to pay the bills.) I always have the same response: why are you focusing on what hasn’t happened than on what has? In spite of the revolting efforts of politicians to scapegoat queer and especially transgender athletes, there has been tremendous progress at the high school and college levels in the acceptance of LGBT people to live their truth in sports. As has invaluably chronicled, it is at that granular level that tremendous things are happening. Why? Despite older-people obstacles, many teenagers find queer contemporaries un-scary. They’re no big deal, which is why the whole notion of a ta-da coming-out feels anachronistic.
Greenberg’s play does not deal with that evolution, but in fundamental ways his story remains relevant. The hatred touched off by the play’s superstar, especially in the mouth of his team’s unsophisticated short-relief pitcher, continues to find echoes throughout the world: Vladimir Putin’s fascist rhetoric and actions; the brutal homophobia of far-right Ukrainian thugs; the pandering bills passed by the Republican party in state legislatures and at school boards across our own land.
But I am straying from my intention. I am posting this commentary not primarily as a political pundit but as an enthusiast for excellence. The new production of “Take Me Out” has been beautifully directed by Scott Ellis and acted to a fare-thee-well by a cast including Patrick J. Adams as the gay ballplayer’s best friend on the team, Michael Oberholtzer as the relief pitcher, and a pair of Jesses: Jesse Williams as the gay player and Jesse Tyler Ferguson as the athlete’s nerd-queen business advisor, whose humor provides needed levity to deepen the story’s tragic central event. (Greenberg and Ellis have been developing a limited television series based on “Take Me Out,” with Williams attached to star. Don’t forget Ferguson!)
Williams is known from his work on the long-running TV show “Grey’s Anatomy,” but it is his own anatomy that is displayed, impressively, on Broadway, in the play’s nude shower scenes. Ferguson is known from another TV hit, “Modern Family,” where he played Mitchell, one half of a gay couple whose other member was called Cam. It was a remark of Cam’s that popped into my head the other night, as I was leaving the performance of “Take Me Out.” Pondering all that progress made by young LGBT athletes over the past two decades and measuring it against the lack of an openly gay-male team-sport superstar, I flashed to a conversation that Cam once had with his and Mitchell’s daughter, Lily. Cam is explaining why very good news often must exist in tandem with very bad news.
“God gives,” says Cam, “but not always with both hands.”
There are very occasional exceptions, however: this new production of “Take Me Out” is given to us in abundance.

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