- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler was hospitalized for heat exhaustion yesterday after running sprints in practice and remained in doctors' care for tests last night.
A team source said Bechler, 23, had a bottle of a supplement in his locker that contained ephedrine, a stimulant found in some dietary supplements designed to minimize fatigue, control weight and enhance performance. Major League Baseball has no ban on ephedrine, which has been linked to the deaths of several athletes in recent years.
Two sources also confirmed that after Bechler became ill, a member of the team staff took a bottle, believed to contain the supplement with ephedrine, out of Bechler's locker and threw it in the trash.
Michael Bechler, brother of Steve Bechler, said doctors told the family Bechler was in serious condition for a brief time and on a respirator, but his condition stabilized.
The Orioles did not release a statement last night regarding Bechler's condition. Players and team officials said they believed yesterday's incident was the result of Bechler being in poor physical shape for spring training.
In the 2001 deaths of two college football players, Northwestern's Rashidi Wheeler and Florida State's Devaughn Darling, autopsies revealed ephedrine in each of their systems, though the drug was not believed to have been a primary factor in the deaths. Wheeler's cause of death was listed as an asthma attack and Darling's cardiac arrhythmia.
Toxicology tests did not show ephedrine present in the bloodstream of Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer after he died Aug. 1, 2001, from complications of heat stroke, but bottles of several supplements containing the substance were found in Stringer's locker. Soon after Stringer's death, the NFL banned ephedrine and now tests for the substance. The league suspends players four games for their first positive test the same as testing positive for steroids.
Ephedrine, or another derivative of the herb ephedra, is an over-the counter stimulant that is also present in cold medicines and other medications. It can also be purchased in pill form as an energy booster.
At approximately 11:30 a.m. yesterday, Bechler, who was listed at 6-foot-2, 239 pounds last season, was about halfway through the pitchers' daily running regimen on an auxiliary field adjacent to Fort Lauderdale Stadium. According to manager Mike Hargrove, team staff pulled Bechler out of the group because he did not look well.
"We noticed he was a little white-faced and leaning up against the fence between reps, which is not unusual when guys get tired," Hargrove said. "I had [assistant trainer] Brian Ebel go over and check him and Steve sat down and I said 'Let's get him out of [the drill].' We called for some Powerade to be brought out to him, got him on the cart and brought him in and called the paramedics."
Soon after Bechler stopped running. A source said Bechler could be seen having convulsions, though Hargrove said he did not see Bechler have convulsions.
Bechler, who pitched most of last season at Class AAA Rochester before pitching three games for Baltimore, was brought into the clubhouse about 11:35 and was laid on his back on a training table breathing heavily and had his blood pressure taken and was given fluids by Orioles staff. Within minutes, Hargrove and more people entered the training room concerned as Bechler's condition did not appear to improve.
Shortly before noon an ambulance with emergency medical staff was on the scene. Bechler was taken out of the clubhouse on a stretcher, while receiving oxygen and fluids, and away in an ambulance to North Ridge Medical Center, accompanied by Ebel, at approximately 12:10 p.m.
Michael Bechler said there is some history of heart problems in the family but that the family was told yesterday by doctors it likely did not contribute to Bechler's problems. Michael Bechler said his brother had suffered from asthma and pollen allergies into his teens but has not had asthma-related problems in the last five or six years.
Orioles officials did not know if Bechler was taking any medication.
The incident shook up the Orioles players and staff. Several players said it became very hot in the midday sun, and the breeze that stirred the air in the area yesterday was close to nonexistent where the players were running. They claim it became difficult to catch their breath. The auxiliary field, adjacent to the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, is surrounded by a fence and high bushes which shield the field from the breeze.
The National Weather Service listed the temperature at 79 degrees at 11 a.m. yesterday with relative humidity in the vicinity of 80 percent.
The team conducted yesterday's workout with 12-minute stations in which players performed different drills and threw off a mound. Water coolers were positioned near the fields and players could go and get water after each station. The only serious running pitchers had to do yesterday was at the end of the workout, when Bechler became ill.
Hargrove said Bechler, after completing the running workout on Friday, was taken out of the same drill on Saturday for disciplinary reasons. Yesterday, Orioles staff didn't hesitate to stop him during the running work again.
"He did not say 'I can't do it,'" Hargrove said. "It was apparent he couldn't."
Hargrove said Bechler came to camp weighing more than he did at the end of last season and his physical shape was "not good." Another member of the Orioles staff confirmed that Bechler was not in good physical shape and had little participation in the club's offseason workout program in Baltimore.
"Twenty-five years ago, guys came to camp and get in shape," Hargrove said. "And it's not the game anymore. You come into camp in shape, or you're behind. But the conditioning we're doing is nothing out of the ordinary. It gets them in shape."
Since the Stringer incident, Hargrove said, "You try to be more aware of it. I feel like we have very competent medical people and they were on top of it from the get-go. So I don't see how anything could have been done differently to keep that from happening."

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