- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler died of heatstroke yesterday, one day after a spring training workout sent his body temperature soaring to 108 degrees.
Bechler's death is believed to be the first in baseball caused by heatstroke and is only the second on-field death in the history of Major League Baseball.
The death stunned Orioles players and staff.
"Everybody was in shock," pitcher Rodrigo Lopez said.
Said Joe Castellano, a radio play-by-play broadcaster for the Orioles' Class AAA affiliate last season: "He was one of my favorite players that I had ever been around. He had a great personality. He was everything that was good about baseball."
Team physician William Goldiner said that Bechler, 23, died of multiple-organ failure caused by heatstroke. Bechler was stricken Sunday morning while running sprints and taken to North Ridge Medical Center by emergency medical staff.
His condition worsened shortly after he reached the hospital. His body temperature reached 108 degrees, causing damage to his vital organs, Dr. Goldiner said. Bechler remained in critical condition early yesterday morning and died at 10:10 a.m. His wife, Kiley, who is due to deliver the couple's first child in April, was at his bedside. She and Bechler married last year.
An autopsy, performed by the Broward County medical examiner, will begin today. Results are expected to be announced within a few weeks.
An Orioles source said yesterday that Bechler recently had been taking a dietary supplement that contained ephedrine, a stimulant that reduces fatigue and increases the heart rate. The Washington Times first reported that Bechler possessed a bottle of the supplement in Monday's editions.
Ephedrine, a derivative of the herb ephedra, is banned by the National Football League, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the International Olympic Committee but not by Major League Baseball and other major sports organizations.
Ephedrine has been linked to the deaths of several football players in the last two years, including Minnesota Vikings tackle Korey Stringer, Northwestern University's Rashidi Wheeler and Florida State University's Devaughn Darling.
Other team sources said a bottle of supplements taken from Bechler's locker after he became ill, believed to have contained ephedrine, was not thrown away, as reported Sunday. Sources said the bottle was given to the paramedics who transported Bechler to the hospital. That account was corroborated by Broward County medical examiner Joshua Perper. Orioles officials said they were unaware of Bechler taking any supplements.
"Ephedrine is one of those drugs that is thought to interfere with the ability to get rid of heat," Goldiner said. "There are always factors. The clothing people wear is a factor. The condition a person is in is a factor. Do those things cause heatstroke? No. But anything that affects the ability to get rid of heat" can.
Team sources also made it clear the club does not provide any supplements to the players, a statement echoed by Goldiner.
"As far as we're concerned, ephedrine, obviously amphetamines, weight-loss drugs are never prescribed by us," he said. "They're never condoned by us, and our policy in the clubhouse has been for years it's a written policy that we do not allow any products that contain ephedrine."
Orioles officials said they are confident their medical staff did everything possible to treat Bechler after he was stricken. When he appeared ill during Sunday's workout, they said, he was given fluids and paramedics were called immediately. He also was treated by team staff in the training room before paramedics arrived.
According to numerous accounts, Bechler, who pitched in three games for the Orioles last season after spending much of the year in the minor leagues, reported to spring training heavier than he finished last season. He was listed at 6-2 and 239 pounds in last season's information guide.
Goldiner, who did not treat Bechler, said that other factors could have contributed to the pitcher's death. For one, he arrived in sunny South Florida from a cold climate the Baltimore area, where Bechler spent most of his off-season. A sudden change in climate can shock the body, Goldiner said.
The National Weather Service listed the temperature at 79 degrees at 11 a.m. Sunday with relative humidity at about 80 percent.
Goldiner declined to say if there was anything in Bechler's family history that could have contributed to his death. However, Bechler's brother, Michael Bechler, said Sunday that there was a history of heart problems in the family, although they were told that Bechler's condition was not heart-related.
Michael Bechler also said Sunday his brother suffered from asthma as a youth but had not had asthma-related problems for the last five or six years.
Kiley Bechler was driving east with her stepfather to the couple's home in Oregon when she received word from the Orioles suggesting she get a flight to Fort Lauderdale because of her husband's condition. Kiley arrived at the hospital about midnight, where she remained with Orioles vice president of baseball operations Mike Flanagan and some players and coaches until her husband died.
The Orioles halted workouts yesterday and canceled the rest of the day's schedule after receiving word of his death.
Bechler on Friday passed the standard physical examination required of pitchers and catchers as they report to spring training. Goldiner said Bechler did not tell any member of the medical or training staff that he was taking any supplements that included ephedrine.
Bechler struggled through Saturday's running drills and was pulled off the field. He struggled again Sunday, and manager Mike Hargrove told training staff to give Bechler some Powerade after he noticed the pitcher turn pale.
Bechler then was taken by motorized cart back to the clubhouse to be treated. He appeared very pale and unstable, and a member of the Orioles staff had to hold him steady in the seat.
Once in the clubhouse, Bechler had his blood pressure taken and was given more fluids. However, his condition deteriorated. Paramedics arrived shortly before noon and worked on Bechler for about 15 minutes, then took him to the hospital.
Goldiner said there seemed to be little in Bechler's medical history that would have contributed to his death.
"I can only say I don't think anything in Steve's past history related to this terrible event, at least in a direct way," Goldiner said. "Or even in an indirect way."
Associated Press contributed to this report.

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