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No strikeout -- 2003 Miami Herald profile of Billy Bean

Sad news reported by Miami Herald columnist Joan Fleischman that Billy Bean has broken up with his longtime partner, Efrain Veiga. Here's the profile of Bean that I wrote in 2003 at the time his book, Going the Other Way, was published:

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

bigFront At last, Billy Bean feels comfortable with his teammates.

Every Sunday morning, the San Diego Padres outfielder who quit pro baseball and came out of the closet, hits the basketball courts at Nautilus Middle School in Miami Beach.

Bean's basketball buddies say it's no big deal that he's gay. "About half the people here know - the other half wouldn't care, " said teammate Wayne Pathman, a Miami lawyer. "Billy's a great guy."

Bean, who turns 39 on May 11, won't be playing with the rest of the guys for a month or so. He's off on a cross-country tour plugging his just-published autobiography, Going the Other Way: Lessons from a Life In and Out of Major-League Baseball.

"This is my life story, " said Bean, who since 1996 has lived in South Florida with partner Efraín Veiga, a restaurateur-turned-developer. "I didn't write the book for the gay and lesbian community. I wrote it for our friends and our family and the people we work with."

Much has been reported about Bean's life since he tentatively stepped out of the closet in July 1999 during an interview with Herald columnist Lydia Martin.

Within weeks, Bean's story appeared on the front page of The New York Times.

Diane Sawyer profiled Bean on ABC-TV's 20/20. Today, Sawyer again interviews Bean live on Good Morning, America.

Then Bean travels alone from city to city across the United States, promoting the book he co-wrote with Advocate reporter Chris Bull. "I am gambling on my ability to tell a story, " Bean said.

The autobiography is frank at times in describing Bean's transformation from married ballplayer to gay icon.

In the book, Bean refers to one episode as "a scene from a tacky porn flick, " as he is seduced by a man in a fitness-club shower room - while Bean's wife of four years waits for him outside.

NO COP-OUT

Bean, who describes himself as "maniacally organized, " said it would have "been a cop-out" to describe the sex scene less graphically.

"That was an unbelievably freaky moment for me, " recalled Bean, who at the time was just coming to terms with being gay. "My wife was on the other side of the wall. I needed to give the reader some kind of sense of that."

Soon after the shower-room encounter, Bean divorced his wife, not telling her the real reason why: He had fallen in love with "Sam, " the man from the fitness club.

"I told her I wasn't in love anymore and confused, " Bean said. "That is not easy for a girl or woman to digest. She needed more concrete reasons. She said, 'People don't leave unless you have somebody else.' That was the truth, but I couldn't tell her."

Bean secretly moved in with Sam. "We were monogamous, and though we'd never spoken about HIV, it was clear that the last thing either of us desired was a latex barrier, " Bean writes in the book.

Two years into their relationship, Sam became ill and learned he was HIV-positive. Bean tested negative.

Sam suddenly collapsed on April 23, 1995. Bean rushed him to a hospital, where Sam died early the next day of AIDS-related complications. After spending the entire night with Sam in the emergency room, Bean went directly to the ballpark.

He played baseball that day as if nothing had happened.

Bean quit the Padres the following year, after he came to Florida on vacation and met Veiga, then the owner of Yuca restaurant.

The ex-baseball pro moved in with Veiga and joined him in the restaurant business. They sold Yuca and opened Mayya on Lincoln Road. The new restaurant quickly failed. The couple lost everything, including their Coral Gables home, and had to start over.

Today, Bean and Veiga, 51, live in Miami Beach. They redevelop and sell expensive real estate.

Much of Bean's story could be seen as tragic. He refuses to look at it that way.

"It's not that bad things happened to Billy Bean, " he said. "It's the choices I made I regret the most."

* First bad choice: "To not talk to my mother for 10 years about anything important, " rather than confide in her that he is gay.

* Second bad choice: Getting married to a naive young woman who had no idea Bean was struggling with his sexuality.

* Third bad choice: Not going to his lover's funeral because he feared people would find out about their relationship.

* Fourth bad choice: "To walk away from baseball" in 1996.

Bean probably had little choice. Homophobia is still rampant in professional sports.

"It would be very hard for someone in the sporting arena to come out, " said Archi Cianfrocco, a former Padre who was Bean's roommate and best friend on the team. "It might never change."

THE SECRET

For years, Cianfrocco didn't know Bean was gay. "I don't think it would have made a difference because of the person he was. I hope I wouldn't have reacted any different. We had a good friendship. Looking back, I wish he could have told me because he went through a lot. I could have been a friend he could lean on."

Cianfrocco, a utility infielder who retired in 1998 at age 32, said that if Bean had come out while still on the team a lot of people would have stood by him.

"But the majority wouldn't."

Former minor-league umpire Tyler Hoffman said he could relate to every chapter of Bean's book.

"When he went back to play after the death of his partner, that totally epitomized the arena of professional sports, " Hoffman said.

Hoffman, 27, quit pro baseball after a few seasons. He now is a member of the Gay & Lesbian Professional Athletes Association. At age 19, he realized he was gay and came out to just a few close friends.

"I probably only did it half-assed at the time, even to myself. I knew I was going to start the baseball career and it wouldn't mesh. It came back to the role-model thing. I had nothing to relate to. All the stereotypes didn't add up to who I was, which made it more confusing."

NO EASY DECISION

Like Bean and Hoffman, most gay professional athletes come out after they leave the business. Alissa Wykes, a fullback for the Philadelphia Liberty Belles, is an exception. Still an active player, she spoke of being a lesbian in a December 2001 Sports Illustrated interview.

"Nervous? Oh yeah, I was very nervous, " said Wykes, 35, whose partner Karen Ericsson also plays on the Independent Women's Football League team. "When I saw it in print, I thought, 'Oh God.' It wasn't easy."

Wykes said she's glad to be out. "It's had an impact on young people's lives. One young man came up to me at the [gay] pride parade with two young women. They said, if I could do it, they could do it."

Bean also is proud that young gay people look up to him.

"I'm a living example of living an open and honest life, " Bean said. "I'm a role model for a lot of kids and I feel a lot of responsibility for that. I would have loved to have read this when I was 19 years old. It would have changed my life."

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