I often joke that I’m a Mets fan the same way that I’m Jewish: It doesn’t matter if I’m practicing or not, being a Mets fan is in my blood.
When I think about baseball, I think about my dad. As a kid, he instilled in me a love of the game, a love of sports. Over the years, my interests shifted, but lately I’ve been reflecting a lot on this former love. First of all, the long-awaited A League of Their Own TV show comes out next week, and “TV” and “being gay” happen to be two of my shifted interests. But I’ve also been thinking about sports recently, because some people have chosen the inclusion of trans kids in youth athletics as a primary conservative battleground. I have a script in development about a trans teen who just wants to play soccer, and the more I live in that head space, the more my heart breaks for kids deprived of the opportunities playing sports — playing sports as yourself — can provide.
With all these thoughts buzzing around my head, I decided to sit down and talk to my dad about the pastime he loves. This is a conversation about baseball. It’s also a conversation about coaching, youth sports, and being the parent of a trans kid. Most importantly, it’s about what’s at stake if kids aren’t allowed to be kids, if kids aren’t allowed to just play.
Drew: How did you first become a baseball fan?
Keith: Well, I had an older brother who was a big baseball fan. We grew up in New York, and he was a Yankee fan because he loved Mickey Mantle. So when I was about six or seven, our dad took us to my first game which was a Yankee/White Sox game. The Yankees were losing 10-0 in the sixth inning, and my dad said: “Let’s go. This is boring.” (laughs) But I didn’t think it was boring. I wanted to stay. I didn’t really like the Yankees though. Instead, I became a fan of the Mets, because they had a bunch of young players who I really liked. When we moved to California in 1968, the Mets still weren’t very good, but then in 1969 they were. They were called the Amazin’ Mets — some people called them the Miracle Mets — and they ended up not only winning the division but also winning the pennant and then the World Series. That’s really when I became hooked.
Drew: Wait, why didn’t you like the Yankees when you were six?
Keith: They were old. And they weren’t very good. They were kind of boring. I think a lot of my friends were Mets fans too.
When I moved to California, I had a really heavy New York accent, and I got teased all the time. I didn’t make a lot of friends my first year. But then when the Mets got good, everybody wanted to be my friend, because they knew I was a Mets fan.
Drew: (laughs) Wow that’s probably one of the few times that’s ever happened to any Mets fans.
Keith: (laughs) Right. Being a Mets fan means I’m long-suffering. But just yesterday, they had the baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony and one of the players who was inducted was Gil Hodges, the manager of the Mets in ‘69. He finally got in 50 years after his death. His daughter gave his induction speech yesterday, and I cried a little bit. Just to listen to what she had to say about what a great person he was. And he was a great manager. All the players on the ‘69 team said he was such a great leader and really credited him with their win.
Drew: What do you think makes a great manager?
Keith: I think being able to deal with each of the 25 players on your team individually. Really getting to know them. Establishing relationships with them and knowing when they should be put into a game.
Drew: So speaking of coaching, you coached a lot of my sports teams. Soccer for a bit and baseball longer. First, I just wanted to ask, did you always want kids?
Keith: Did I always want kids? Of course! I always wanted kids. I mean, when I was in college some of my friends and I coached a tee ball team, and I thought it was so fun, and I loved being around kids. I always loved being around kids. So yeah, of course.
Drew: So then I guess it was a no-brainer to coach for me.
Keith: Baseball was a no-brainer. I certainly didn’t know as much as dads who played baseball competitively in high school or college or even professionally. But I’d watched enough baseball that I knew how to coach.
Drew: Something I remember from our baseball teams is that you had a reputation for being really nice, so the league gave you the kids who were maybe struggling a bit, who maybe weren’t the best at playing baseball. How did you feel about that?
Keith: Well, we did a draft.
Drew: You did?
Keith: They didn’t just give me the players.
Drew: Oh so you chose the kids who were struggling!
