02/17/2003 1:20 pm ET
O's stunned by player's death
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- As Orioles players filed out, one by one and in
groups, late Monday morning after receiving word that their teammate, Steve
Bechler, had died at an area hospital, they were understandably shocked and
|By Becky Dubin Jenkins / MLB.com
Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Jim Beattie had
informed the team of Bechler's death during a closed-door meeting in the
clubhouse at its Spring Training complex. All workouts and practice were
canceled for the day, and it is unknown if the team will report back to camp on Tuesday
Bechler, 23, died of multi-system organ failure caused by heat stroke at 10:10 a.m. Monday in North Ridge Medical Center.
Veterans such as Jeff Conine and Jason Johnson -- who was the team
representative last season -- as well as Spring Training invitees, who had
spent only two days with Bechler, walked toward their cars with their heads
down and had no comment. Several wore sunglasses to mask their eyes.
Though O's manager Mike Hargrove did not know Bechler well, he said, "Steve
was a tough guy. He was a competitor. I didn't know him that well, but I knew
him well enough to know he loved the game and loved to compete."
Rodrigo Lopez, the Orioles' ace last season, said the team reacted as
"When they told us about it, everybody was in shock," Lopez said. "It's hard
to think -- you see him yesterday, and after they told us, you don't know how
to react. He was part of the team."
Lopez spent several years in the San Diego organization and thought back to a year ago, when the Padres' Mike Darr was killed in a single-car accident on the eve of Spring Training.
"It was really a sad situation [with Darr]," Lopez said. "That day, I started thinking, what would I do if that ever happened to one of my teammates? Well, today, it happened to us, and it's unbelievable."
O's left-handed pitching prospect Matt Riley, who was one of Bechler's
closest friends, emerged from the clubhouse with Rick Bauer soon after the
players had been briefed. He was visibly upset and was consoled by roving
catching instructor Andy Etchebarren and pitching coach Dave Schmidt.
Etchebarren managed Bechler at Triple-A Rochester last season.
Schmidt hugged and talked with Riley for several minutes. As Riley walked off
to the car Bauer was driving, he covered his face with his shirt. Neither was
available for comment.
One coach said upon hearing the news, Riley left the clubhouse and walked
over almost to the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, which is next to the
spring complex. The coach spent some time consoling Riley there. Riley
reportedly told him what a good friend Bechler had been throughout their minor league careers.
Hargrove has experienced the death of players before as a manager during
Spring Training. In March 1993, when Hargrove was the Cleveland Indians'
manager, pitchers Tim Crews and Steven Olin were killed in a Florida boating
But Hargrove, who visited Bechler in the hospital late Sunday night, said
nothing can prepare a person to deal with unexpected and tragic death and
that each person must grieve on his own and at his own pace.
"You have to be there as a group, a family," Hargrove said. "As much as this
is a business ... we're still with each other more than you are with your
At about 12:45 p.m., two clubhouse attendants loaded Bechler's bags into his
white Lincoln Navigator and drove off with vice president of baseball
operations Mike Flanagan, who drove his own car.
Bechler's wife, Kiley, who is more than seven months pregnant, arrived in
Fort Lauderdale late Sunday night after the team reached her on her cell
phone. She had been driving cross country from Baltimore to Oregon, where she
and Bechler are from. Kiley, who had been driving with her stepfather, flew
out from Salt Lake City, Utah.
On Sunday, Bechler had completed almost 60 percent of the team's running
drills for the day and looked winded in between repetitions, which "is not
unusual," especially on a high-humidity day, according to Hargrove.
This, combined with the fact that Bechler looked ashen and was leaning up
against the fences that surround the field, prompted Hargrove to have
assistant trainer Brian Ebel check him out. After seeing that having Bechler
sit down on the grass wasn't helping, a motorized cart drove him back to the
trainer's room in the Orioles' clubhouse at 11:35 a.m. Bechler was given a
sports drink for energy, but that didn't help.
Bechler pitched a career-high 178 innings for Double-A Bowie, where he began
the year, Triple-A Rochester and the O's last season. Bechler was 35-48 with
a 3.82 ERA in five minor league seasons.
Becky Dubin Jenkins is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was
not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.