- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. The Baltimore Orioles desperately need a change of scenery and the chance to escape the drudgery of spring training drills. Today's exhibition opener in Jupiter against the Florida Marlins will provide them the opportunity to do both.
Coping with the death of pitching prospect Steve Bechler has made this a difficult spring for the Orioles, and they hope that facing outside competition will provide another step in the healing process.
"The games start tomorrow, and maybe we can move on," pitcher Sidney Ponson said yesterday. "Hopefully, things turn around OK."
Bechler died Feb.17 of heatstroke, one day after collapsing during a workout at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. His death has had a profound effect on the Orioles and their fans in Florida.
A table at the stadium entrance yesterday had two 8x10 pictures of Bechler and two books for fans to sign. One was positioned in front of a sign that read, "Condolence Book for the Bechler Family." The other book enabled fans to express their sympathy to Bechler's widow, Kiley.
Dozens of fans attending a squad game took time to write in the books.
On the right-field wall is a sign with Bechler's No.51, and the players are wearing the number in a small circle on their sleeves.
"These last few days, your mind was blocked out until you look out there in right field and see the number up there," bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks said. "It's tough to get it out of your mind. Not that you want to do it anytime soon, because you're talking about someone in the organization who was like family to us."
But the Orioles, coming off a fifth straight losing season, must get ready for Opening Day.
"I don't want to say we've moved on, because that kind of says we got over it quickly. But everybody has been able to put it in a good place right now," Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove said. "Sometimes that's a long process, sometimes it's not a long process. So far, it's good."
Hargrove was manager of the Cleveland Indians in March 1993, when a boating accident killed two of his pitchers, Tim Crews and Steve Olin. Ten years later, he again faces the task of pulling together a team in the wake of tragedy.
Baltimore outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. was a friend of San Diego Padres prospect Mike Darr, who died in automobile accident last year.
"These are the things you go through in everyday life. It's different to deal with it in a baseball family," Matthews said. "It's something you come to grips with, and deal with accordingly."
Ponson will pitch against the Marlins today, and veteran Pat Hentgen will get his shot tomorrow when the Orioles play host to the Marlins.
"Obviously, it's unfortunate what happened, but we're professionals so you go about your business in a professional manner," Hentgen said. "That means that you go back to work, just like everybody does in this world. We just count our blessings and wish for the best for Kiley."

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