01 Sep Queering Baseball: How Dodgers Pride Night Allowed Me to Fully Be Myself
By Kylie Sparks
“Can y’all SHUT UP, I’m trying to watch the game here!!!”
No, that’s not some old man watching sports on his La-Z-Boy in a living room. That was me at this year’s Dodgers Pride Night at Chavez Ravine with my group of queer friends in our new Dodgers Pride t-shirts eating pastrami nachos and Dodger Super Dogs. Aside from my partner, I’m the only one in my friend group who follows pro baseball very closely — and definitely the only one who knew the Dodgers were only a few games behind the Diamondbacks for the NL West (this was before All-Star break; they ended up being first by the break itself). “It would be homophobic for them to lose on Pride Night!” I joked to my friend before I started screaming at the first of Yasmani Grandal’s two home runs that night, my beer nearly spilling, thinking about how glad I was to be super bi in this sea of fellow queer and trans folx in a sport that isn’t always the most welcoming to people like me.
In my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, back before I knew I was bisexual, I grew up going to minor league games. My father had season seats on the third base line at the old Drillers Stadium when the Double-A Tulsa Drillers were owned by the Texas Rangers and summer nights were typically a family outing at the ballpark. When I would get bored with the game, my mom and I would go get my helmet soft-serve or another hot dog or I’d go do the pitcher’s challenge at the fake bullpen on the terrace until I became old enough to run around the park. The summers I spent going to the old Drillers Stadium by the Expo Fairgrounds and the Golden Driller statue were some of the best. The games were a great way for me to get into softball at my school, and even though I was terrible at it (I was more of a volleyball kid, as it turns out), it still gave me time to go to the batting cages and play catch with my friends and neighbors.
When I became a child actor and had to decide between a career and sports, I picked the career because it made me happy and it was what I wanted to do an adult, but I always missed playing sports — even softball. Eventually, we started to be in Los Angeles more than Tulsa and we gave away our season tickets, the old Drillers Stadium was demolished and the Drillers moved downtown to OneOK Field in 2010 – long after I left Tulsa for good – and my interest in baseball faded.
Around the time I came out as bisexual after a lot of drunkenly kissing girls in bars, suppressing feelings for years, and realizing all the queer characters I was playing on TV were hitting a little too close to home, I started dating a really awesome person who was into a lot of the same things I was. One night, he and I were talking about how we grew up, and I mentioned my summers at the ballpark, and he was curious as to why I stopped following baseball. My partner is a die-hard Red Sox fan, and his baseball fandom is in his blood. His dad grew up being a fan, his family has a brick at Fenway Park and I’ve slept in his Dustin Pedroia baseball tee that is older than most fifth graders. When did our first big “Meet the Parents” weekend, my partner’s parents bought us tickets to the Dodgers vs. Red Sox game at Dodgers Stadium right on the first baseline, and it was going to be a fun afternoon of parental bonding. Plus, it was David Ortiz’s farewell tour, so it was our last chance to see him play after he retired.
Well, because I am a contrarian and general pain in the ass, I was not going to become a Red Sox fan just because my partner was a fan. Instead, I Ieaned hard into becoming a Dodger fan with two weeks before the big game. I got the merch, I brushed up on my baseball playbook, and I tried to learn who the current roster was. By the time the game rolled around, I debuted as a brand new baby Dodgers fan in a family of Red Sox fans. I wanted them to like me because I’m dating their son and I’m queer as hell and I’m loud about that and literally everything else. But between eating like four Dodger dogs and having Shock Top on draft and nursing the lobster-esque sunburn I had acquired the day before on the beach, I remembered just how fun baseball was. After the Dodgers won 8-5 that day, I began a deep dive into the Dodgers and learned that, in a very kismet twist, the Tulsa Drillers and the Oklahoma City Dodgers had been recently acquired as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ minor league teams. The teams that taught me about baseball – and in turn, myself – were my now new favorite team’s farm teams.It was like it was meant to be; my baseball fandom had come full circle and it felt like I was back where I belonged.
In June of this year, I finally had the opportunity to meld two facets of my identity – die hard Dodgers fan and raging queer person — and Pride Night at Dodgers Stadium felt like the perfect place to do it. I had always wanted to go to Dodgers Pride Night and I convinced three of my friends to go with me. They were not huge baseball fans. Among these new fans, I was their fearless leader. By that point, I had been to about 15 home games in a season and a quarter, could rattle off everyone’s stats, and wore a Unicorn Onesie to a Dodgers Bar during the World Series as a good luck charm (which sadly, didn’t work). They truly had no idea what the Kylie Sparks experience at the ballpark was like, but after Yasmani went yard that first time, they immediately got on the bandwagon (even if my friend Alex kept yelling “STEAL HOME!” and I had to constantly say, “my dude, drink your beer.”).
Pride Night made me realize that the many facets of who I am as a person can be combined in a really wonderful package. I jokingly yelled “GAY BASEBALL IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN STRAIGHT BASEBALL,” around the fourth home run of the evening, but in all seriousness, the Dodgers Pride Night was a night where I could truly be myself in a group of people who just wanted a safe space to enjoy America’s pastime and be proud of who they are. Unlike most other spaces in sports I attend regularly, like football games and bars, at Pride Night I didn’t feel the need to sacrifice my identity and assimilate in a predominantly ‘straight’ space. And while I am in a straight-passing relationship, Dodgers Pride night was a night where I didn’t feel like my identity was erased in any way, and I could just be me.
While my friends still roll their eyes whenever I become “Baseball Kylie,” I am definitely making more plans to go to ball games with my chosen family and relive the days of being 7 with a hot dog, hoping I’ll catch a foul ball and go to bed way past my bedtime dreaming of those beautiful days at the ballpark, and doing it while being as unapologetically queer as possible.
Kylie Sparks is an actor, writer, singer, producer, brunch enthusiast, and definitely the loudest person in Reserve 9 at Chavez Ravine. You’ve probably seen them on TV or on Netflix or at that Coffee Bean down the street, but their favorite place to be is Dodgers Stadium, cheering on the boys in blue, especially Kiké Hernandez because he is a precious child who must be protected at all costs. Other writing bylines include INTO, Racked, Femsplain, Ms. in the Biz, Wonderly, and LifeIvy. Kylie lives in LA with four dogs who have tolerated their yelling at the TV when sports go bad.