Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Fennelly: Whole Rays village came together for Orlando (w/ video)

ST. PETERSBURG — It usually takes a Rays season opener or playoff game to fill Tropicana Field. Friday, it took the village.

It was Pride Night, but much more. From those victims' faces on the stadium video board to the "We Are Orlando" T-shirts on fans and Rays players to the $300,000 dollars raised for the Pulse Victims Fund through ticket sales. An important, beautiful evening.

The man who threw the ceremonial first pitch was touched, though not beyond words, for his words were eloquent, moving.

Billy Bean, Major League Baseball's first vice president of social responsibility and inclusion, hired in 2014, stood on the field before the game. Baseball donated $100,000 to the victims fund.

"What happened to Orlando happened to everybody," Bean said.

He added, "It's not specific to one person or another, a race, a gender, a color, a sexual orientation or gender identity. It's about people and feeling connected and supported. I think the message for me, at least on this night, is something I'll never forget."

Bean, 52, publicly came out as gay in 1999, four years after his major-league career ended. He played for the Tigers, Dodgers and Padres, but his secret, hiding his other life from teammates, friends and family, helped drive him from the game.

Bean had agreed to appear at Pride Night, an annual Rays event, part of LGBT Pride Month, well before the American tragedy in on Orlando turned it into something more.

"It's just a broader hug to the center of this state," Bean said. "Some day, we won't have to worry about how we identify ourselves. Right now, there's still racism, there's still homophobia. The LGBT community was targeted for some reason, and the Latino community as well, on a specific night, in a month meant to celebrate that there's been great progress.

"When I was a player, and I was in the closet, and I was struggling, I didn't have great self esteem. My dad was in the Marine Corps. He was a cop for 25 years. I never felt comfortable. I fought it, and I hid it. But if I would have seen this image from tonight … every single guy on (the Rays) wearing that (We Are Orlando) T-shirt that's expressing love, well … I'm very proud of baseball today."

You don't change the world overnight.

“I'm sure the guys who are gay and playing, because I'm sure there are some, they're not apt to tell anyone," Rays infielder Logan Morrison said. "Clubhouse humor can cross the line sometimes. We need to live and let live."

"I was never ready, and it was a different time," Bean said. "But athletes are seeing a lot of positive images. If I was still a player and on the Tampa Bay Rays and I saw everybody rocking that shirt, I would have been encouraged to talk to my parents."

Retired basketball player Jason Collins, whom Bean described as a great friend, came out while still in the NBA. Michael Sam came out before the NFL draft but never played in the league. Bean was asked if we'll ever see an openly gay player in Major League Baseball.

"Obviously there's not one in baseball, basketball, football and hockey," Bean said. "There's a reason for that."

Bean decided to come out after his playing days. "The lies were starting to close in on me," he said. Once married to a woman, he began a new life in Miami: "But I was living in shame still." He became isolated from his family. He finally told his mother and father. He was 33. He'll never forget breaking it to his stepfather, Ed Kovac, the retired Marine.

"And he was amazing," Bean said. "I had built it up in my mind that it was going to be the worst moment of my life. … I see it all the time in my mind. He said, 'You're my son and it doesn't matter.' "

It doesn't matter.

"He thanked us for wearing the shirts," Rays catcher Curt Casali said of Bean. "I hope we get to the point where it's all inclusive everywhere, in anything, where your sexual orientation means nothing, where it's just what you bring to the clubhouse, what you bring to a field. I hope we get there. I hope nobody is ever afraid."

Until that day …

Fennelly: Whole Rays village came together for Orlando (w/ video) 06/18/16 [Last modified: Sunday, June 19, 2016 12:12am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Blake Snell struggles in return as Rays fall to Pirates

    The Heater

    PITTSBURGH — Blake Snell talked a good game ahead of his return to the Rays rotation Wednesday night, but he didn't pitch one.

    ON THE BALL: Rays third baseman Evan Longoria makes the play and the throw during the first inning against the Pirates.
  2. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Wednesday's Rays-Pirates game

    The Heater

    Corey Dickerson is doing everything he can to garner All-Star votes heading into tonight's voting cutoff, going into play Wednesday leading the AL with 101 hits and rapping two more his first two times up, and scoring two more runs.

  3. College World Series title puts Florida Gators in elite company


    The Florida Gators put themselves in rare company with Tuesday night's College World Series national championship victory.

    Florida ace and Tampa native Alex Faedo (21) lets loose with his teammates after they win the Gators’ first baseball national title.
  4. Lightning prospects mantra: You never know when NHL chance will appear

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — Brett Howden said he watched closely last season as former junior teammate Brayden Point made an remarkable rise to a Lightning regular in his first year pro.

    Lightning prospect Mikhail Sergachev skates during the Lightning Development Camp Wednesday at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  5. Rays journal: Team says no concern over 'hiccups' from Alex Colome

    The Heater

    PITTSBURGH — The Rays say they know what isn't wrong with closer Alex Colome, that he's not hurt or in a mental funk. And they seem certain that whatever led him to have three straight rough outings will soon be corrected.

    Rays reliever Alex Colome has “had a couple hiccups” of late, manager Kevin Cash says.