Keith: Yeah, we had a draft. And I would walk into the draft room with all the other dads — because it was all dads — and I would tell them that I’d take these two kids. All the other dads would just breathe a sigh of relief, because they knew these two kids were not very good.
Drew: So all these dads knew the skill levels of all these random players?
Keith: Yeah they had try-outs. Don’t you remember? You’d go for a try-out, you’d get rated, and you’d be put into different categories. And there would be some dads who would stay for the whole try-out, like watch these kids and really scout them to see who was good and who was bad.
Keith: I would just go to your try-out! And maybe I should have taken it more seriously, but I just felt like… Look it’s important to win, but it was more important for these kids to learn to love baseball.
Drew: Yeah and the years you were coaching me was like what ages?
Keith: From six to ten.
One year, our weekly MVP was the Pepper Award. Can you talk a little about how that came about?
Keith: It was either named after Pepper Davis or Pepper Martin.
Drew: Pepper Davis, I thought?
Keith: Well, during World War II when there weren’t enough men to field teams to play minor league baseball, in the midwest in particular, there was the thought that they should create a women’s baseball league. And so they did. There was a movie about it called A League of Their Own, and Geena Davis played a character based on Pepper Davis, who was a catcher.
When I was coaching you, mom and I were involved in this organization called The Wellness Community, and they had an event called Celebrating Life Through Sports: A Salute to Baseball. One year, a couple of different women from the All-American Baseball League came, and one of the women was Pepper. She was such an outstanding lady. So that’s why I must’ve decided to name our weekly MVP award after her. We were the Cardinals, so when I gave that award out, I would talk about a famous Cardinal and then give a baseball card to the boy who won.
Drew: Did any of the boys or parents question why the award was named after a woman? I guess it just strikes me as kind of radical for a boy’s little league team to have an MVP award named after a woman.
Keith: Well, there was a famous Pepper man too. So it wasn’t just Pepper Davis. There was a famous Cardinal named Pepper Martin who was part of the Gashouse Gang. So I talked about both of them.
Drew: Oh I see. I didn’t remember that part.
Drew: What did it mean to you that I was so obsessed with baseball? Because I was obsessed with baseball as a kid.
Keith: You were obsessed with baseball.
Drew: My Bar Mitzvah theme was baseball. When we went to Mets games, I would paint my face blue and orange. The same obsessive personality I bring to a lot of the things I do now, I brought to my love of baseball. What was it like having a kid who shared this passion of yours?
Keith: Oh I thought it was awesome. (laughs) I was like, “Wow. My son, my child, is interested in something I’m really interested in.” And it was great, because it gave us something to talk about every day. We would be able to share these experiences together. And what made it even better was that, as I was growing up, my dad hated baseball. He thought it was boring. When he would very nicely take me to Mets/Dodger Games, we would always sit in the bleachers near the bullpen. And he would spend the time watching Tug McGraw, a very famous reliever who’s Tim McGraw’s dad. Tug McGraw was always flirting with women during the game and my dad would point that out to me. He would say, “See that player? He’s not focusing on the game. He should be focused on the game instead of talking to all those women.” And one time Tug McGraw came into the game and blew the save.
Keith: And my dad spent the entire drive home talking about how Tug McGraw should have been more focused on the game instead of flirting with women.
Drew: I feel like flirting with women was the only thing grandpa did. He should’ve been supportive.
Keith: But then to have the theme of your Bar Mitzvah be baseball was amazing.
Drew: I mean, mom is so creative. She did it so well. Even though it was at the temple and not at any of the fancy venues that other kids had, it was the best party.
Keith: It was the best!
Drew: And all the centerpieces were Mets jerseys. That was my real Bar Mitzvah gift. They became the only clothes I wore. Seven days a week. Like a little uniform.
Keith: The funniest thing was that we went to a Mets/Dodger game once, and we had really good seats. Good enough seats that you could look into the Mets dugout. And you were wearing a John Maine jersey.
Drew: Right. (laughs)
Keith: John Maine was a rookie pitcher or second year pitcher and somebody in the dugout yelled to John Maine, “Hey Maine! That kid is wearing your jersey!”
