The O’s became the 24th major league team to create an official event celebrating the LGBT community, even creating a ticket package that included a VIP pregame party and a special ball cap featuring a rainbow Oriole Bird logo.
If such an outreach would have been controversial not so long ago in a sport long known for its conservative tilt, the event was applauded from the clubhouse to the Center Field Roof Deck, where former major league player Billy Bean and former major league umpire Dale Scott stopped by to join the party.
“Include everybody,’’ said center fielder Adam Jones. “I think everybody has family members in that community and I think everybody’s family supports them, as I do in my family, so I support it.”
That was pretty much the idea, according to Orioles vice president of community relations and marketing Greg Bader.
“We had always worked with a group on a grassroots level to have a night out for the LGBT community,” Bader said, “but this is the first time we decided to do an official event — “Pride Night” during “Pride Month” — so we’re excited that we’re able to provide a forum to demonstrate that Oriole Park is open to everybody and we’re a welcoming environment. We want to make sure fans throughout our diverse fan base feel welcome at the ballpark.”
Bean, who came out as gay four years after ending his playing career in 1995, now serves as Major League Baseball’s Ambassador for Inclusion. He travels throughout the league supporting teams who want to expand the diversity of their fan bases and also speaking to teams about the importance of understanding the impact their words and actions — both positive and negative — have on their communities.
“These nights are interesting,’’ Bean said. “Obviously, people connect me to them, but it’s not an initiative that comes out of the Commissioner’s Office. It’s a club choice, for sure, and if I’m invited I will come if my schedule allows to support it because it is an amazing example of progress.”
He visited the Orioles spring training clubhouse two years ago at the invitation of the team to deliver the message that players “have an opportunity to be an ambassador for their sport — good or bad.”
“I’m trying to change the culture, first by protecting their interests and making them understand how important the things they say or do are to their fans,’’ he said. “Because baseball is going to live with or without any player, and I don’t want to see a player judged by one moment.”
Scott came out in 2014 while he was still an active umpire. He said that events like the Orioles’ LGBT are important for the obvious goal of greater inclusion, but also to illustrate the progress that has been made in recognizing that everybody matters.
“We’ve made a lot of strides,” Scott said. “I started umpiring in 1986. I would have never dreamed that I would be doing this or be at a Pride parade on an MLB float. We’ve made a lot of steps. There are still things to do, but this is showing the community that this is inclusive. We want everybody to feel welcomed…to feel comfortable. Come to the ballpark and have some fun.”
The Orioles have made several new overtures to the fans this season. They instituted the “Kids Cheer Free” program that allowed any adult who buys a full-price upper deck seat to bring along two kids — 9 years old and under — for free. They’ve also staged a variety of theme nights similar to Wednesday’s event.
Obviously, the O’s are hoping to generate more interest in the club after several years of declining attendance, but Bean said that’s only a secondary benefit.
“I would say that 90 percent of these people have been at an Orioles game before,” Bean said, “but they wanted to maybe share a little more of themselves today because they feel embraced or welcomed in a way they thought had not existed here.
“Around the league, whether teams have chosen to have a night like this, or see a few more positive examples that might make them want to, that’s where my job comes in. I want to continue to show them that it’s only going to broaden the interest in the club.”
Who can argue with that?
“I think it’s a great idea,’’ said manager Buck Showalter. “I’m proud that we’re doing it.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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