"For all the things you want to do but are unable to – find other things to do that are equally satisfying."
This was what I posted on Facebook back on August 2nd ahead of fulfilling an invitation to attend a Diversity Networking Event held by the Minnesota Twins by their diversity marketing team. It would seem odd that an automotive journalist would be invited to attend an event by a Major League Baseball franchise to mingle with a diverse swath of community leaders, movers, and shakers. But, there is a bit of method to this madness.
On top of my duties to publish this website, I also contribute to a magazine that serves one of the communities being brought together by Miguel Ramos, the Twins' Director of Diversity & Inclusion Strategy. In fact, I was the only one from the magazine to attend this event.
It is not just I was media that I was there in attendance. I am a baseball fan. My roots are deep in this game, even though I have never been at bat once since Cub Scouts. Oh, and I sucked at the plate – and out in the field.
If you have not read this site often, an explanation is in order. I used to have another blog on MLB's Advanced Media servers called "The Heirloom." The title is a paean to my mother, who was as big a baseball fan as my brother and I have ever been. It was her – not my father – that brought us to the games in our most important years. Maybe about six games a year at Dodger Stadium for about two seasons.
Nevertheless, I tried to extend my love for baseball on the interwebs, until I saw better things covering the automotive industry. "The Heirloom" gave way to this website. I still love baseball, though.
While I feel honored to be invited, there are some concerns as to my being there in the first place. I recognize my position in the community I am supposedly a part of. I also recognize my current professional position, as well. I'm not a completely active member of any of the non-profits in the Twin Cities or anywhere in serving the specific audience I write for in that magazine.
I also had no clue whom I might run into there…that's always a scary thought.
There is a point to my initial trepidation. My relationship with the game of baseball has been complicated over the years. Similarly, my relationship and place in the LGBT community are equally complicated.
I know I can never be a member of the media corps covering the game. That is a very tough nut to crack professionally! I love the automotive industry too much to switch. Though I had some great times doing "The Heirloom" when it was humming earlier this century. It brought a lot of joy personally in this craft, but it certainly was a lot of work to get hits and comments. I did earn the "Top 100 Fan MLBLogs" designation twice in my short run with "The Heirloom."
So, why did I go this event? Maybe to see how much the game welcome fans like me back to its gates. Maybe to see how much sincerity the Twins and MLB have towards its LGBT fan base. Perhaps, it all doesn't matter, as long as we pay the Twins and their players to win.
Another significant piece of this event was that I had been at Target Field for any sort of function in a few years. The last time was attending the 2014 All-Star Game, thanks to Chevrolet. I have not been to a Twins or any MLB game since.
For the years I wrote my blog through MLB Advanced Media, I was hoping this would be a sign that things have truly gotten better for everyone. Yet, I had plenty of doubt coming into my attendance at this Diversity Networking Event. If there is indeed sincerity, that would be great for fan engagement, as well as steady ticket sales from fans like me. But, I found disappointment from hollow overtures by the professional sports community over the years – welcoming us without investing in us.
Over my time in the Twin Cities, plenty has changed. This was the second time I know of that the Twins marched in Twin Cities Pride. They also had their first "booth" at the Pride Festival in Minneapolis' Loring Park this past June. Progression, yes. It would be superb if this momentum has further traction beyond just select dates on a calendar.
With my thoughts swirling inside my head, I arrived at Target Field. They escorted me up to through the Champions Club lobby up to the Delta Sky360 Club for the actual event. There were a lot of people there representing a lot of communities across the Twin Cities. Perhaps a few other groups could not make it. I did recognize a few people from the ballclub and from other groups I would normally associate with. The ice was indeed broken, but I knew I was there for a different purpose than what would transpire that evening.
The main gist of the evening was clear: To create unity within diversity, we must be able to (re)build communities. The keynote speech addressed that, but I think we were a bit off topic in terms of why we were all there – or, maybe.
My hope was to see if bridges were being built from the ballclub to each community towards partnerships and engagement. By being in the community, the Twins are committed to including everyone – regardless of who they are. That was great and all…and from what I gathered from Ramos, and the Pohlads, they're truly committed to doing so.
And the ballclub's overtures were not hollow. This was a huge change from when I stopped writing about the game full-time some six years ago.
This was something that was brought up in a conversation with Billy Bean, Major League Baseball's Vice President for Social Responsibility and Inclusion. Bean is notable for being one of a few former ballplayers to have come out after they stopped playing. It was an honor to meet him and talk on a level we were able to understand. In our conversation, Bean stated that the league and the game want to ensure that we all were welcomed at the ballpark. It is reassuring, but not equally shared across Major League Baseball.
My chat with Bean was deep. Though we shared that both of us came from Southern California and know the game inside and out, it is our collective hopes that brought everything full circle. We hope that someday that we will get our "Jackie Robinson." An openly gay (or trans) ballplayer on the 25-man roster. I'll settle for someone to come out in the farm system.
Still, there were two fundamental points that I talked about with Bean and some of the people I talked with at the Diversity Networking event. One, LGBT people are fans. We have season tickets, dine at the premium areas around the ballpark and support our teams wholeheartedly. We also have ballpark events that bring us together in numbers. And, sometimes, we'll attend a game – whether our employer paid for it, a sponsor, or out of our own pocket. We support and root for our ballclubs – and that cannot be denied. That is part of the community relationship we should have with each other.
With that said, we need to know whether we will be welcomed at the ballpark. Not asking for special protections, but to ensure that staff working the stands – security, ushers, club management – understand when hate rears its head among fans that it needs to be dealt with fairly and diligently. We want to enjoy the game in the stands as much as the family down the row or the college kids who had a few more to drink than usual.
Secondly, for the rest of Major League Baseball to see what Pohlad, Ramos and the Twins are doing towards building a 360-degree relationship with everyone in their market. Ramos made it clear that the Twins approach to diversity and inclusion is not done on a per-night basis, as with other ballclubs. It is done every day – including the offseason. The Twins were applauded for not only marching at Twin Cities Pride but having a "booth" at the festival during the weekend.
It is great that there are Pride Nights in a few places across Major League Baseball. It is good business to do so. But, do they have a strategy that operates year-round that engages diverse communities and ensures their presence at every community event? I would like to see evidence of that in these other cities.
For the Chicago Cubs to be a good neighbor to "Boystown" and parade the World Series trophy during Pride, it takes more than that. For the Tampa Bay Rays to "be there" for the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre, it takes more than that.
In the decade-and-a-half writing about the automotive industry and its products, I witness diversity engagement on a regular basis from manufacturers, suppliers, and retailers in the business. Their approach continues to be both external and internal. The Employee Resource Groups I met at General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles showed me how much corporate responsibility is important to the success of their business. It also means engaging with customers – current and future – towards ensuring that they are welcomed at the dealership and by the support mechanisms at the automaker. It also means ensuring that those of us who are LGBT and covering this industry – as well as all of my other colleagues – are not excluded from the stories we need to work on.
MLB should take note from one of their sponsors – Chevrolet – on how to fully engage with every community they touch. It is good business to engage with every community that wants your products, services….or read your website or publication.This includes the game of baseball.
And American football, ice hockey, men's basketball, and collegiate athletic departments! I exclude women's basketball and soccer because they already have strong and active engagements with diverse communities in place – thanks to the WNBA and Major League Soccer.
This was what I took away from that evening at Target Field – all of this and more. If MLB can see what the automotive industry is doing in terms of diversity, maybe the league will be a better place for us to support.
That key word is "maybe."