Drug policy leaves Bechlers at a loss

April 30, 2003|By Laura Vecsey

A FEW WEEKS back, the Bechlers made a strange discovery. Their son, Steve Bechler - or at least a video image of Steve Bechler - appears in PlayStation's MVP 2003 baseball game.

"Our other son got a call at work to tell him Steve was on it, so my son went out and bought a few copies of it. I guess the teams include every player on the 40-man roster, and that's where Steve was. It's a nice treasure to have," Patricia Bechler said, choking back tears before adding:

"But I can't watch baseball no more. Steve started when he was 7. It was our whole life."

Patricia Bechler was talking by phone from her home in Oregon, where even the birth of her granddaughter, Haile Mae Patricia Bechler - Steve Bechler's baby - can't bring the comfort she wants or needs.

Kiley Bechler, Steve's widow, finally called Patricia and Ernie Bechler to let them know the baby had been born last week.

Two months after Bechler collapsed and died after drills at Orioles spring camp in Florida, igniting a storm about the use of supplements and other performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, the Bechlers drove over to Rogue Valley Hospital in Medford, Ore., to see Steve's baby. There, they confronted as much pain as joy.

The baby's name includes "Patricia," which was also the name of Steve Bechler's grandmother.

"He wanted to honor her," Bechler's mother said.

"You could tell this baby right away. She looked so much like Steve. Steve was 11 pounds, 7 ounces when he was born. I had a C-section. He was a big boy," Patricia said.

Asked how she had anticipated her granddaughter's birth, Patricia said it was going to be "wonderful."

"Of course, Steve was going to be here, too."

You see, Bechler's parents feel like they're in limbo. They don't know how much Kiley will let them see the child in weeks, months, years to come.

"But they have grandparents' rights in Oregon," Patricia Bechler said. "I know Steve wouldn't want us to neglect her or forget she was born."

The Bechlers also say the Orioles have made Kiley the center of attention, if only because she and the baby will get Steve's life insurance policy.

"It's very strange. I had him for 23 years. She was only married to him 3 1/2 months. I guess she gets the $450,000 life insurance policy. I don't care about the money, but we've never experienced this situation before. What's right. What's wrong," Patricia Bechler said.

This goes against what Orioles vice president Jim Beattie said about team scouts and other club officials being in contact with the Bechlers.

"No one's asked us how we're doing. No one's interested in the parents. It's all been about Kiley and the baby," she said.

Bechler's parents also know that Kiley Bechler's lawyer, David Meiselman of White Plains, N.Y., intends to file suit against Cytodyne Technologies, makers of Xenadrine RFA-1, the diet pill Steve Bechler took before succumbing to heatstroke from the effects of ephedrine, according to the coroner's report.

That suit is scheduled to be filed any day now.

In between all these things, the Bechlers have tried to figure out what they should do, what they should believe, what they still have.

"Kiley said her lawyers said for her to keep her distance from us. This was within hours after he passed. We were all staying at the same hotel [in Fort Lauderdale]. I didn't know what was going on. I'm not angry. There's a lot more you have to learn to live with with a son gone," she said.

This is the tangle of lives and emotions, this is the strain on finances and relationships that major league baseball's puzzlingly lax drug policy has left behind.

Maybe Steve Bechler was just a big, out-of-shape pitcher trying to cut corners to make his big league dreams come true. Certainly, personal accountability has to be an issue.

Bechler has been portrayed as a young man with a live arm who wound up trying to cut corners. Teammates say he skipped workouts, did not get his weight down. The Orioles say they were concerned about his conditioning.

The makers of the herbal supplement say the Orioles ignored underlying medical conditions in Bechler that posed risks. The lawyer for the wife has not ruled anyone out as culpable. The Orioles are not ruling out as being named in the suit.

The parents, meanwhile, are desperate to protect the memory of the big kid they raised - a tough task in all this mess.

This kind of thing happens when different parties have different positions to protect. The blame game can get ugly, especially in this case, when a major league pitching prospect took a supplement that in other sports leagues would have been banned.

That is the Pandora's box left wide-open by baseball, which did not have the foresight to look ahead and see, in an environment where performance-enhancing drugs are not regulated - where they are winked at - how someone might get sick, or worse.

This is what happened to Patricia Bechler's son, who suffered a wretched, unnecessary death.

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