Parents: Bechler had problems with heat

Episodes in high school were likely dehydration, O's team physician says

February 19, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Without pointing fingers, Ernie and Pat Bechler described their son Steve's medical history yesterday, a few hours before Broward County's chief medical examiner linked his death directly to the use of a dietary supplement called Xenadrine RFA-1.

"I'm not blaming anybody," Pat Bechler said after eating breakfast at the Orioles' team hotel. "My mother passed away, and they were really close, and all I feel is Grandma wanted him."

Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler died Monday morning after suffering heatstroke at Sunday's practice. Ernie and Pat left their Oregon home on Sunday night and flew across the country to be with their son, but he died while they were in a limousine traveling from the airport.

Pat Bechler said her son had struggled in hot conditions in the past.

"In high school, he had a couple heatstrokes," she said.

Since heatstroke normally refers to a syndrome that shuts down at least one of the body's vital organs, Orioles team physician Dr. William Goldiner said Pat Bechler was referring to bouts of dehydration.

"I didn't know that [Bechler had heat-related problems in high school]," Goldiner said. "But let's say he had told me that - I would not have made any special changes in his routine vs. anybody else's.

"On the other hand, if I know a player is sick that day, if he comes to me and says, `I don't feel well today,' then I would make a change in his regimen."

Dr. Joshua Perper, Broward County's chief medical examiner, confirmed Goldiner's early report that Bechler's death was caused by multi-organ failure caused by heatstroke.

Perper said a number of factors likely contributed to Bechler death, including a history of hypertension, evidence of liver abnormalities, the fact he had been on diet and, most importantly, the use of Xenadrine.

Xenadrine is an over-the counter weight-loss drug that contains ephedra, an herbal substance that contains the stimulant ephedrine.

"We didn't know he was taking it," Ernie Bechler said. "He knows my feelings about it. It was a shock."

"And if he did have it," Pat added, "why was he allowed to take stuff like that? I don't understand. The other sports banned all that [stuff]. I don't understand why the major leagues don't. That's upsetting to me."

When Ernie Bechler first learned about Steve's heatstroke, the feeling was all too familiar. Twenty years earlier, Ernie said, his son from a previous marriage died after suffering an aneurysm while playing baseball in Arizona.

The other son, Ernest, was 19 or 20 when he died, Ernie said.

Steve died Monday morning at the age of 23.

Bechler spent most of last season at Triple-A Rochester, and he made his major-league debut on Sept. 6. In three relief appearances for the Orioles last year, he posted a 13.50 ERA.

"Well," Ernie Bechler said, "Steve got to live his dream."

Added Pat Bechler: "The thing he loved the most killed him."

Bechler was short and skinny as a young boy, his parents said.

"We couldn't get him to eat," Pat Bechler said. "Then, about 17, he just started [growing]. But he never had a weight problem. Never, but maybe the Orioles think he [weighed] more than he should have, I don't know."

Bechler was listed on the Orioles' roster at 6 feet 2, 239 pounds. Perper said Bechler weighed in at 249 pounds on Friday, when he passed a routine physical.

"He was strong as a horse," Ernie said. "We're still having trouble getting ourselves through how it happened like it did. We won't know more for a while."

Orioles manager Mike Hargrove removed Bechler from practice on Saturday because he was struggling through the running drills. Mike Bechler said he spoke with his brother on Saturday night and didn't hear any warning signs.

"He told me how strong he felt, how good he felt, how positive he felt," Mike Bechler said. "He was going to Triple-A if that's what it came to, but he was determined to make it back to the big leagues."

Bechler's wife, Kiley, was driving her car from Baltimore to Oregon when she learned of Steve's problem on Sunday night. She was near Salt Lake City, so the Orioles arranged to put her on a plane from there to fly to Fort Lauderdale.

Kiley, who is expecting the couple's first child in April, spent the night at the hospital, and Orioles vice president of baseball operations Mike Flanagan was there with her. The next morning, when Flanagan went to brief the team about Steve's condition, Kiley asked to go with him.

"Kiley's strength in a difficult time has been an inspiration to a lot of people," Flanagan said. "She's very much an Oriole, through and through."

Ernie, Pat and Kiley went to Fort Lauderdale Stadium yesterday to clean out Steve's locker. Today, they will take part in a memorial service with the team.

The family plans to cremate Steve's body, and the remains will be flown back to Oregon for a funeral.

Ernie Bechler spent a few minutes reminiscing about Steve's brief stint with the Orioles last September. Then he said, "It's like Mike [Bechler] said, `This is jacked up. We should be here watching him play ball.' "

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