MLB.com Columnist

Billy Bean

It takes a village: Hoping my story can help others

'MLB Network Presents: The Story of Billy Bean' details one man's struggle with coming out

It takes a village: Hoping my story can help others

A little over two months ago, I introduced myself to a large group of people who work at MLB Network, while standing in the middle of their signature sound stage called "42," in honor of the legendary Jackie Robinson. 
 
This scaled-down replica of a baseball stadium is absolutely magical; the kind of place where a kid's eyes light up the moment they see it, with the word "wow" exhaling with each step as they walk inside. I had no idea what to expect from my introduction that day, or that Bruce Cornblatt, MLB's Emmy Award-winning producer, would be sitting with the group.
 
On a makeshift pitchers mound, I nervously began to share my personal story as well as the recent events that led to me being named MLB's first ambassador for inclusion in July. 
 
It has always been difficult for me to mix my personal life and baseball life, and this day was no different. A few former players now broadcasting for the Network were in attendance; Harold Reynolds was in the first row, Mike Lowell and Sean Casey, not far away. I opened up about many things, among them the memory of Glenn Burke and my hope that no player ever suffers a similar fate. Burke is the only current or former player other than me to come out as gay, and he tragically died of AIDS in 1995.
 
The moments flew by as I spoke to the staff at MLB Network, and the line of people waiting to share their comments with me afterward gave me a huge sense of relief that I had done my job. However, it wasn't until later that day, when I got a call from Mr. Cornblatt, that I learned of the impact it had upon him.

Scott, Collins on Billy Bean

He was talking a mile a minute and he quickly convinced me that he wanted to tell my story in a world-class way, one that would help us move our inclusive message forward. Unfortunately, he said we only had a few weeks to do it, making it an enormous task. "MLB Network Presents: The Story of Billy Bean" is a credit to the Network that this could all come together so quickly.
 
It's not easy to assemble a group of people to help tell your own life story. People are busy, and time is precious. The longer I thought about it, the more I realized that old adage was true for me, too: "It takes a village to raise a child."

Logically, this process started with my parents. We went back down memory lane and talked about many things. Some old wounds were opened, but some finally healed. There was disappointment and some frustration lingering between us, because of the way my playing days ended with no communication. At the time, I forgot that my whole family was living the baseball dream alongside me.

I needed that village during my toughest time, but I chose to walk away from the game in silence. I ignored those who had been there for me from the very beginning, my parents, my brothers and sister, my coaches and my teammates (some of whom were my closest friends).
 
As we navigated through the filming of this story, it was obvious it was a different time, but I know now that I had been wrong, my decisions flawed. I had assumed I would be rejected because of those old gay stereotypes we all heard growing up. I didn't want my truth to change how people felt about me, and sadly, I never gave any of them a chance.
 
I hated my secret when I was playing, even more when life took my partner, and leaving the game seemed like the only decision that made sense, the only one that could take the loneliness away. During my last season, my village was there, I should have reached out, but I blew it because I was scared.

What is inclusion? For me, it's simply how life is supposed to be. It means raising our children to be leaders instead of bullies. It means embracing fairness and equality in every stadium, every front office, through every turnstile, every seat, and every line waiting for a hot dog. It's holding your child's hand as they watch in amazement at a 95-mph fastball or a 450-foot home run. It's our players taking a picture or signing an autograph for a fan, regardless of where they come from, what language they speak or the structure of their family. It's excited, happy fans high-fiving the person to the left or right, with no regard to gender, color, religion, race or sexual orientation. We are one because of baseball.
 
On Tuesday night, I watched the story for the first time, and to say I was anxious going in is an understatement. I'm grateful to be alongside my colleagues at the Office of the Commissioner, whose support of my work has been incredible. I don't mind reliving my mistakes as long as our message of inclusion comes through loud and clear. 
 
Many people went way out of their way to help make this story happen. I wish I knew the best way to show my gratitude to all of them for generously sharing their time and stories with us. I've learned over the past 15 years, we don't always get to hear a "thank you' when we've helped someone.
 
So tonight, for every struggling kid we encourage to ask for help, for every spirit we lift, every leader we create. For all of them …
 
Thank you.

Billy Bean is Major League Baseball's ambassador for inclusion. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.