Oakland wellness clinic honors MLB's 1st openly gay player

 Twenty-five years after his death, Major League Baseball's first openly gay player Glenn Burke, is being honored with the opening of a new clinic in Oakland that bears his name.

The Oakland LGBTQ Community Center launched the new Glenn Burke Wellness Clinic on Wednesday by providing free community health screenings at its 3207 Lakeshore location near Lake Merritt.

The center's executive director Joe Hawkins says he and co-founder Jeff Meyers were touched and inspired by Glenn Burke's story after seeing a documentary about his life.

"He was unapologetically gay in Major League Baseball when that is not something that you do," said Hawkins.  

Glenn Burke was an Oakland native who became a star athlete in basketball and baseball at Berkeley High School before getting drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1972. He played for the Dodgers and then for the Oakland A's in the 1970s.

"He was even offered money to marry a woman, which he declined," said Hawkins, "He was blackballed from the game that he loved, and he never recovered from that."

Burke left baseball and died of HIV/AIDS in 1995. His career was short, but his legacy was long-lasting.

"I grew up in Los Angeles and I remember Glenn playing," said Billy Bean, MLB Vice-President and Ambassador for Inclusion, "I was a huge Dodgers fan and I remember him playing in the World Series against the Yankees."

Bean never met Burke but shares a strong connection. Bean announced he was gay in 1999, becoming only the second MLB player to come out in its 150-year history.

Bean says he remembers hearing about Burke's story.

"It just was such a gut punch because I was hiding a secret and I truly thought because I'm a product of baseball that there could never have been another gay baseball player," said Bean.

In Burke's story, Bean saw his own pain trying to succeed in professional baseball.

"I lost a partner to HIV, my first partner while I was on the San Diego Padres," said Bean.

With 2020 marking the 25th anniversary of Burke's passing, Bean recorded an open letter to Burke on video.

In the letter, Bean credits Burke as a pioneer, "I wish I could sit down with you and tell you about all the ways that baseball has changed for the better. And how we never would have never arrived at where we are without you."

The Glenn Burke Clinic was blessed by both Major League Baseball and Burke's family. A photo shows his sister Paula presenting a plaque made of baseball bats to Hawkins and the clinic.

The clinic plans to offer full-service sexual health screenings in partnership with LifeLong Medical and care three days per week when it fully opens in January 2021.

Hawkins hopes this a place bearing Burke's name, which hopes to give Oaklanders a home base to heal.

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at jana.katsuyama@foxtv.com and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or ktvu.com.