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NBA's Collins applauded across baseball

Veteran center announces he's gay in an article for Sports Illustrated

NBA center Jason Collins became the first active player in a major American team sport to announce that he's gay, detailing his story in a piece for Sports Illustrated on Monday.

The reaction across the baseball world was almost universal: Collins should be applauded for his courage in making such an announcement while he's still playing, for finally breaking a barrier in a sports culture that doesn't often encourage it.

"I'm happy for him. I can't imagine what it's like to live your whole professional life basically in secrecy," Reds right fielder Jay Bruce said. "I don't think anyone should let society pigeonhole them into thinking something is right or wrong. ... I'm happy he did it for himself. I am sure it's a pretty big weight lifted off of his shoulders now."

But Collins' words also prompted a question: Is Major League Baseball ready for an openly gay player?

The response from most was a resounding yes.

"Of course. Hopefully, this allows individuals to express themselves," Mets third baseman David Wright said. "I don't pass any judgment on anybody except for coming out here and playing on a team and playing winning baseball. If you can do that, a teammate's a teammate."

"I think it's great," added Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun. "For all of us as athletes, we should all be tolerant. Not only tolerant, but accepting. I think it's a great thing. I think everybody should be encouraged to be comfortable and confident in who they are, and I think hopefully it's the first step in the right direction for anybody that's going through some of the same things that he went through. It's definitely a step in a positive direction I think for all athletes, and hopefully for society in general."

Of course, Braun pointed out, it will be a challenge for whichever player becomes baseball's version of Collins. There will be a great deal of attention from the media. Yankees lefty CC Sabathia said it would be "tough" to "be the first guy," but he hoped it would be easier after Collins' announcement.

"I think anytime anything happens for the first time, it's a little bit of a shock no matter what it is in our world," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Anytime it happens for the first time, it's a little bit of a shock. I believe baseball will handle it well."

"I think you have to admire his courage for coming out," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. "I think people are much more tolerant than they were in the past and much more accepting. I can't speak for 25 men -- I haven't asked them. But I would assume that day's coming in baseball."

Some have wondered whether an openly gay player would be treated differently in a baseball clubhouse than in other locker rooms. While most players said Monday they would be fine with a gay teammate, baseball has often been considered, as Cleveland's Jason Giambi put it, "a good ol' boys game."

"That's probably been weighing on his soul for a long time. I'm happy that he's happy, because life's tough enough. If that's what makes him happy, I'm excited for it," Giambi said. "I definitely think times have changed, there's no doubt. There's a place for a gay baseball player, or an alternative lifestyle, however you want to put it. There's room. ... It's definitely changed. Society has changed. People have opened themselves up more to it."

"I absolutely think he'd be accepted," Royals right fielder Jeff Francoeur said. "I think it'd be a tough go. That just seems to be society's thing, especially in sports. It definitely would be interesting, for sure. But he'd definitely be accepted. I think if it were someone on our team, we'd treat him the same."

As many players and managers across baseball argued, a player's sexual orientation should never be a primary concern in the clubhouse or on the field. They're brought in to do a job and to entertain fans, which has everything to do with their ability as baseball players and little to do with their lives away from the ballpark.

"If I had a gay teammate, the only thing I'd worry about is can he hit, if he's a position player. Or does he get outs, if he's a pitcher. That's the only thing that matters to me," Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano said. "What somebody does in their own personal life is their business. It's not going to affect me. That's just how I feel about it."

Mets reliever LaTroy Hawkins echoed that sentiment. Hawkins said he read Collins' story twice and called it "phenomenal" for his way of thinking and his method of articulating his feelings in one article.

"Everybody knows somebody who's gay. If you can't deal with it in 2013, you need to go somewhere and hide in a cave," Hawkins said. "It's there. Whether you like it or not, it doesn't affect you. So why judge it?"

Only time will tell when Major League Baseball will see its first openly gay player make an announcement like the one Collins shared Monday, and only then will we know for sure how the baseball world will handle that situation. But people throughout baseball are confident that the sport is ready for that day.

"You know what? I think it comes down to common sense," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Be nice and be respectful of other people. That's kind of the most sensible answer."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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