Billy Bean received a random text message during spring training for the 2015 baseball season from David Denson who said he plays baseball, though was a bit short on specifics, and was hoping Bean, the Major League Baseball Ambassador for Inclusion, would call him back.
They talked the next day and Bean sensed Denson was young. Denson said he played for the Milwaukee Brewers' organization and was curious if Bean was planning to talk to the team about LGBT inclusion, as he did during spring training for many teams.
Denson then, seeming out of nowhere, said, "You and me are the same," recalled Bean, who thought the confirmation that he is gay was "very candid."
Denson, 20, of African-American and Hispanic descent, had then just recently told his parents and they were slowly OK with it; his dad struggled with the coming-out the most.
Bean told Denson that he could reach out whenever he wanted to talk, whatever time of day, be it about baseball or life in general.
That started regular text messages between the two and weekly phone calls or so.
Soon, Denson told Bean that he wanted to come out publically, yet Bean advised him to take a few days to make certain he was readybecause once you do it, that's it, Bean said.
"[Coming out] was the best decision I made, but I did it after I quit playing," said Bean, who played for three major league teams from 1987-95 before retiring. "I also told him that the greatest regret of my life is that I quit playing when I still had time to play."
Denson was, er, is, just starting his professional baseball journey, a first baseman dreaming of major league stardom.
He attended Bishop Amat High School in La Puente, California, for his freshman year, then transferred as sophomore to South Hills High School in West Covina, Californiaand graduated in 2013. The Milwaukee Brewers selected him in the 15th round of the 2013 MLB Draft, and he played for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Class-A Midwest League for most of 2014.
He began the 2015 season with Wisconsin, but struggled at the plate and was demoted to the Helena Brewers of the Rookie-level Pioneer League. With Helena, though, Denson was selected to play in the league's all-star game, where he was honored as the MiLB.com Top Star.
"David is of a different generation and very comfortable with himself, but he was apprehensive as a baseball player; he just wanted to be judged for that," said Bean, who noted that Denson even had issues balancing social media posts with baseball and personal life matters.
While still playing for Wisconsin, Bean visited him, to simply watch him play, unbeknownst to the team or MLB. Bean even bought a ticket to that game with cash.
He took Denson to dinner after that game.
They laughed throughout the night and just had a good time, Bean said.
When Denson was demoted to Rookie League, "that's when I for sure thought that he'd wait until the fall or next season to consider coming-out.," Bean said.
But Denson "felt very comfortable with" the Helena team, Bean said.
And one night in July Bean got a text from Denson, but not one he expected.
Denson text Bean: "You won't believe what I just did."
He came out as gay to his team before a game.
"Someone said something to him joking around and he replied, 'You better be careful; you never know if there would be one in the room,'" who might be offended by the comment, Bean said.
Ultimately, Bean said that Denson "seemed a little relieved, very excited about" coming out. And nowafter the news that Denson is gay broke in mid-August, first in a story appearing in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinelhe is so happy, Bean said.
( Denson is not doing interviews for the time being, Windy City Times was told when requesting an interview with the baseball prospect. Bean, though, said he'd "be happy to introduce him when he's ready." )
Bean said that, over the past few months, Denson has asked him literally hundreds of questions. "He wants to be his best self and seems very certain [about coming out]," Bean said. "He has no hang ups about [coming out]. He just wants to go out there and [play the game]."
But now, and forever, the spotlight will shine on Denson. He is, after all, the first active player in affiliated professional baseball to reveal he is gay. Sean Conroy, a pitcher for the Sonoma Stompers of the independent Pacific Association, came out in June, becoming the first active pro baseball player to do so. Conroy's league is not affiliated with MLB.
Bean and Glenn Burke are the only two major-leaguers revealed they were gay, both coming out after retiring.
Former NBA player Jason Collins announced that he is gay after the 2013 season. Collins played 22 games for the Brooklyn Nets in 2014 before retiring. Collins was the first active player in one of the four major male team sports to reveal he is gay.
"It's a big story, and great that the Brewers and baseball overall are showing that they are supportive of a player. Whether or not David makes it to the big leagues, another player is still going to see this and hopefully see it as a positive," Bean said.
Denson, though, has a quite a long road to play in the major leagues. "He can't be much farther away than he is," Bean said. "He's got six [minor league] levels ahead of him. He's [now] playing a notch above college baseball, but not much more."
Still, "it's another milestone" for the LGBT sports movement, Bean said.
And should Denson make it to the majors, he then becomes, "one of the most important stories of the LGBT sports movement, ever," Bean said.
Denson's coming-out came days before one of the largest LGBT sports events of the yearthe annual Gay Softball World Series, run by the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance ( NAGAAA ), an event that dates back to 1977. The 2015 NAGAAA World Series, held in Columbus, Ohio, features more than 180 teams from across the U.S. and Canada, playing in four talent-based divisions, and fifth for players aged 50 and over.
The Chicago Menace, representing the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association ( CMSA ), are the city's lone team competing in the top tiered A-Division, running through Aug. 22. Kevin Ball, 37, who lives in Andersonville and is the president of In Grape Company, is the Menace pitcher. He has played CMSA softball for eight years and also has played CMSA volleyball, dodgeball and basketball.
Ball was a Division III baseball pitcher and was one of two selected, out of 1,200, at a Colorado Rockies tryout.
Ball is straight, married.
"I thought it was great," that Denson came out, Ball said. "What was more exciting than just that he came out was, that there seems to be some growth and acceptance [for gay athletes]."
Ball said that, 20 years ago, when he was pitching in college and then in his brief stint with the Rockies' organization, he never could have envisioned a player coming out. So, Denson's coming-out "means a lot," Ball said.