By Jeff Praught | Dugout Chatter
“Press Gate Bruce” is what we called him; awesome and funny and caring and friendly and unique is how we will all remember him.
Friendly to everyone and memorable to all, the LGBT and professional sports communities in San Diego lost an amazing contributor when Bruce Ragland, just 55 years young, passed away on Nov. 24.
I will always refer to him as Bruce, because he was so impressionable, it seemed that no one knew his last name. During his time working for the San Diego Padres and San Diego Chargers, he was simply “Press Gate Bruce.”
Bruce manned the press gate entrance at Qualcomm Stadium and Petco Park for over 20 years and during that time, he forged personal relationships with scores of media members and team employees — including those from other teams — while simply trying to “do his job,” as he would often say.
“Doing his job” meant putting on an entertaining and unique schtick as people entered the venue. He always had his famous lollipops ready for when he would sing to children as they came by for a hug.
Bruce had scores of personal fans who entered through other gates but just had to say “Hi” to the affable greeter who seemingly never missed a day of work.
Part of what made Bruce so interesting to people was his “this is me, take it or leave it” personality. A gay man with a flair for entertainment, Bruce never hid who he was. He was open about his sexuality in an industry that has traditionally been as homophobic as any out there, including the military.
Fortunately for everyone, the ice is thawing on the discrimination era and people like Bruce helped begin the process of making that possible. Everyone — and I mean everyone — knew him as kind, trustworthy and like a family member.
If you have not heard Bruce sing to you at the press gate, you truly have not lived.
I can recall friends walking in to claim their game tickets and having to — correction: getting to — sit through a five-minute song and dance that Bruce had prepared. He almost always remembered everyone on a first name basis, even if you had only met him once.
Marty Caswell, a producer at local sports talk radio station Mighty 1090, tweeted this upon Bruce’s Nov. 24 passing:
“Think of the one person that makes you smile every single day when you go to work. That was #PressGateBruce Will be missed by all.”
The next day, Caswell went on to give a nearly five-minute, on-air tribute to Bruce. It was chilling and it was emotional and it was awesome, as he perfectly summed up the human being thousands of people had gotten to know over the years.
If you do a Twitter search on #PressGateBruce a long list of other tributes will appear, coming from not just friends, but so many media members.
“Just heard about the passing of “Press Gate” Bruce Ragland … a very kind man who had a smile for everyone he met,” added Channel 10 Sports Director Ben Higgins.
Former Padres manager Bruce Bochy was a favorite friend of Press Gate Bruce, and Bochy would often go out of his way to pay Bruce a visit during his trips to Petco Park, even though he had moved on to manage the archrival San Francisco Giants.
Bruce’s demise came from a catastrophic stroke he suffered while enjoying the Hillcrest neighborhood on Halloween night.
His friends in the LGBT community recall hearing Bruce tell stories from 30 years ago, when life in the gay community was vastly different than the one he was living in today. He would often play pool while simultaneously “holding court,” sharing laughs and stories with anyone who wanted to talk over a drink.
Bruce had so many stories to tell because he lived a lifetime of experiences in just 55 years. He had a speaking role in the movie “Titanic” where, as one of the rescue boat operators, he yelled out, “There’s nothing there, sir!” He also played a bit role in “Angels in the Outfield,” as well as in other productions in New York City. He often tried out for additional commercials and on-stage speaking roles during his free time.
Those who have known Bruce for many years remember two different people on the outside. The Bruce many fans remember — walking the walkway at Qualcomm Stadium while blowing kisses to the crowd and waving to kids and friends — was a very large man. He was not embarrassed to admit that at one point in his life, he had topped out at 500 pounds.
The Bruce of recent years had shed most of that weight, but what never changed —in Bruce’s case this is not cliché at all — was his personality. He was never ashamed of anything, and in fact, embraced his personality and his body. He was as self-deprecating as he was hilarious. He was Press Gate Bruce, the big gay man with the famous cackle and heart of gold, and there was just no way you could not love spending a few minutes of your day with him.
Bruce leaves behind a family and a world of friends with heavy hearts; but he would not want us to grieve. He would want us to party and celebrate his life, and the family is respecting his wishes.
This Saturday, Dec. 12, his family will arrive at the Ocean Beach Pier by boat to spread his ashes at sea. There will be light music and some words of remembrance delivered. The event is open to all of Bruce’s friends and loved ones. Biodegradable items — such as flowers — are permitted, for tossing into the ocean along with his ashes. **Editor’s note: Due to weather conditions this celebration was postponed.
The celebration will then move to his favorite neighborhood bar, The Loft, located at 3610 Fifth Ave. in Hillcrest, where his friends will host a Celebration of Life which will also act as a fundraiser to help assist the family that Bruce leaves behind.
I visited Bruce a few times at the hospital, and it was heartbreaking to see the affects this unforeseen tragedy could inflict upon a man who may well have been the least deserving of such a fate.
At 55, it is unthinkable that someone who loved life as much as Bruce could be taken from us so suddenly, so soon, and so tragically.
I will always remember his infectious laugh and the kindness in which he treated every single person who crossed his path.
Rest in peace, Press Gate Bruce.
—Jeff Praught can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.