WASHINGTON -- When Billy Bean looked out to center field to check the breeze at Nationals Park, he saw a rainbow flag flying underneath the American flag. It was a striking image that he could have hardly imagined during his playing days, which he ended prematurely after choosing to retire rather than continue to play the game professionally while hiding his sexual orientation.
But Bean stood here on Tuesday night as Major League Baseball's vice president of social responsibility & inclusion to help the Nationals celebrate their 12th annual Night OUT event. It's one of the largest LGBT events in professional sports, and this year was dedicated to the victims of the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning that left 49 dead and 53 wounded.
"In the past, it would have been easy to ignore something as horrific as what happened in Orlando," Bean said. "But it happened to all of us, and baseball understands that. And I think a moment to recognize the victims is a generous gesture from baseball, but I think it's important, and I think we need to do it.
"Baseball has an ability to bring people together. It might bring a moment of relief or happiness to watch a great game with some great superstars, and that's what I'm most hopeful for."
Bean allowed himself to wonder how it would have impacted him while he was a player if he had seen something similar to Tuesday night with members of the LGBT community participating in pregame ceremonies.
The Gay Men's Chorus of Washington D.C. performed a special rendition of Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors" and the national anthem. A rainbow flag was unfurled at the mound. Leslie Jordan, an Emmy-winning actor who appeared on "Will and Grace," threw out the first pitch. Bishop Gene Robinson delivered the lineup card, and U.S. Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema made the play ball announcement. A spirit award was presented to Kevin Minoli and Nancy Bates of "Team Mona," which was created in honor of Nancy's wife, Mona Alcazar, who passed away in February.
Bean said if he had seen an image like this earlier in his life, it would have almost certainly encouraged him to reach out to someone, whether it be his roommate Brad Ausmus or Trevor Hoffman or even his own parents, and let them know how he was feeling.
"I might not have been able to talk in front of a microphone at the time, but I would have been a much healthier young man," Bean said. "I think that the takeaway from a day like this -- and what it means to me -- is that we are giving a resource that's going to allow people to feel better about themselves or an image that they can see that they can relate to."
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.