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Arizona Fall League

AFL celebrates inclusion with first Pride Night

Local LGBTQ+ community members welcomed to Salt River Fields
MLB.com @JesseSanchezMLB

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Scenic Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the Spring Training home of the Arizona D-backs and Colorado Rockies, with its majestic views of five mountain ranges and lush green landscapes, served as the perfect setting for one of the most important and unforgettable evenings in the history of the Arizona Fall League.

The AFL's first Pride Night on Wednesday was a celebration of the sport, acceptance and inclusion. The game pit the Peoria Javelinas against the Salt River Rafters, but it's what happened before the first pitch that will be remembered the most.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Scenic Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the Spring Training home of the Arizona D-backs and Colorado Rockies, with its majestic views of five mountain ranges and lush green landscapes, served as the perfect setting for one of the most important and unforgettable evenings in the history of the Arizona Fall League.

The AFL's first Pride Night on Wednesday was a celebration of the sport, acceptance and inclusion. The game pit the Peoria Javelinas against the Salt River Rafters, but it's what happened before the first pitch that will be remembered the most.

"Today is a perfect example that the continued growth is moving down into the Minor Leagues," said Billy Bean, MLB's vice president and special assistant to the Commissioner. "Three of four of these players will play in the Major Leagues, and they have an opportunity to be exposed to something that I wasn't exposed to as a player. Whether or not that's part of a player's life is not as important as having the opportunity to know the general message of acceptance and inclusion that their employer stands for and that their league stands for."

The Phoenix Pride logo was displayed on the video board above the berm in left field during pregame, and the event began in earnest with the showing of the video that detailed the lifelong friendship between Bean and D-backs manager Torey Lovullo.

With the Phoenix Metropolitan Men's Chorus positioned near the first-base dugout, Beane told his story and addressed Major League Baseball's policies of inclusion and equality. Members of the Phoenix Pride organization then welcomed the local LGBTQ+ community and honored D-backs representative Noel Guevara, who organized the D-backs' Pride Night last summer, and Bean, who was appointed the league's first Ambassador for Inclusion in 2014, for their efforts.

"This is something I have always dreamed of and to see it come to fruition has really been a dream come true for me," Guevara said. "The entire D-backs organization has been very supportive."

Following the presentation, the choir sang the national anthem and Guevara threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Bean to conclude the pregame festivities. During the game, a Phoenix Pride video was shown to promote local LGBTQ+ community activities.

"We felt this would be a good first step for us with Phoenix Pride to hopefully start an annual night," said Steve Cobb, director of the Arizona Fall League. "The message is that everyone is welcome here, and I really believe that is what baseball is saying. Having a diverse fanbase includes having the LGBTQ community, and we want everyone to know they are welcome in Major League Baseball, the Arizona Fall League and all with all 30 shareholders. The time has come. We've been sitting on the sidelines. It was time to do this."

In June, Major League Baseball made history by participating in the 49th annual Pride March in New York for the first time. By the middle of next summer, all 30 teams will have expanded their efforts for equality and inclusion.

"With consistent and positive messaging, we have a chance to forever change the culture in baseball and all sports and on the playground, and in middle school from what it was when I was a little boy," Bean said.

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.