- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. Losing teammate Steve Bechler has made training camp a trying experience for everyone in the Baltimore Orioles organization. A deep sense of loss is mixed with fond memories of the young pitcher.

Outfielder Gary Matthews has been through a similar situation. Mike Darr, a former teammate of Matthews' in the San Diego Padres system, died one year and two days before Bechler in a Phoenix car crash. Matthews had known Darr since 1995 and played with him for two years in the minors.

Matthews, who was traded to the Orioles by the New York Mets last April, spoke briefly about the experience Wednesday, but when approached yesterday, he said he didn't want to revisit a very difficult time.

"I talked about [Darr] last year," Matthews said. "I'm trying to leave it in the past."

On Wednesday, Matthews said, "I looked around [the Orioles clubhouse], and I think we're doing all right. It was really important to get back out on the field for the team just so players aren't isolated you're out on the field and doing something together. It keeps guys together and talking to each other. It doesn't make it easier, but it lightens the load a little bit."

In a related matter, baseball commissioner Bud Selig yesterday called for new talks with the players union to ban ephedra, the nutritional supplement that might have contributed to Bechler's death Monday.

Though ephedra is banned by the NFL, the NCAA and the International Olympic Committee, use of the substance, which is available without prescription, is allowed in baseball.

During labor bargaining last summer, owners talked about banning it, but they did not include a ban in their proposal after the union told management lawyers that it would not agree to it.

Rep. Henry Waxman, California Democrat and ranking member of the House Committee on Government Reform, sent letters to the heads of the NBA and NHL and baseball players union head Donald Fehr asking why they have not acted to ban ephedra. Waxman sent a similar letter to Selig on Thursday.

The healing process in the Orioles camp continued yesterday, when all players and coaches took the field wearing small black patches with an orange "51" Bechler's uniform number on the right arms of their practice jerseys.

The club also has made space on the outfield wall amid the advertisements for a tribute to Bechler an orange rectangular panel with a "51" in the next day or two. Plans are in the works but have not been finalized to honor Bechler at Camden Yards during the regular season and possibly on the club's uniforms.

The mood of the team continued to improve. There was a little more chatter during infield practice and a few more laughs. B.J. Surhoff drew smiles and snickers after practice when he donned a sweater vest over his bare chest and strolled around the clubhouse.

"We've been ready to focus and move on since the memorial service [Wednesday]," manager Mike Hargrove said. "[The energy] is not going to go from low to high; it's a gradual process. I liked the energy of the workout. And there was some laughter you heard from the guys that hasn't been here in the last four or five days."

Bechler's widow, Kiley, has remained in South Florida to "tie up some loose ends," according to an Orioles official, and attended practice yesterday. She also wants to stay to see her husband's number placed on the outfield wall and to participate in the Orioles' annual charity breakfast Sunday at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. The event will include an autograph session and an auction.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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