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Death leaves Rays shaken

By KEVIN KELLY and MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 19, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG -- Steve Bechler couldn't wait to become a father, to have a child of his own romping throughout a clubhouse like Leslie Brea's son had done last year at Triple-A Rochester.

That was what came to mind Monday when Brea, a pitcher in the Devil Rays' camp, learned his former teammate died from heatstroke.

"I didn't sleep at all last night," Brea said Tuesday. "I still can't believe it."

He wasn't the only one in the Rays clubhouse affected by the 23-year-old Baltimore pitcher's death, which led to Tampa Bay coaches and trainers addressing the team about proper hydration and supplement use before Tuesday's workout.

Pitcher Hans Smith, who attended the same Oregon high school as Bechler's wife, played American Legion ball and golf with Bechler on occasion during the offseason.

"He was a pretty laid-back guy off the field and a pretty good competitor on the field," Smith said. "Something like this never really crosses your mind. It's very hard to believe."

Bechler became light-headed while completing his conditioning drills Sunday at Orioles spring training in Fort Lauderdale and later died from multiorgan failure. His wife, Kiley, is seven months pregnant and was at his bedside.

Tuesday, a coroner confirmed that a weight-loss drug containing a stimulant probably contributed to Bechler's death.

Bechler had been taking an over-the-counter supplement that contained ephedrine, which has been linked to heatstroke and heart trouble, Broward County medical examiner Joshua Perper said.

Banned by the NFL, NCAA, International Olympic Committee and United States Olympic Committee, ephedrine is a stimulant prevalent in many supplements that can cause heart attacks, strokes, seizure and death. Less serious side effects include dizziness, headache, irregular heartbeat and heart palpitations.

Perper urged baseball to ban the stimulant. Its risks, along with warnings about hot weather, were a topic of clubhouse conversation throughout big-league training camps.

"We don't recommend any supplements," Rays head trainer Ken Crenshaw said. "We discourage them, or at least make sure they're well-advised."

-- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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