Outfielder David Denson was on the baseball field in Geneva, Illinois, with the Brewers’ Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers three weeks ago when he learned that a gunman had opened fire at a nightclub frequented by members of the LGBT community in Orlando, Florida. The death toll of 49 was the highest because of violence in the nation since the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.
Denson, the first openly gay player on a Major League Baseball-affiliated team, became distraught. “It was very heartbreaking, it was hard for me to take it in,’’ Denson, 21, said by phone Wednesday. “I was sad, hurt, a lot of emotions at once. It doesn’t make sense that it takes something like that for people to open their eyes and say we are families, we have to stick together. Where was that before any of this happened? Two months from now, are we still going to be talking about this or are we going to throw it under the rug and go about your day?”
That will not happen under the watch of Centereach’s David Kilmnick, CEO of the LGBT Network. He has been instrumental in planning Pride Night at Citi Field on Aug. 13, when the Mets will host the Padres.
The idea for Pride Night at Citi Field began at Molloy College in Rockville Centre last year when Kilmnick met with Billy Bean, MLB’s Ambassador of Inclusion. Bean, not to be confused with the Oakland A’s general manager, came out in 1999, four years after the conclusion of his career with the Tigers, Dodgers and Padres.
The Mets immediately were receptive. Lou DePaoli, executive vice president and chief revenue officer of the club, said, “Living in such a diverse area like New York, how can you not offer something that is going to be this inclusive? We welcome all fans throughout the year, every year. So we’re not taking any political stand or anything like that. It’s the right thing to do.’’
More than 40,000 fans are expected to attend the game, DePaoli said. Commissioner Rob Manfred is expected to be in attendance.
A portion of the proceeds from tickets purchased on mets.com/pride will go to anti-bullying programs. Several MLB teams have held pride nights or similar events dedicated to the LGBT community. The WNBA Liberty has sponsored similar events.
A FESTIVE EVENT
On Pride Night, LGBT fans will be scattered around Citi Field.
“We have several parts of the stadium [where] the people are going to sit,’’ Kilmnick said. “From Coca-Cola Corner to the Budweiser Landing to baseline reserved on the field level to promenade reserved as well in the upper decks. Just like LGBT people are in every community across the country, they’re going to be in every section of the stadium.’’
Kilmnick estimated that one million Nassau, Suffolk and Queens residents identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
LGBT supporter Karen Pierce of Lindenhurst said, “I think it’s very symbolic that we’re not only going to sit in one section. We are somebody’s brothers and sisters and children. We lost so many people’’ in the Orlando slayings.
Laurie Scheinman of Port Washington, whose son, Sam, is in the LGBT community, will be in attendance at Pride Night. “Baseball is America’s pastime,’’ she said. “I think it sends a very strong message to the young and the old that this is something that is not only tolerated but welcome as part of America. I feel lucky to be part of it. I hope that even if I didn’t have a gay son, I would be part of that community.’’
Although he does not anticipate any issues arising at Citi Field from an opposing viewpoint, Bean said, “I think demonstrations are part of any kind of change. I’m not worried about that. I was just in Chicago for the [Cubs’] pride festivities. There was a large contingent of people that were very, very upset about the pride parade. People just seemed to be marching right along by them without making an altercation. You know, the world’s not perfect. To me, I can’t let perfect get in the way of good. We have a wonderful opportunity and I want the people that are attending to support the Mets.’’
Marla Furst of Plainview added, “I think it’s important across all walks to be seen, to be recognized, to be acknowledged. Somebody posted on Facebook, ‘when is straight Pride night?’ and the answer that I saw that I found most appropriate was ‘you should be glad you don’t need one.’ I just thought that was totally on target.’’
WHO WILL BE FIRST?
The LGBT community awaits the arrival of the first openly gay player in the big leagues. Perhaps it will be Denson.
“Jackie Robinson started a conversation,’’ Bean said of the legendary player who broke MLB’s color barrier in 1947. “He didn’t end racism when he ran onto the field. He was put under such horrific stress. The LGBT community, we are a unique form of diversity. We all are able to deny or hide, and so there’s a lot of people that think you just decided to live that way. That’s probably the hardest part.’’
Denson, selected as a high school player by the Brewers in the 15th round of the 2013 draft, is averaging .253 with seven home runs and 33 RBIs. Denson came out publicly last August in his third season of pro ball.
“I’ve heard people refer to me in that analogy of Jackie Robinson,’’ Denson said. “I take it as a compliment, I take it as an honor, but I don’t sit back and try to analyze myself as the next Jackie Robinson. I just want to be myself and play the game. I’m aware with all the factors that come along after making the decision to come out. I just live in the moment. When it comes about, I’ll be ready to handle that full force. It took me generally my whole life to make this decision, and there’s some people that won’t make the decision at all.’’
Denson said he has felt wide acceptance since coming out. “Opposing teams, fans, my team’s fans and my teammates have all been great,’’ he said. “There’s been no derogatory terms, no gay slurs thrown my way at all.’’
Bean said he is not aware of any current major-leaguers who are gay or contemplating coming out. “If a player wants to call me and wants someone who can relate to what they’re going through, I’m there,’’ Bean said. “But the last thing on my agenda is to look for players who might be playing in the closet. When someone is ready, I want that experience for them to be a positive one, a good one and one that will allow others beyond them to see that as a steppingstone for more and more players.”
Said Zachary Blum, a Mets fan from East Setauket and a member of the LGBT community: “Having someone to look up to would send a signal to both athletes and fans that things are starting to change in professional baseball and other sports. That would be symbolic. It would be a step forward.”
ONLY THE BEGINNING
Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports.com, which bills itself as “the galactic leader in gay sports,” said much work remains on the major league level. “You can’t say that you have a fully inclusive environment if nobody is willing to come out,’’ he said. “You can’t say you’re racially inclusive as a workplace if you have no black employees; you can’t say you’re inclusive of LGBT people if you have no LGBT people. Major League Baseball, I think of all the leagues, has done the best job in creating a positive environment. I think the hiring of Billy Bean two years ago might have been the most powerful thing any of the leagues has done.’’
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