Angelos sees lesson from Bechler's death

After memorial, O's owner talks of widening drug ban

February 20, 2003|By Joe Christensen and Roch Kubatko | Joe Christensen and Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Orioles owner Peter Angelos had misty eyes and a heavy heart after flying in from Baltimore to attend Steve Bechler's memorial service last night inside the team's spring training clubhouse.

After listening to speeches by several of Bechler's family members and former teammates -- including Kiley Bechler, who is 7 1/2 months' pregnant -- Angelos called the pitcher's death "a terrible tragedy ... that defies definition."

Then, when the topic turned to ephedrine, the stimulant that Broward County's chief medical examiner believes contributed to Bechler's heatstroke and death, Angelos turned as vigilant as ever.

After cautioning people not to jump to conclusions until the results of Bechler's autopsy become official, Angelos said he wants ephedrine banned from baseball or to see Congress place it on a list of drugs that are legal by prescription only.

"Unfortunately, we're all human and we don't move until something very grim and very tragic like this occurs," Angelos said after the service. "Hopefully, if anything positive can come from this tragedy, it will be that we'll get the kind of movement we need in these circumstances."

Angelos worked on the owners' negotiating committee that hammered out a new collective bargaining agreement last summer with the players union, narrowly averting a strike.

Under the new agreement, major-league players will undergo drug testing for the first time. But those tests are only for cocaine, certain types of steroids and other drugs that are illegal without a prescription.

"Our side insisted that these so-called legal supplements [such as ephedrine] be included in the ban," Angelos said. "But unfortunately the union rejected our position."

Angelos said the owners are still lobbying Congress to place ephedrine on its list of prescription-only drugs. "The problem is," he said, "we've had a difficulty getting a consensus from the union.

"I don't think the players are opposed," Angelos added. "I believe the majority of major-league and minor-league players are supportive of the position that these drugs should be controlled and should not be given out over the counter."

Angelos gathered with the team last night in the same room where players meet each morning to eat breakfast, chat and prepare for another spring training workout. This time, they were grieving the loss of their friend and teammate.

Players, coaches and team officials filed into the clubhouse for the 6 p.m. service, with Kiley Bechler and family members the last to enter. Many of Bechler's closest friends from the minors were there, including Double-A outfielder Keith Reed and Single-A pitcher Matt Schwager, who otherwise wouldn't be in camp.

A club spokesman said Kiley Bechler was under advisement by her legal representatives not to speak with the media, at least until after her husband's toxicology report is released by the Broward County chief medical examiner in two to three weeks.

The Rev. David Taylor from Baseball Chapel led the 35-minute service. Orioles pitcher Matt Riley, minor-league pitching coordinator Dave Schmidt and Single-A Frederick pitching coach Scott McGregor also addressed the gathering.

Riley and Rick Bauer, two of Bechler's closest friends, arrived together.

Most of the club's veterans also showed up, including David Segui, Buddy Groom, Pat Hentgen, Tony Batista, B.J. Ryan, Gary Matthews, Deivi Cruz and Jerry Hairston. Jason Johnson, who left the workout early after having a diabetic episode, drove up shortly before the service.

"It gives us a chance for everybody as a group to pay respects for Kiley and Steve's family, so I think this is good," said manager Mike Hargrove.

Angelos seemed touched by Kiley Bechler's speech.

"She's really a very special young lady who has suffered a terrible loss," Angelos said. "What can you say when someone dies particularly that young with such a great future ahead of him? What can you say? Words can't describe the feeling."

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