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Orioles rookie dies after workout

Heatstroke is the likely culprit in the death of pitcher Steve Bechler, 23.

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2003

Spring training, a time reserved for new beginnings and renewed hope, took a tragic turn Monday.

Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, a 23-year-old with three major-league appearances to his credit, died at Northridge Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale one day after becoming light-headed and dizzy during a conditioning drill.

"Steve was a tough guy; he was a competitor," Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove said. "I didn't know him that well, but I knew him well enough to know he loved the game and loved to compete."

Bechler was more than halfway through conditioning drills Sunday when witnesses said he began looking winded and pale. Trainers took him to the training room, administered fluids and summoned an ambulance.

"As he lay there," Hargrove said, "he got worse."

Initially diagnosed with heat exhaustion and dehydration, Bechler spent the night in the intensive care unit. With his pregnant wife, Kiley, by his side, he died at 10:10 a.m. Monday.

Orioles team physician William Goldiner said doctors who treated the player believe he died of "multiorgan failure due to heatstroke."

"He would rebound at times," Goldiner said. "They thought they were getting ahead of it, and then another organ system would fail."

An autopsy will help determine whether Bechler had been taking the dietary supplement ephedrine, which has been linked to heatstroke and heart attacks.

Broward County medical examiner Joshua Perper acknowledged a published report that a bottle of a supplement containing ephedrine was found in Bechler's locker.

A third-round pick in the 1998 draft, the 6-foot-2, 239-pound Bechler spent most of last season with Triple-A Rochester of the International League. The Oregon native made his major-league debut against the Angels on Sept. 6, three days after the Orioles recalled him, and was 0-0 with a 13.50 ERA.

Orioles players were notified of the development shortly after Bechler died. Practices were canceled.

"They told us about the situation and everybody was in shock," pitcher Rodrigo Lopez said.

Bechler's death evokes memories of former Minnesota Vikings player Korey Stringer.

The 335-pound NFL lineman lost consciousness after completing conditioning drills during training camp in 2001 and died from heatstroke. His body temperature was 108 degrees, same as Bechler's, according to Goldiner.

Stringer fell ill after working out in 90-degree temperatures. At the time Bechler was conditioning, the temperature in Fort Lauderdale was 81, with 74 percent humidity.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue ordered all 31 teams to review their rules on training and Stringer's wife filed a $100-million wrongful death lawsuit against the Vikings and the team doctors.

"This certainly opens your eyes," Rays head trainer Ken Crenshaw said of Bechler's death. "(The issue of heat exhaustion and dehydration) has been really prevalent since the death of Korey Stringer.

"There have been a lot of different papers, physician statements out, so the awareness is probably at an all-time high level."

Crenshaw said he advises players to hydrate themselves properly, replenish electrolytes and avoid alcohol, caffeine and supplements that dehydrate the body.

"You've got to take care of yourself on and off the field," said Rays pitcher Jason Standridge, who played with Bechler in the Arizona Fall League in 2001.

"That's the No. 1 thing, make sure that you're getting your rest and getting plenty of fluids in you and eating the proper meals. As long as you take care of yourself off the field and are able to come to the field and be able to perform to the best of your ability, then you're doing okay."

-- Information from the Associated Press and other news organizations was used in this report.

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