Going the Other Way: Lessons from a Life In and Out of Major-League Baseball by Billy Bean, with Chris Bull (Marlowe & Co.) Reading at Powell’s on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne, Thursday, 7:30 pm
W hen he played for the San Diego Padres, the Detroit Tigers, and the LA Dodgers, Billy Bean was a solid fielder and pinch hitter, but his plays were rarely spectacular. What made Bean stand out in the big leagues happened four years after he retired from the game, when he came out as one of the few openly gay former professional athletes.

Bean's autobiography, Going the Other Way, is, understandably, built on that hook. Ballplayers as solid as Bean are hardly in short supply; it's doubtful that Going the Other Way would have been published--let alone written--if Bean hadn't the gay angle. And while it's not surprising that the later chapters deal almost exclusively with his sexuality, what is surprising is how well the rest of the book--which deals with his quick rise to the majors and his struggle to stay there--holds up.

"The reflexive connection between homophobia and athletics had been hard-wired into me," Bean writes, and it's a justified correlation--SportsCenter isn't quite a haven for open discussion or acceptance of sexual preferences. Indeed, it's that conflict that makes Bean's journey all the more involving. Oh, and also that it's undertaken with his "every move scrutinized by 40,000 screaming fans."

Aside from a few really lame clichés ("It's about realizing that while we may not all be alike, or come from the same place, we can survive and thrive as long as we learn to play together as a team"), Bean's style is clear and straightforward. Despite the fact that he spent his entire baseball career either in denial or hiding his sexuality, Bean is fearless with his descriptions of an intellectually and emotionally draining sport. Bean depicts baseball as being overwhelmingly mental, which on a professional level, makes his self-doubt his toughest opponent.

Bean notes that "With more than 750 big leaguers at any time, it's not difficult to imagine a dozen or so gay ballplayers." With an insanely competitive sport that's not ready to accept them, it's also not difficult to imagine why more aren't open about their sexuality. While Bean's book probably won't change that--what book could?--his candid psychological battles offer an insight into sports and human nature that's rarely available. ERIK HENRIKSEN