Between the sixth and seventh innings Tuesday at Nationals Park, where the Washington Nationals held their 15th annual Night Out to celebrate acceptance and LGBTQ pride, in-game host Mike Ploger invited Teddy West to answer a trivia question on the main scoreboard.
West, who followed both Brooks Robinson’s Baltimore Orioles and Mike Schmidt’s Philadelphia Phillies as a kid growing up in Harrisburg, Pa., in the 1970s, had little trouble correctly identifying the nickname of Washington’s own star third baseman — Anthony “Tony Two Bags” Rendon. He was less prepared for what happened next.
“We have a bonus question for you,” Ploger said, with the camera and roughly 25,000 pairs of eyes still focused on West, who was wearing his custom “Teddy” Nationals jersey. “Are you ready?”
“I’m ready,” West replied as Aaron Howell pulled a small box out of his pocket and got down on one knee to pop the question the couple had talked about a few months earlier.
“We had a discussion back in February about if one person were to ask the other about marriage, would the answer be yes?” West said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We both said it would be, so I kind of put it out of my mind. . . . I’m still in shock."
West was overcome with emotion before Howell slid a custom ring, designed to feature red stitching like a baseball, on his finger. His answer was still yes. The couple shared a kiss and a hug as a congratulatory message appeared on the scoreboard and many in the Nationals Park crowd stood and cheered.
Howell said he began planning the details of his surprise proposal with help from the Nationals Dream Foundation about six weeks ago.
“I’m a baseball fan, but Teddy is truly a baseball fan,” Howell said. “I wanted it to be something personal, something we could share with all of our friends and get them there under the guise that it was Nats Night Out.”
The couple, who live in the District, had about 40 friends in the ballpark Tuesday, including six who sat in their section along the left field line. West acknowledged he was “a little suspicious” something was up because some of their LGBTQ friends in attendance weren’t the biggest baseball fans, but the fact that it was Night Out, which both men had attended multiple times, threw him off the scent.
Before the game, former congressman Barney Frank stood on the mound while Jim Ready, his husband of seven years, threw the ceremonial first pitch. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performed the national anthem, and fans who purchased a special Night Out ticket received a T-shirt with a rainbow-colored Nationals logo.
“It was the perfect setup for what I needed to do,” said Howell, who has attended about a dozen Nationals games with West every season since they started dating in early 2017.
“Honestly, it didn’t really make much difference to me whether it was Nats Night Out or any other night,” West said. “It’s just a part of my life. It’s the way things are, which is the way I think it should be. I didn’t feel like it was a spectacle or some sort of political cause. It’s just my everyday life."
In honor of Howell and West’s engagement, the Nationals announced a $1,500 donation to Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders (SMYAL), which provides leadership programs and services for LGBTQ youth.
“It’s great. We keep making progress,” Frank, the first member of Congress to come out voluntarily, told MLB.com of the Nationals’ efforts to promote acceptance. “And it’s a good sign, too, that we’re not just winning a narrow segment [of fans]. It’s broad acceptance."
Howell and West, who plan to marry sometime next year, were overwhelmed by the reaction from strangers at the ballpark and by friends and family on social media after they got engaged.
“I absolutely do think that [Nationals Park] is welcoming, affirming, loving and open,” Howell said. “When you look at the video and you hear the cheering and you look at the pictures and see people clapping and standing up. . . . We were a little oblivious because we were in our own moment, but people were coming up to us during and after the game to say congrats. As a whole, I think it has gotten better over the years. There’s still more work to do all around in our community.”
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