Drew: (laughs) I think that was the best moment of his life probably. Because he got injured and didn’t have much more of a career.
Keith: He autographed your jersey! But then another time, you painted your face and got José Reyes to autograph a baseball.
Drew: I loved José Reyes, because he stole bases. And that was the way I played. I wasn’t strong, so I would just get on base and then steal my way to third.
Was it painful when I started to lose interest in baseball?
Keith: A little bit, yeah. A little bit. But you know, I recognized that you had your own interests. Once you started becoming really interested in film — which you’d always been — but when you replaced baseball with film, I just thought, well, we have to support that. And so, we would start taking you to these different film houses in the city. Like the Egyptian and the Aero. And sometimes the films that we saw were not my choice.
Drew: You were a good sport.
Keith: We were.
Drew: Over the years, I continued to still go to games with you though.
Keith: Yeah, sure, absolutely. But I knew it wasn’t the same.
Drew: Yeah. One of the shifts for me was when I got injured and stopped running. I stopped playing sports and did theatre instead. My theatre friends weren’t sports fans at all, but I connected with them in other ways a lot more. And when you’re 14, 15, you’re just sort of into what your friends are into.
I mean, it’s funny, because even to this day you’ll ask me if I’ve heard about some baseball news, and usually I haven’t. But I want you to tell me about it! I still feel connected to baseball. I still have a love of sports, even if it’s not where I put most of my time. And also, I associate it with you and our relationship. I loved having you coach my teams and I loved bonding with you over sports. The same way that I might tell you about a movie you wouldn’t know about, I want you to continue to share your enthusiasm with me. Sometimes I feel guilty, because you’ll ask if I’ve heard about something, and I haven’t.
Drew: And I say no. But I always want the follow up to be: “Tell me!” Even when I was a kid and we’d go to games, I’d ask you all sorts of things. I was really interested in the rules and the history of baseball. I’ve always had a desire to learn.
Keith: Do you remember when we went to an Angel game when you were really little? At the time you were collecting Taco Bell bottle caps?
Drew: (laughs) Yes, Star Wars-related ones.
Keith: Star Wars-related bottle caps. And we went to an Angel game with Jim Mellor, and you wanted something from there and they didn’t have it.
Drew: Well, Taco Bell was one of their sponsors, so they had a Taco Bell sign outside. But they didn’t actually have any Taco Bell in the stadium. And I was like, “They should call it liar stadium!” and Jim Mellor thought that was so funny.
Keith: (laughs) Right.
Drew: If you collected enough of these bottle cap token things, you could win a spaceship. Even at four or five, I didn’t think it was a real spaceship that went to space. But I thought it was real sized. I’m sure it was a little figurine, but in the picture it looked like the one in the movie. And I was like, “I want the real spaceship!” But I did not collect enough tokens.
Keith: That was a tie-in between film and baseball.
Drew: That’s true.
Keith: Do you remember your first baseball game?
Drew: I think my first baseball game was probably before my first memories. I’m sure you took me when I was like two.
Keith: We did. We took you to opening day in San Diego. The Mets played the Padres.
Drew: What year was that?
Keith: ‘96? You were little. And I remember the Mets were winning 2-0, and then I had to take you to the bathroom.
Keith: And by the time I got back from taking you to the bathroom, the Mets were losing 8-2. The Padres scored like eight runs in that half inning while we were gone. I think the Mets lost 11-4.
Drew: It’s a little comforting, because I’ve always had this idea that I was cursed. Every sports fan thinks they’re more important than they actually are. So I like the idea that they lost once I was gone.
Keith: There you go.
Drew: It’s better than the other way around.
Keith: But then one of the last games you and I went to was the World Series in 2015 when you were living in New York. Game 4. And then we watched Game 5 at a sports bar with [your sister] Jillian and your friend Sarah. That was fun.
Drew: I still have pictures from those days, and it’s so funny, because I think it’s the most I ever succeeded at looking like a happy boy, a happy man.
