ST. PETERSBURG —The Rays’ annual Pride celebration Saturday at Tropicana Field will look different than it did a year ago.
A recent Major League Baseball directive caused the Rays to drop their initial plan to wear rainbow-colored patches and logos on their jerseys and caps as they did in 2022.
The plan created some controversy. Most players participated, but several opted out by removing the sleeve patches and/or wearing their regular white-logoed hat. It led to pointed discourse on social media and other forums, as well as some threats against the team and players who shared the reasons behind their objections for not wearing them, some of which were faith-based.
“I think, to the Rays’ credit, after some meaningful conversations, they listened to the suggestion of this office and had a conversation with their players and made their decision,” said Billy Bean, Major League Baseball’s senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). “I think the suggestion from the commissioner was clear.”
The Rays changed their plan for this year’s celebration after teams were told at an owners meeting in February that MLB did not want uniform space used to promote specific causes that were not league-driven, such as for Mother’s Day or to honor Jackie Robinson. (MLB’s directive followed not only the Rays’ 2022 issues but also considerable controversy over several NHL teams canceling or altering plans for Pride night events due to players’ objections.)
The Rays shared the decision to change their plan with players during a standard spring training meeting to discuss scheduled events.
The team was surprised to later find out MLB was allowing the Dodgers and Giants to wear uniform patches and logos again this year, citing a preexisting agreement, but decided to not reopen the issue with their players.
Instead, Stephen Thomas, the Rays’ vice president of DEI, said the organization “looked at additional ways to show visibility.” That led to the addition of a sign on the Trop’s rightfield wall with a rainbow-colored team logo and the message, “Baseball is for everyone.”
There also are expected to be Pride-themed T-shirts made available for staff to wear on Saturday — and players for pregame work if they choose — as well as some rainbow-colored ancillary gear, such as wristbands (which can’t be worn on the mound). All major-league teams, except the Rangers, have Pride day/night events.
Thomas and team president Brian Auld said the Rays learned from last year’s experience and remain committed to providing continued support for the LGBTQ+ community — specifically in terms of equity and inclusiveness — in holding their 17th Pride night.
“We wouldn’t pretend to always get everything exactly right,” Auld said. “But, overall, we felt like last year’s Pride night was a success, encouraged a lot of great conversation. And we think that’s necessary in this area.”
It also was beneficial, Thomas said.
“A lot of us are having conversations in the front office, with the league office, and in the clubhouse that we weren’t having before,” he said. “Because of those conversations, it has made us stronger, more united, and (with) a better understanding of different perspectives than we might have from our own. Ultimately, we’ve all really jelled together on the idea that baseball is for everyone.
“We just want everyone to feel safe, that they are welcome, to feel like they belong, regardless of their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their religious beliefs, or any other identity. Because we feel strongly that baseball should be for everybody.”
Speaking on the issue for the current team, which includes some of the players who last year declined to wear the rainbow patch and logo, pitcher Tyler Glasnow said the overriding point should be inclusivity, especially at the stadium.
“I think it opened up a lot of good dialogue in the clubhouse, and it was important for everyone to talk about what they needed to …” Glasnow said.
“You don’t really have to agree. But I think everyone just has to make room for everyone else. And regardless of what you believe, you should be able to enjoy your time here and just be able to come and enjoy a baseball game. … The Trop is definitely an inclusive place, and I think that the overall message is that everyone’s welcome and everyone can enjoy a baseball game.”
Bean, who will be at the Trop on Saturday, said the Rays are among the top teams in terms of their support of LGBTQ+ efforts and considers their 2016 event to honor victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting “the most impactful night I have ever witnessed.”
The Rays have backed a number of other LGBTQ+ efforts and — though it has become a divisive issue politically under Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — don’t have plans to stop.
“We’ve been doing Pride night for close to 20 years,” Auld said. “It continues to evolve, and we expect it will continue to evolve for the next 20 years.”
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