Tim Livingston, Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations
Over 30 years since former Major Leaguer Glenn Burke announced to the public at large that he was gay and 15 years after another Major Leaguer, Billy Bean, did the same, a monumental moment for all of professional sports happened at a small, municipal field tucked away in the heart of the Sonoma Wine Country.
On Pride Night at Arnold Field Thursday evening, the first active openly gay player in the history of professional baseball not only made history, but did it in spectacular fashion. Sean Conroy threw a complete game shutout, allowing only three hits and striking out 11 to lead the Sonoma Stompers to a 7-0 victory over the Vallejo Admirals.
From the beginning of the evening, Conroy (2-0) had control of the environment of Arnold Field and the attention not just of the fans, but of local and national media that was on hand to cover Thursday's historic event. Yet with the spotlight shining bright on the 23-year-old from Clifton Park, New York, he never wavered, never crumbled, and if anything, he thrived under the pressure.
The sidearmer never touched above 84 MPH, but his fastball movement and wipeout slider kept Vallejo (8-13) off-balance. Conroy only had two balls hit hard all night long, one being a double hit by P.J. Phillips in the first and another on a line drive snagged by T.J. Gavlik at third base in the fifth.
Outside of those two balls hit by the Admirals, it was smooth sailing for Conroy. He didn't let a runner get past second base and never had more than one base runner on at a time. He allowed only three hits total, walked one and hit a batter. His 11 strikeouts were one shy of the team record set by Roman Martinez in 2014 and tied by Gregory Paulino on Wednesday night.
On Conroy's 140th pitch of the night, Kristian Gayday fielded the ball at third and threw over to first to end the game. After a hug from catcher Isaac Wenrich, the celebration line began and Conroy was warmly greeted by teammates and fans alike as he walked off the field. While talking to media after the game, the Conroy celebration continued when he got ambushed with an icy cold cooler of water from his teammates.
When asked about what the night meant to him, Conroy was still trying to put together what had just happened. "I still haven't been able to process it," said Conroy, "After the final out, I just wanted to celebrate with my teammates like we always have."
Offensively, Sonoma got big nights from Joel Carranza (3-for-4), Isaac Wenrich (2-for-4, two-run homer) and Fehlandt Lenten (two-run homer). All seven runs came consecutively in the third through sixth innings, as they chased Vallejo starter David Dinelli (3-2) just six days after Dinelli shut down the Stompers back in Vallejo.
Even with Sonoma sweeping a team for the fourth time already this season and the team winning 16 of their first 19 games, the greatest victory the Stompers have had this season came tonight. Conroy's start will be remembered not just for its dominance, but for it being exactly what he had hoped to do in making the start in the first place.
From the time he came out at the age of 16 to his friends and family, and to each of his teammates and team members since, he had wanted to set an example for others to follow, much like the way he has followed in the footsteps of Burke and Bean. Many times, the moniker of "role model" has been given to people because they exemplify peak performance for others to follow. Yet Conroy is a role model not just because of his performance, but because he understands the big picture of players like him in professional sports.
Jason Collins did it in basketball. Michael Sam did it in football. Now Sean Conroy has done it in baseball. It's his goal to continue up the professional ranks and give himself the opportunity to play at the highest level. With his remarkable start on Thursday night, his march towards that goal continues, and perhaps his courage will encourage others to do what he's done.
Sonoma goes on the road Friday for the first of three games in Pittsburg against the Diamonds. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. with the radio coverage beginning at 6:50 p.m. on StompersBaseball.com and the TuneIn app.