Drew: I’m wearing a big Mets sweatshirt and a Mets hat, and my beard is very groomed. It’s a very funny little snapshot in time.
Before I transitioned, what was your familiarity with transness, with trans people?
Keith: Hmm. Very little. I really had no… I wasn’t aware much about people who were transgender at all. I was certainly aware of people who were gay. One of my best friends, Harry, is gay. I had officiated a wedding for a gay couple. And when people expressed doubt about gay marriage, I would tell them, “You should’ve been at the wedding that I officiated because there was more love in that room than any other wedding I’d ever done. It doesn’t matter if it’s a man and a woman or two men or two women. If there’s love there, that’s all that counts.”
Drew: So you had never knowingly met a trans person?
Keith: I don’t think so. I’m trying to think about it. I mean, the most familiar with it was when you sat mom and I down to watch Transparent. I had never really experienced that before.
Drew: I watched the finale of season two with you and mom, and I remember sobbing afterward. I didn’t cry that often at that time. And you or mom asked me jokingly if I had something to tell you. At the time, I thought the answer was no, so I said that I didn’t know why it was affecting me so much. Do you remember that?
Keith: I don’t.
Drew: So how did you first react when I came out to you and mom over the phone?
Keith: Umm, well, looking back, it wasn’t a very good reaction. And I feel really guilty about how I reacted. What I said to you was — well, I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. I had no idea. I was in shock. And during our conversation, you told me you’d been processing this for quite awhile and thinking about this for a long time and that you’d actually come out — I think that call was in October — and you’d been out in New York since like April.
Drew: May, yeah.
Keith: And I said, “Well, Drew, you’ve had a lot of time to think about this. You need to give us some time to think about it.” I said, “I have to go.” And I also feel guilty that instead of being there for mom, I just took our dog for a walk. I called my close friend, Harry, who is gay, and I said to him, “I just got off the phone with Drew,” and I misgendered you, I think I said, “and he said that he’s transgender.” Harry said, “I know. I’m glad that Drew finally told you. Drew came out to me when I was in New York, and I had lunch with Drew.” I was like, wow.
And then I started thinking about things. Thinking back to when we’d seen you during those months. And what I remembered most was when your cousin had gotten married during Memorial Day. The day after, we went shopping for you because it didn’t seem like you had a lot of clothes, and you were financially struggling, so mom wanted to help you. I remembered that day you didn’t want to buy a lot of stuff. And I thought, oh it was because Drew didn’t want to wear men’s clothes anymore.
So then I was… I was very upset. I didn’t know how to react. But I was really lucky, because at my law firm, I was able to get a lot of support from people. Some who knew other people who were transgender, some who didn’t. But I was willing to share this news with people. I didn’t just hide in the closet. Maybe a week or two after you came out to us, I ended up talking to one of my partners who is a conservative Mormon guy from Phoenix. He told me that he has a transgender daughter and he’s completely accepted her.
Drew: How does he vote though? Does he still vote against her rights?
Keith: No, not at all. He’s gotten very involved with nonprofits to promote transgender rights. It’s really amazing, and he told me that she didn’t come out to him. Just to show you how conservative they were. He and his wife would monitor his kid’s emails and that’s how they discovered it.
Keith: But I thought to myself, if he can do it so can I. I mean, I’m a liberal Jewish guy. My whole thing is being open and accepting. Why not accept Drew? I love Drew. That’s what it came down to. It all came down to loving you.
It turned out a week or two later there was a conference at USC put on by PFLAG. I went by myself. I listened to a bunch of parents whose kids had come out as gay or transgender. There were people there whose children had come out six months, a year, two years ago, and they were still a mess. I didn’t understand that. But I actually met some really terrific people there. This one woman said, “Oh I know some people who live in the Valley who have a transgender daughter who came out a few years before, and they’re really nice people. You should meet them.” We did, and they’ve been incredibly supportive. They’re terrific people.
