The hateful email was a surprise, but for Eric Bach, it was not entirely unexpected.
The young broadcaster had been anticipating something like it for some time. Three years earlier, while he was studying journalism at Michigan State University, he had publicly come out as gay in an essay he wrote for Outsports.
At the time of the essay, he braced for a backlash, but nothing materialized. He worked his way up from internships to full-time broadcasting jobs, and while anyone with an internet connection could learn he was gay, nobody asked, and he did not say so again publicly. He simply showed up to work, pulled his headset over his ears and described the action for the audience at home.
Then, a few days after he had called a contentious Division II lacrosse game between Wingate and Lenoir-Rhyne in North Carolina, an email arrived. It was bilious and ugly, filled with “every gay slur you could think of,” Bach said. It also contained a threat: “Don’t show your face at Wingate.” It had been sent from an anonymous email account that was quickly deleted, and its author was never discovered. Bach was disappointed but not dismayed.
“It was almost like, ‘It finally happened,’” he said.
More than a year after that incident, that email represents something of a nexus in Bach’s developing career as a sports broadcaster. It was painful at the time — the worst thing that had happened to him as a gay man, he said — but has receded far enough into his memory that it did not come to mind in an hourlong interview about his experiences as a gay broadcaster. His mother had to remind him to bring it up.
Today, Bach, 24, is the lead broadcaster for the Class A Fredericksburg Nationals, a minor-league affiliate of the Washington Nationals. The path he has taken to get to this point has been smooth, but it has also been lonely.
There are 120 full-season affiliates in Minor League Baseball, most of which employ someone to call games on radio and TV. As far as Bach knows — and as far as many of his counterparts with other teams are aware — there are no other openly gay broadcasters in the sport. He rarely encounters anyone in baseball, broadcaster or otherwise, who is like him.
Years after his Outsports essay, he is sharing his story again with the aim of encouraging more L.G.B.T.Q. people to pursue careers in a straight- and male-dominated sport like baseball.
Bach not only calls the action for Fredericksburg, he also interacts with fans and handles the team’s public relations.Credit…Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times
Born to Broadcast
Long before he knew he was gay, Bach knew he wanted to be a sports broadcaster.
His father was a coach, and a love of sports ran through the family. The soundtrack of the Bach household was Tigers games called by Mario Impemba and Rod Allen — before a physical altercation between the on-air duo led to both of them being fired.
When Bach was just 2 or 3, his mother would find him “announcing” games into the knob that opened one of their home’s casement windows. He would pass hours narrating the action as he played video games, with his little sister serving as his test audience. “Alyssa, can you tell what’s happening by the way I’m calling the game?” he would ask. (Her usual response, according to their mother, Lynn: “Yeah. Whatever.”)
He began to accept that he was gay during his sophomore year of high school, but with that acceptance came worry. As a multisport athlete, Bach was often in locker rooms filled with choruses of homophobic slurs and gay jokes. He didn’t take them personally, but they made him uncomfortable, as did the idea of coming out.
“I knew the stuff wasn’t directed at me,” Bach said, “but I was thinking, ‘Oh, is this how it’s going to be for me my entire life?’”
By the start of his sophomore year at Michigan State, Bach was ready to tell his parents that he was gay, catching his father off guard but confirming what his mother had previously assumed. “I probably said, ‘It’s OK!’ a hundred times,” Lynn Bach said. The following summer, Eric Bach wrote his Outsports essay, revealing himself to the world.
If any of his relatives, friends or hometown acquaintances didn’t approve, they never told him. Mostly he was supported and was left to read the tea leaves of the silence of others. But that left him no less sure of his place in the world.
“Not everybody is meant to be in your life forever,” he said. “Doing that was almost like a weeding-out process of who really cares, who is going to treat me and view me the same.”
Bach graduated from college in 2021, landing first with an independent baseball club in North Carolina and then leaving to take the gig with Lenoir-Rhyne. Last year brought him to Fredericksburg. He did each job to the best of his ability, and his sexuality never came up.
Still, he has found that there’s a difference between being a gay man in baseball and being completely comfortable as one.
