Orioles Pitcher Dies of Heatstroke Following Collapse at Workout

AP Sports Writer

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler died of heatstroke Monday, unable to recover from a spring training workout that sent his temperature to 108 degrees.

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 Dr. Joshua Perper acknowledged a published report that a bottle of a supplement containing ephedrine was found in Bechler’s locker.

Regarding the bottle, Perper said: “My understanding is it exists, but we don’t have it.”

A workout Sunday left Bechler pale and dizzy, and when his condition worsened, he was carried from the clubhouse to an ambulance on a stretcher. He spent the night in intensive care and died at 10:10 a.m. Monday at Northridge Medical Center.

His wife, Kiley, due to deliver the couple’s first child in April, was at his bedside. She and Bechler, 23, married last year.

William Goldiner, the Orioles’ team physician, said Bechler died of “multi-organ failure due to heatstroke.”

“He would rebound at times. They thought they were getting ahead of it, and then another organ system would fail,” Goldiner said at a news conference at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

Bechler, at 6-foot-2 and 239 pounds, had battled weight trouble in the past. Asked about the pitcher’s conditioning, manager Mike Hargrove was quoted as saying it was “not good.”

The temperature at noon Sunday was 81 degrees and the humidity was 74 percent, the National Weather Service said.

Goldiner said he wasn’t aware of any evidence that Bechler had been taking a dietary supplement such as ephedrine, which has been banned by the NCAA and NFL but not by Major League Baseball. The Orioles’ policy is to discourage the use of the amphetamine-like stimulant, he said.

“Weight-loss drugs are never prescribed by us,” Goldiner said. “They’re never condoned by us.”

Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka said he could neither confirm nor deny a report by The Washington Times that a bottle of a supplement containing ephedrine was found in Bechler’s locker.

“We’ll cooperate in every way with the medical examiner’s office,” Stetka said. “Everything we find we’ll turn over and apprise them of.”

Perper said his medical examiner’s office would begin an autopsy Tuesday, and that it could be two or three weeks before the final results are known.

Said baseball spokesman Rich Levin: “We’re going to wait to find out more about what happened.”

Funeral arrangements were pending.

A native of Medford, Ore., Bechler was a third-round draft pick by the Orioles in 1998.

“Steve was a tough guy; he was a competitor,” 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 made his major league debut last September, going 0-0 with a 13.50 ERA in three relief appearances. He was expected to begin this season with the club’s new Triple-A affiliate in Ottawa.

He spent most of last season at Triple-A Rochester, going 6-11 with a 4.09 ERA in 24 starts. He had a 35-48 record in five minor-league seasons.

Orioles players were briefed about Bechler’s condition during a clubhouse meeting before Monday’s workout. They were summoned inside a short while later and told of his death, and the rest of the day’s training schedule was called off.

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

Bechler fell down while running drills Sunday and Hargrove said he could tell Bechler wasn’t feeling well toward the end of the run.

“He was about 60 percent of the way through it when we noticed that he was a little white-faced,” Hargrove said. “He was leaning against a fence … which isn’t unusual when guys get tired. We put him on a cart and brought him in and called the paramedics.”

Bechler’s parents did not learn of his death until they arrived in Miami on Monday, Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said. They had traveled from their Oregon home after Bechler fell ill.

Bechler’s wife was driving from Oregon to Florida when she was reached by cell phone with the news her husband had been taken to the hospital. She took a flight from Salt Lake City on Sunday and arrived in Fort Lauderdale shortly before midnight.

In 2001, heatstroke was blamed for the death of Vikings lineman Korey Stringer, who collapsed during training camp. Stringer’s widow has filed a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit against the team and its doctors.

Last season, baseball was stunned by the death of St. Louis pitcher Darryl Kile. He died in June from blocked coronary arteries while in Chicago for a game.

Joe Castellano, a radio play-by-play broadcaster for Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate last season, said Bechler was proud of making the majors from Oregon.

“He was one of my favorite players that I had ever been around,” Castellano said. “He had a great personality. He was everything that was good about baseball.”