The Umpires Strike Back

On July 31st at a game in the independent Golden Baseball League in San Diego, Edmonton Capitals Manager Brent Bowers directed a despicable, expletive-filled, anti-gay diatribe at umpire Billy Van Raaphorst.

Van Raaphorst, who is 6-foot-4 and weighs 220 pounds, and who used to play center for San Diego State’s football team, heroically resisted the urge to respond with physical violence.

After a knee injury ended his football career, Van Raaphorst pursued umpiring. He graduated first in his class from the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School, the Harvard of umpire schools, according to FoxSports.com’s Jason Whitlock. He worked his way up to Double-A Baseball in 2001. Only then did he begin quietly pursuing a relationship with another man. At the same time, his ranking fell to 27 and then to 45, and then the minors sent him packing. Now, Whitlock reports, Van Raaphorst is “regarded as a top-flight collegiate umpire.”

Says Van Raaphorst, “I can’t prove that [my umpire crew] found out, but it’s my belief they did. I started getting a lot of questions about who I was dating.”

The good news is that tolerance seems to be increasing. After the incident in San Diego, the Golden Baseball League only suspended Bowers for two games, but Van Raaphorst’s fellow umpires threatened a work stoppage until Bowers was forced to resign. Moved by their support, Van Raaphorst said, “I always knew we had each other’s back. I didn’t know it ran this deep.”

With Bowers gone, the Edmonton Capitals have announced they’re putting their employees through diversity training, and they’ve invited Van Raaphorst to umpire two games in Edmonton and talk to the team. Jim Buzinski of Outsports.com reports that Van Raaphorst has received over 1,000 Facebook messages from gay athletes, straight athletes, parents, and even preachers, applauding his courage and restraint and thanking him for his bravery. Many have called him a hero.

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