‘Trying to be Perfect’
In May, several members of the Fredericksburg staff were taking in the early evening at a local rooftop bar. Bach and Manager Jake Lowery had been enjoying a meandering chat when the young broadcaster sprang a self-conscious question.
“I was casually like, ‘You know I’m gay, right?’” Bach said. “And he goes, ‘Yeah.’ That was literally it.”
That conversation was a relief, although Bach remains unsure of how widely his sexuality is known among people around the team. That uncertainty makes him feel self-conscious in a way he believes is common for gay people in mostly straight spaces.
“I feel like that’s the burden a lot of gay people live with — trying to be perfect for straight people,” he said.
His job requires frequent interaction with the players and the coaching staff — in addition to his duties as play-by-play announcer, Bach also is the main public relations contact for the team — and he said he hadn’t fully relaxed in any of them. When he enters the clubhouse, he is hyperaware of what he says and where his eyes might rest, fearful that a player might get the wrong impression. “My filter of what I can say and where I am is turned up to 11 all the time when I’m at work,” he said. The environment is not hostile, but Bach never forgets that he is the only openly gay person in the room.
That feeling is somewhat “self-inflicted,” Bach said, but he believes the solution is to bring more openly gay people into sports and create a safe environment for those who are already there but have felt it necessary to hide their identities.
Major League Baseball has touted itself as a place of inclusivity. Billy Bean, an openly gay former player, was named the league’s first ambassador for inclusion in 2014 and has since been promoted to senior vice president and special assistant to Commissioner Rob Manfred. In February, Anderson Comás, a minor leaguer in the Chicago White Sox organization, came out as gay with a post on Instagram, and the announcement was met with public support from his club and some people around the game.
Other incidents suggest there is more work to be done. In June, the Dodgers’ plan to honor the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a protest group that describes itself as “a leading order of queer and trans nuns,” drew complaints from politicians and religious groups, leading the team to disinvite the group.
Only after organizations like LA Pride and the Los Angeles LGBT Center had dropped out of the event was the invitation reinstated. And the Sisters were honored in a mostly empty stadium long before the game began, with religious groups protesting at the stadium’s gates.
Issues of inclusion continued to come up throughout June even as Pride Nights were observed by every team except the Texas Rangers. The Boston Red Sox called up a minor leaguer, Matt Dermody, who had posted an anti-gay message on Twitter in 2021, and Anthony Bass, a reliever for the Toronto Blue Jays, reposted a video on social media that called for boycotts of L.G.B.T.Q.-friendly companies.
Dermody and Bass were subsequently released by their teams, though their poor performance on the field was most likely a major factor in those decisions.
“I don’t think some silly Rob Manfred initiative is going to help anything,” Bach said of the league’s creating a diversity fellowship. “People on the ground just being visible and existing and thriving in the baseball space is the way it gets better.”
Major League Aspirations
On the air, Bach’s voice is smooth and timeless. He seamlessly handles the action, interspersing it with analysis and storytelling. Lowery, Fredericksburg’s manager, has listened a few times after being ejected from a game, and he said he had been impressed with Bach’s baseball knowledge. Once, Bach conducted an in-booth interview with his parents at a game they attended. That interview made his mother nervous, but Bach’s demeanor put her at ease.
That’s a common phenomenon with Lynn Bach and her son. She worries, he reassures. She frets that widespread knowledge of his sexuality will limit his professional opportunities, but Bach believes he will be just fine. Like many throughout the minors, he strives to reach the majors one day.
He wants to get there on merit, not “as some charity case,” he said. His current position already is a privileged one — there are many fresh-faced broadcasters who would clamor to take his spot for almost no money — and he knows he is lucky to have it. But he has also decided that if he is to achieve his dream of calling major sports, he doesn’t want to leave part of himself behind.
“Those of us that are in this very small minority in sports have to keep on having these conversations, keep on working really frickin’ hard to earn your spot in this space,” he said.
He aspires to be a gay person at home in a big-league booth. And if that time comes, he hopes he’s not the only one.