A few weeks later, I went to a meeting in Phoenix, and I was talking with one of my partners who lives in Las Vegas. He told me that the largest population of homeless youth in Vegas is made up of transgender kids, because their parents have disowned them. And I thought wow how could somebody do that? So that was my own transition.
Drew: It must be so different for parents who face judgment when they tell the people in their lives about their kid transitioning. I mean, the fact that you could call Harry is particularly special. I’d already come out to him and felt really safe with him. I felt like he might have an understanding of what I was going through. And talking to him was sort of a trial run for coming out to you and mom.
Keith: Well, he had experienced something similar 30 years before. I remember when Harry came out to me. We were at dinner, and I think he was really nervous about it. And I was like, “Why? You shouldn’t be nervous. I don’t care.”
Drew: I do know that some people in our family and in our community reacted less positively.
Keith: Oh, some people definitely reacted better than others. Absolutely.
Drew: And while that was happening, I was in New York forming a queer community. Obviously, I was also coming out to old friends and experiencing my own mixed reactions. I did lose some friendships. But I was able day-to-day to be surrounded by more people who understood.
People are often more sympathetic toward trans people’s families and friends and partners than the trans person themself. But I think it’s in a way that doesn’t actually understand the challenges for those people. Sure, there’s the challenge of accepting your kid, the surprise of it, having to educate yourself. But from talking to you and mom and also talking to my partner at the time, I think what ended up being the biggest challenge was you had to talk to people about something you didn’t fully understand yourselves. You had to face ignorance when you were still ignorant.
Keith: I was completely ignorant. That’s why I went to that PFLAG meeting. And I read two books: Tomorrow Will Be Different by Sarah McBride and Transitions of the Heart, this series of essays written by mothers of transgender children. Some of those transgender children were in their fifties when they transitioned and others were five or six. And not all of the essays were positive. Some of the essays that were written were incredibly negative where the mothers would write about how they had no relationship with that child anymore. It provided me with a better understanding of what it means to be transgender and what it means for a parent to have a transgender child.
I love Drew. That’s what it came down to. It all came down to loving you.
Drew: What would you tell a parent of a trans kid?
Keith: To love them. Just love them as much as you did before they came out. They are so much more comfortable in their own skin. They are so much better off being able to be who they are. And I didn’t realize that, Drew, I didn’t really really realize that fully until you had moved back to LA. My office had an event, and I invited you to come. You didn’t know a soul. Before you had come out, you would’ve stayed in a corner, you would’ve not been as open to meeting people. During that event, there were times where I caught myself just watching you as you worked the room. You looked so comfortable, like you knew everyone there. It was really powerful for me to see that.
Drew: That was about two years after I came out.
Keith: You were authentic.
Drew: Specifically, when it comes to trans kids playing sports, how do you think people can become less ignorant?
Keith: I think that people who are seeking to prevent transgender kids from playing sports at the high school or lower levels are just doing it for political reasons. These kids just want to participate in a sport. They just want to be part of a team. They want to be able to enjoy something that they feel committed to. I think it’s as bad as saying a child can’t participate in a sport because of their race or because they’re Jewish. I don’t see any difference. It’s just a horrible example of hate.
Drew: It makes me think about your approach to coaching. What do you see as the point of kids sports?
Keith: Well, there are a lot of different attributes to kids sports that are important. Teaching them to work with others, to collaborate. Those are skills that we need out in the world. So if you can learn those out on a field, that’s great. It’s getting to know different people. It’s developing a passion for something. It helps teach people to be in good health. And sports are about competition. It teaches people to be competitive.
I’m involved in hiring people at my firm, and when I see a resumé of a candidate who has, for example, played intercollegiate athletics, that person goes higher on my list. Not just because I love sports, but because I know they’ve worked within a team. They’ve had to learn how to deal with other people. And not only succeed but also face defeat. That’s important, too. To prevent kids from being able to play sports because they’re transgender is just horrible.
