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At Pride Night at Citi Field, Billy Bean says MLB ‘ready’ for first openly gay player

The Pride flag is displayed during the national

The Pride flag is displayed during the national anthem on Pride Night before the Mets-Nationals game at Citi Field on Saturday, June 17, 2017. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The second annual Pride Night at Citi Field Saturday turned out to be everything Billy Bean imagined. A melding of fans whose sole interest centered on baseball. Thousands in the crowd of 38,059 were from the LGBT community on Long Island and the metropolitan area.

Bean, Major League Baseball’s ambassador for inclusion, views these events as a template for the future, saying, “The real message, as simple as can be if you love the Mets or you love baseball, you’re welcome to come through those turnstiles and the Mets are embracing everybody.’’

A portion of the ticket sales will go to anti-bullying programs in schools on Long Island and in New York City.

Bean, 53, is often asked when the majors will have its first openly gay player. “We’re ready, that’s for sure,’’ he said before the Nationals beat the Mets, 7-4.

But is the potential player?

“I think that’s what’s hard,’’ Bean said. “There’s a level of uncertainty of how the media or the world is going to turn the focus. A player would go from being anonymous to being famous for maybe something he has not done in the field.’’

Bean fought his own inner conflicts as a closeted player, from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, not coming out until 1999, seven years after his last game. There was no ambassador to pave his way, so he remained in painful silence.

“I would have loved to have had that opportunity when I was playing because I didn’t think there was anybody that I could talk to,’’ he said. “When things really went off the grid, when my partner passed when I was playing, I just assumed that I didn’t deserve to be out there. It was really a dark place.”

But now there is light, lit by Bean himself. When Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar allegedly mouthed a homophobic slur last month at Braves pitcher Jason Motte, who is not gay, Bean sprung into action. He counseled Pillar and also advised the Blue Jays and MLB as they determined disciplinary action. Pillar was suspended for two games.

“It was the first time we had a situation like that since I’ve been here,’’ said Bean, who was appointed in 2014. “When I first saw the video, certainly it feels like a setback. But the way everyone rallied around, to try to show that this isn’t what baseball stands for, really helped.

“And the person who made the most effort was Kevin himself. He was extremely apologetic. Kevin said, ‘that’s not me. I don’t know what made me say that. I just did it.’ He’s made a tremendous effort to reach out to the LGBT community in Toronto, he’s agreed to some sensitivity training. Baseball learned a really valuable lesson that day. I feel like something really strong has come from that. I think that everyone who is a baseball fan saw that baseball is not going to tolerate that . . . And [Pillar] personally said to me that he’s going to turn this into a positive.’’

Bean also has worked with Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy, a former Met, who in 2015 said he “disagrees with the lifestyle, 100 percent,’’ after Bean visited the Mets in spring training. “I’ve had many conversations with Daniel over the past two and half years. He himself has come so far in his willingness to understand. He said he needed to learn a lot about the LGBT community because he had never had any experience,’’ integrating with its members.

“I thought that was very fair and brave of him to share that.”

Murphy was not made available afterward.

Bean hopes the historic moment of declaring one’s orientation in the majors is a shared moment. “I would rather two or three happens at the same time so one athlete is not being shouldered with the conversation every single day,’’ he said. “I just think the consideration is so much more than the revelation of your sexual orientation.’’


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