Billy Bean, Major League Baseball’s ambassador for inclusion, said he was “thrilled to death” to be on hand Wednesday as the A’s held Pride Night at O.co Coliseum to celebrate the Bay Area’s LGBTQ community.
The A’s were planning to hold a tribute during their game against the San Diego Padres to the life of Glenn Burke, MLB’s first openly gay player, while Burke’s brother Sidney threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The national anthem was performed by transgender opera singer Breanna Sinclaire, who reportedly is the first transgender woman to sing the anthem at a professional sporting event, according to Out Magazine.
“I can tell you that as a player if I would’ve seen that, I would’ve passed out, I think, to see where we are going with this,” said Bean, who came out as gay after playing parts of six seasons.
Bean was formerly a minor-league teammate of A’s general manager Billy Beane – he said the two often were mistaken for each other – and said Beane asked him to come to spring training this year and address the A’s in his ambassador’s role.
Bean said his message to players is usually the same and stems from his experience: He guarded his sexual orientation throughout his playing career, and when he finally told his parents nearly two years after he’d left baseball, “My mom said it was harder for them to accept that I wasn’t a baseball player anymore than it was for them to find out I was gay, because they loved that so much.
“I didn’t realize that me walking away took that away from my own family,” Bean said. “I think that’s kind of the core of the message when I do talk to players: It’s not about changing the way they think, or their religion. It’s really about the wonderful opportunity and privilege to be a baseball player.”
As for Pride Night, Bean said: “Whether the players are ready to let it scratch the surface of their consciousness, I think the bigger, more important point is that the fans and community see what the A’s stand for, and it’s going to have a lasting impression on a lot of people that aren’t going to get a chance to say ‘Thank you’ today.”
When the A’s announced the Pride Night promotion this spring, it drew some negative reaction, which reportedly prompted Eireann Dolan, the girlfriend of A’s pitcher Sean Doolittle, to offer to purchase all unwanted tickets to the game and give them to a Bay Area charity for LGBTQ youth. Bean said he thanked Dolan and Doolittle “for their generosity, for the generosity of their courage.”
The A’s announced over the public address system before the game that a portion of ticket sales from the game would be donated to several charities: AIDS Project East Bay; Frameline, a nonprofit supporting LGBTQ media arts; and Our Space, a local LGBTQ youth community center.
While Bean praised the A’s for Wednesday’s event, he said there’s much room for progress.
“To think that in 146 years there’s only been two men that ever disclosed they were gay that played in the big leagues, (Burke) and myself, it just shows you the depth of what the young men who have played this sport – the fear for those of us who are like me,” Bean said. “And now that we have no players out in the top four major sports, there’s a lot of work to do.”