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For Erica Scherzer, supporting Nationals ‘Night Out’ event for LGBT fans is ‘no-brainer’

(Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

How an openly gay baseball player would be received in a Major League clubhouse remains untested; it is, in any case, out of Erica Scherzer’s control.

Whether several thousand gay and lesbian baseball fans will feel welcomed in a Major League park is a much easier proposition. The Nationals have hosted a “Night Out” for LGBT fans 11 years in a row; next Wednesday’s event, like several of its predecessors, is expected to attract more than 3,000 fans. But while the total attendance won’t change, for the first time the spouses of Nats players -– led by Scherzer, wife of Max –- will be a formal part of the crowd.

Since her husband’s career took off and she left her job as a historical researcher in Colorado, Erica Scherzer has thrown herself into a variety of causes, from endangered species preservation to women’s empowerment to working with youth groups in Detroit. She joked that she was “jumping around the room” when she learned that her husband’s possible free-agent destinations included public policy-obsessed D.C., and she has made several appearances on the Hill, both before and after her husband signed with the Nats.

She describes herself as an activist, feminist and “advocate for the nonprofit sector” on her Twitter page. Lending her support to the Night Out, she said, was a “no-brainer.”

“I can’t wrap my head around it, I really can’t, how you could deny any rights to a person just because they might have a different love interest than you would have, or a different gender identity than you. I just can’t understand that,” Erica Scherzer said this week. “Our guys are on the field — they can’t come to the stands during the game — but we can by extension help show support for the cause.”

Scherzer’s involvement followed a blog post by Eireann Dolan, the girlfriend of A’s pitcher Sean Doolittle and the daughter of two gay moms. When Dolan saw that some A’s season-ticket holders were unhappy about the team’s first Pride Night, she offered to buy their seats and donate them to LGBT youth. Doolittle offered to match any tickets she purchased.

When the Tigers subsequently announced their own inaugural Pride Night, Scherzer tweeted her approval, leading organizers of D.C.’s longstanding event to ask if she would like to be involved. She agreed and began recruiting other Nats significant others. Several quickly said yes, so at least four Nats wives are expected to attend the pre-party Wednesday evening, and then join the Night Out crowd in the outfield.

“When I texted everybody it was, ‘Sure, just tell me when, where, what we need to do,’ ” Scherzer said. “I think there’s much more support [in baseball] than is given credit, and it’s nice to have that opportunity to show that we support that cause, too. I’m not transgender, I’m not gay, but that doesn’t mean I can’t come out to a game with you.”

Scherzer, who is working on a Master’s in non-profit management, sees this as part of a larger mission in Washington. During the couple’s last stop in Detroit, she helped organize the Tigers significant others around projects that felt more meaningful than photo-ops, from hosting a women’s empowerment luncheon to working with the Salvation Army to holding a game night at a mental health and therapeutic agency for children.

She and her husband joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director and members of Congress on the Hill to promote a vanishing species charity stamp, and this spring, she was back on the Hill with Michigan community organizations during a philanthropic advocacy event. It’s all connected, she said, to her occasional frustrations with a baseball life, where women sometimes are treated as mere accessories.

“I don’t know if it’s because of reality TV or the culture of celebrities, but there’s this awful awful stereotype that all baseball wives do is shop or cause drama or get their hair done,” she said. “In reality, we all want careers; we want to feel that we’re providing a value to society. It’s just logistically very hard, because now you’re choosing your career, or seeing your husband and supporting him.”

[Max Scherzer has changed cities, but is an unchanged man]

Scherzer and other Nats wives and girlfriends met in New York on Wednesday night to discuss potential future ventures; for now, they will lend their support to next week’s Night Out, one of the largest events of its kind in the country. The night does just fine on its own — nearly 4,000 tickets were sold last season — but the involvement of the wives adds a slightly different dimension.

“People like Erica are going to be liaisons to the players — who are normally seen as hyper-macho — and when we can make those connections, I think that helps strengthen relationships throughout the community,” said Brent Minor, the executive director of Team DC, an association of local LGBT sports clubs that helps plan the annual event. (Each ticket includes a donation that benefits the group’s scholarship fund for LGBT student-athletes.)

“I think this is just the natural evolution of this event, to reach out to a broader audience and to begin to engage other folks,” Minor said. “We want to help make sports a welcoming and safe environment for everyone, whether that’s players or fans.”

Scherzer has been in locker rooms herself: She was a softball pitcher at Missouri before a heart condition prematurely ended her career. She spent time around plenty of openly lesbian athletes, but said there still seems to be a bigger stigma associated with out male athletes, “because of how we perceive athletes should be, and how they should behave.”

“I just think that’s not okay,” she said. “We need to be accepting of everyone for who they are. And my hope is that [the Nats representatives] are able to learn from the experiences people coming to the game have had, hear their stories, and show our support.”

For more information on the Nats Night Out, see here.