It came as a surprise to Allan Benavides that the Eugene Emeralds had made history.On June 22, the Northwest League club took the field wearing their normal uniforms, but with a little customization: the rainbow flag representing Pride Night in the team's logo.
It came as a surprise to Allan Benavides that the Eugene Emeralds had made history.
On June 22, the Northwest League club took the field wearing their normal uniforms, but with a little customization: the rainbow flag representing Pride Night in the team's logo.
It was all part of a night to celebrate the LGBTQ community, with events such as a Q&A panel with activist Candace Gingrich, a raffle of the jerseys to help benefit the local HIV Alliance and every Emeralds employee decked out in Pride merchandise. They also secured three business sponsors to support the event.
LGBTQ activist Candace Gingrich threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Unbeknownst to Benavides, the club's general manager, the Ems also became the first affiliated Minor League Baseball team to wear custom Pride jerseys.
"We weren't aware that we would be the first [affiliated] team," he said. "It wasn't a factor. We thought it was important that as an organization, we were committed to doing a Pride night. We had some people in the community give us some ideas on what we could do and how we should do it properly."
Part of those ideas was the design of the uniform itself. The Emeralds' staff had presented their version of the uniform only to be told to scrap it immediately.
"It would be a rainbow jersey but it wasn't the right rainbow and it wasn't done correctly," Benavides said. "The colors were incorrect. We were told we screwed that up. Our friends said, 'No, that's not the Pride symbol. That's not the Pride flag. We did our normal jersey the way they suggested we do it.
"It was very simple but effective."
Introducing the plan to have a Pride Night during Spring Training, Benavides wasn't sure what to expect when the players were approached about wearing the jerseys. In the end, his worries were for nothing.
"Once it came to game time and we had the jerseys up, they were emphatic about it," he said. "They took pictures. It was awesome. Not one person came up and said, 'I don't want this.'"
Players were enthusiastic about wearing the jerseys, which were auctioned off after the game.
The community reaction was even better, with Benavides describing the atmosphere around the ballpark as supportive. PK Park was over capacity, merchandise sales exceeded the average and reached approximately $7,000 that night.
"It was way more positive than I had anticipated," he said. "To be honest, we were expecting some negative feedback."
Only a few posts on social media proved to be against the event, but the Emeralds decided to use those as a way to open up a dialogue about the subject matter.
"We had a conversation on our social media, a little back and forth," Benavides said. "Ultimately, I think everyone overwhelmingly supported it. We didn't get any calls. We didn't get any emails. The night of the event went smoothly. It was wonderful."
Despite the tiny backlash, Benavides saw what an effect it had for the LGBTQ community, stating that before the night, he had never once seen a same-sex couple holding hands on the concourse during his 10 years in Eugene.
"The impact we got from the experience was significant," he said. "I saw people the next day that had never before been to a baseball game. They wanted to know that they could come to somewhere that is super safe and they love baseball. They totally appreciate the effort that we did."
After making history, Benavides knows the opportunity is there to do even more to help support the LGBTQ cause, so when asked if this would become an annual event, he didn't hesitate.
"Absolutely. Without a doubt."
Brian Stultz is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @brianjstultz.