Drew: I sometimes wonder if I had been out as a kid and been allowed to play on girls teams, if I would have kept playing sports into high school. I do think I shifted to running because it was less of a team sport and the team was co-ed, our practices were co-ed. There’s just a big difference between a 10-year-old boy and a 15-year-old boy. Especially in athletic spaces that can encourage a masculinity I found more challenging than the queerer masculinity I found in theatre spaces. So if I hadn’t had to be in those spaces, I wonder if I would have kept playing and would’ve kept my enthusiasm for sports.
But this year, more than any year in recent memory, I’ve been following the Mets. One, they’re doing better, so I’m being a bit of a fair weather fan. Though I’m sure they’ll still find a way to blow it.
Keith: Don’t say that! Last night they came back and won.
Drew: Yeah, yeah. But also because of my running injury and because of gender, I became disconnected from sports in ways that are sad to me. So I’ve been trying to figure that out. I’ve been reconnecting with my love of baseball, I’ve started to follow the WNBA, and I’m in development on a feature all about a trans teen soccer player. And then I’ve also started taking ballet classes.
Keith: You did?
Keith: Wow! That’s great.
Drew: I wanted to find something active that felt fun. And I’d always wanted to do ballet. I mean, I don’t think you and mom would’ve said no if I had asked to do ballet as a kid. But it just wasn’t something that felt like an option. Just because of our culture.
Keith: Are you enjoying it?
Drew: Yeah! It’s so fun. I mean I’m terrible, but it’s a beginner class.
Keith: Well, you’re new to it. Does Elise do it too?
Drew: No, it’s just been a solo thing.
Keith: Solo. Wow.
To prevent kids from being able to play sports because they’re transgender is just horrible.
Drew: I mean, it also goes back to sports and what athletic activities can offer. I don’t know anyone outside of Elise’s friends here, so going to ballet is also a way to meet people, a way to do something on my own. I think about the things that I got from sports especially when I was a kid, especially when you were coaching. Even if I was frustrated that we lost so much, it was just fun to be with a group of other kids and practice and push my body.
Keith: So the Mets just picked up this guy from the Pirates who is really, really big. And I was watching the game and talking to Harry, and I told Harry that this player reminded me of this one boy we had on our team who was so much bigger than everybody else. He could hardly move.
Drew: The reverse of me who had no power but could move quickly.
Keith: Exactly! When that kid hit the ball, he could hit it really far.
Drew: I feel like sports are all about how different our bodies are and how we all have different strengths and weaknesses.
Drew: Especially a team sport. That’s what a team sport is. Even on a professional level, someone has to lead off the lineup, and someone has to go fourth. The issues are somewhat different when discussing professional sports vs. kids sports, but I still feel adamant that trans people should be allowed to compete on every level. I would argue a trans woman athlete who has been on hormones is at a disadvantage biologically, not an advantage. But even if there is something about that person’s body that helps them, who cares? Every athlete has things about their bodies that provide them advantages.
Keith: Well, let me ask you a question. It doesn’t happen very often, but more and more there are professional male athletes coming out as gay. I know there’s a professional soccer player who came out, a professional football player who came out. But based on percentages, there are other professional athletes past and present who are still in the closet, don’t you think?
Drew: Oh I’m sure there are so many.
Drew: You know, I really want to have the first women playing in the MLB, but I also think there have probably already been some. And I’m not talking about the separate league Pepper Davis was in. I’m saying there is probably a baseball player now who has some gender stuff going on that they’re not addressing because baseball is not a friendly space for that.
Keith: This year, the Mets played the Dodgers on Pride Night, and I went to the game. And they honored this former Dodger named Glenn Burke. Glenn Burke was an outfielder on the 1970 Dodgers, and he was allegedly offered $75,000 if he would marry a woman. The stories say he was having a relationship with Tommy Lasorda’s son, the manager’s son.
Keith: And Glenn Burke was supposedly a great athlete and could’ve become a great baseball player. But he was traded and then released. He had drug issues. And, eventually, he ended up dying of AIDS. The Pride Night was kind of a way for the Dodgers to apologize to Glenn Burke and his family. It was quite a night. Other than the Mets losing.