From the Chicago Tribune, “Bill Gubrud knew he wanted to approach the Chicago Cubs. As a lifelong Chicago resident, he was a major fan of the baseball team, but didn’t know what their response would be. Gubrud worked in advertising sales for the Chicago Free Press, a now defunct gay newspaper, and wanted to make the Cubs the first professional male sports team to advertise in a gay paper in the country.
Gubrud was in his late 20s, and had just come out of the closet in a “major way.” It was 2000, and he was determined to make history with the franchise he loved. The Cubs agreed to his sales pitch, and one year later Gubrud made an even bigger one: What if the Cubs hosted what he believed would be the first-ever “gay day” in professional sports, a day for LGBTQ Chicagoans to come together for a baseball game?
I said, ‘You know what, I’m a diehard Cubs fan.’ I said, ‘My whole life I always wanted to work with them.’ So then I call the ticket offices and said, ‘Hey, do you do group events here?’”
The team agreed to host the event, now called Out at Wrigley. The 20th anniversary of the event will be celebrated Sunday.
“It all started at Wrigley Field in 2001,” Gubrud said.
After the Cubs agreed to the idea, Gubrud bought 2000 tickets, and walked around selling them at gay bars. His coworkers helped him promote and plan the event.
Gubrud was born and raised in Chicago, and grew up in Jefferson Park. But after he came out, he stopped going to Wrigley because he heard so much homophobic language at the games.
“I’ve been going to Cubs games since I was 12 years old. And every time I always hear the word ‘f—,’” he explained.
When the subject of going to a game came up with friends they would say, “‘Oh, no, I would never go, it’s so homophobic. It’s so awful, all these words you hear,’” he said.
That changed for him with Out at Wrigley. “Then we all went as a group. The first year with 2,000 people, you had gays, lesbians, bisexuals; you had friends in the community showing off … you had people of every color.”
One aspect of the yearly event involves picking someone to sing the National Anthem, as well as throw the first pitch.
“It gives people who don’t have a chance or opportunity to get a chance to do something,” Gubrud said.
The Sox are having their own pride night on Sept. 29 against the Cincinnati Reds, and are giving away locally designed T-shirts to the first 10,000 fans that enter the park.
Once the Ricketts family bought the Cubs in 2009, Gubrud said the Cubs became more involved with the LGBTQ community. Laura Ricketts, the sister of Cubs chairman Thomas Ricketts and a co-owner of the Cubs, was the first major sports team owner to be openly gay.
Soon after the first Out at Wrigley event — initially called Out at the Ballgame — other sports teams like the Florida Marlins and the Minnesota Twins followed the Cubs’ lead.
“I did an interview way back in 2001, and someone asked me, ‘Why did you do this? And what’s your end goal?’ I said to make any LGBT person feel comfortable going to a very masculine sport and not be treated bad,” Gubrud said. “And also I said my end goal was for openly gay players to play, and for other teams to do (an event). Almost every team does it now, and … I’m ecstatic about it.”
Gubrud has had his problems with the Cubs during their 20-year working relationship.
“People don’t understand; they say, ‘Oh, you’re a Cubs apologist?’ No, I’ve had my disagreements and I’ve talked to them about it,” he said, referencing former Cubs player Daniel Murphy’s homophobic comments. “The funniest thing is, is that more people bought tickets just to go there and boo him.”
Even so, Gubrud said the team doesn’t get credit for how progressive they are. For the last few years, the Cubs have come on as a sponsor of the event themselves.
“You always think about everything (being) politics, politics, politics,” he said. “But the thing is, they were the first team to advertise in a gay paper, the first male sports team to do a gay pride float in the country. They were the second (professional) sports team to do a ‘it gets better’ video.”
There are currently no active Major League Baseball players who are openly gay.
With COVID-19 cases rising in Chicago, this year’s event will be on a smaller scale than usual, but Gubrud wanted to still have it since they were not able to have it in 2020.
This years’ game is against the Kansas City Royals at 1 p.m. Sunday, and VIP and bleacher tickets are still on sale at www.outatwrigley.com/tickets/. VIP tickets come with all-you-can-eat snacks and drinks.”