- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. The Baltimore Orioles pitchers and catchers had just begun their stations work yesterday morning at Fort Lauderdale Stadium in day four of spring training. They were broken up into groups, as they always are.
Group 1 was on Field 1, working on pickoff drills. Rodrigo Lopez and Travis Driskill and Sidney Ponson and Rick Bauer and about six others were there. One member of Group 1 was missing.
Steve Bechler was supposed to be there, working on his pickoff move. Instead, he was at North Ridge Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, fighting for his life.
Group 1 never got a chance to finish its drills yesterday. At 10:27 a.m., Group 1, along with the two other groups of pitchers and catchers, was called off the field and into the clubhouse. There they learned that the missing member of Group 1 would never join them again for a pickoff drill or a bunt play or any of the monotonous work that fills the time during the seemingly benign period of baseball known as spring training.
About 15 minutes earlier, Steve Bechler had died.
There is no drill to cope with the death of a 23-year-old teammate.
"Everybody was in shock," Lopez said.
Spring training will never be the same again for any of the men, both young and old, wearing an Orioles uniform. Time may make the memory less painful, but they will never forget the time when a young man collapsed on a baseball field and was dead less than 24 hours later.
Every spring they will remember, because baseball players don't die young, don't die in spring training and don't die right before their eyes something Bechler, unbeknownst to everyone, was starting to do when he collapsed during workouts on Sunday and had to be taken to the hospital.
Orioles manager Mike Hargrove didn't need any new tragic spring training memories. He still has the old ones from 10 years ago, when he had to keep a team together after a fatal boating accident took the life of Cleveland Indians pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews and nearly killed Bobby Ojeda. No one should have to lead a team through two such tragedies in their career.
"I don't think there's a formula for [dealing with this sort of tragedy]," Hargrove said. "Every situation is different. You hope that that is the only time you have to do this and unfortunately it's not. You trust the Lord to guide things in what you do with a lot of time and prayers. You do what your heart tells you is the right thing to do."
Major League Baseball won't forget Bechler anytime soon. The Washington Times reported yesterday that Bechler had a bottle in his locker that contained ephedrine, which is used to control weight, minimize fatigue and stimulate performance. It also is considered a dangerous substance that has been connected to heatstroke and heart problems. Yesterday, Broward County medical examiner Dr. Joshua Perper confirmed the report.
Bechler likely will become the sport's Korey Stringer, the Minnesota Vikings lineman whose death in August 2001 sent shock waves through the NFL. Stringer died from complications of heatstroke, but bottles of supplements containing ephedrine were found in his locker. An autopsy didn't reveal any ephedrine in Stringer's bloodstream. Nevertheless, the NFL banned it shortly after Stringer's death and now tests its players for the substance.
Let's see if the Players Association, which had to be shamed into agreeing to limited steroid testing, will step up now to protect its members instead of using Steve Bechler as a bargaining chip down the road somewhere.
Preliminary indications are that Bechler, who was just married in October and whose wife Kiley is expecting their first child, died of multi-organ failure due to heatstroke, according to team doctor William Goldiner. It may be several weeks before the medical examiner determines an official cause of death. Bechler struggled with weight and conditioning issues and was clearly laboring in workouts from the first day of camp on Friday.
Steve Bechler will have a huge impact on baseball, and it won't be because of his accomplishments on the field. He was hardly a top prospect, with a career record of 35-48 in five minor league seasons and a 3.82 career ERA. He made three relief appearances at Camden Yards last year after September callups.
A young man died on baseball's watch, and what happens now to prevent another one from dying? Will the drills of spring training now include testing for dangerous substances or just putting flags at half staff, like the one in center field yesterday at Fort Lauderdale Stadium?

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