- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2003

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. As tough as it undoubtedly was, Baltimore Orioles players trudged onto the Fort Lauderdale Stadium field yesterday morning, their heads bowed and their hearts heavy as they tried to carry on while mourning a lost teammate and friend, Steven Scott Bechler.
After holding a team meeting in the clubhouse and executive vice president of baseball operations Jim Beattie and manager Mike Hargrove spoke to the players, the Orioles decided to go on with yesterday's workout, their first time on the field since Bechler died Monday morning.
It was very difficult, but some players said they were relieved to get back to a familiar routine in such a tragic time.
"I haven't slept in the last two days because I've just been sitting in my room rehashing back all the times I've had with [Bechler] and it's just been real hard," said pitcher Matt Riley, who rose through the minors with Bechler and considered him a good friend. "And getting back on the field has been the best thing for me and all of us."
After the workout, as players and coaches found it easier to speak the day after Bechler died, details emerged from the circumstances that surrounded Bechler falling ill on Sunday morning during a pitchers' running drill.
After struggling during running workouts on Saturday and getting pulled from the drill for "disciplinary reasons," Bechler had redoubled his efforts. "He was really aware of it [Sunday] because he wasn't able to finish his running the day before and he was really distraught," Riley said. "I spoke with him, told him to keep his head up and keep working. He said, 'I messed up and just want to change.' He was just so ready to change and that's what's so hard, that he was ready to make the necessary changes he needed to make."
Bechler entered camp 10 pounds over last season's playing weight and Hargrove said his condition was "not good." Bechler participated in few optional winter workouts with his teammates although he lived with teammate Larry Bigbie in Laurel. Bigbie, who drove down to spring training with Bechler, said the workouts were held three days a week and every day for the last two weeks before spring training, though pitchers' workouts varied.
The Orioles strongly discouraged the use of ephedra and test for it in their minor-league system, and positive tests are met with punishment. Players are briefed on the dangers of the drug and other information is available to players on ephedrine and other drugs. The club's message, according to Hargrove: "That this stuff is not good for you." However, the club's hands are tied in some respects, as ephedrine is not banned in major league baseball and it is a legal substance. "I can't tell somebody not to take something that is legal," said Orioles team physician Dr. William Goldiner. "I simply … I can advise him not to take it, to the dangers of taking it, I can educate him. I can't stop him from taking it."
He had struggled with his weight since he signed with the Orioles in 1998, said Andy Etchebarren, current roving catching instructor and Bechler's manager at multiple levels of the minor leagues, including last season at Rochester. "There are always guys with weight problems, and there are those guys who have to do a little more … he had a problem," Etchebarren said. "He could get out of shape real easy if he didn't pay attention to it.
It's a sad thing because it didn't have to happen because it was avoidable if he just came in in shape."
Broward County medical examiner Dr. Joshua Perper and Orioles officials stated in looking back, everything possible was done to get Bechler the treatment he needed, from the timeliness in which Hargrove, coaches and training staff reacted to Bechler becoming ill to calling 911 to getting him to the hospital. "There were no cracks in the system," said Orioles vice president of baseball operations Mike Flanagan, who spent most of the past few days with the Bechler family. "We're proud of our people."
To help players and staff cope with the situation, the Orioles had counselors on hand from Baseball Chapel, a nondenominational group that holds services for players, and the Employee Assistance Program from the University of Maryland Medical System.
Orioles officials said funeral plans have not been finalized, nor has a service in South Florida to honor Bechler, as officials still must confer with the Bechler family. Other types of commemorations, like a patch or logo to be placed on uniforms, are still being considered.
Patch or not, Bechler's memory will remain in Riley's mind this season, and for a long time after that.
"[Bechlers death] has motivated me even more," Riley said. "… Now I'm doing this for me and Steve. And this season I'm definitely dedicating to Steve and every time I go on field, I'm doing it for Steve."


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