Bechler dead at 23
O's pitcher dies of heatstroke following collapse at workoutPosted: Monday February 17, 2003 11:32 AM
Updated: Tuesday February 18, 2003 9:24 AM
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CNN) -- A Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect who collapsed during spring training Sunday died as the result of multi-organ failure due to heatstroke, team officials said Monday.
It marks the first time a professional baseball player has died from heatstroke, team physician Dr. William Goldiner said.
Steve Bechler, a 23-year-old right hander, died at 10:10 a.m. EST Monday at North Ridge Medical Center, one day after collapsing at a spring training practice field.
The Broward County Medical Examiner's office is investigating the death and is expected to perform an autopsy.
Broward County medical examiner Dr. Joshua Perper said a bottle of pills was found in Bechler's locker, but it was unclear if he had taken any of them or if they contributed to his death. The autopsy, he said, would help determine that.
Asked about reports the pills were a supplement containing ephedrine, Perper said he did not know what type of pills they were, saying they could be anything from medication to vitamins.
After learning of Bechler's death, the team canceled practice for the day.
Bechler had finished most of the team's running drills Sunday in humid, 81 degree conditions. The 6-foot-2-inch Bechler, who weighed 239 pounds, was described as looking "ashen" and leaning up against a fence between drills, prompting manager Mike Hargrove to have a trainer keep an eye on him, according to Orioles's spokesman Bill Stetka.
Bechler was moved to the training room at 11:35 a.m. Sunday, given a sports drink and laid flat to help lower his blood pressure, according to the report. By 11:52 a.m. emergency medical technicians were called. Bechler was taken to the hospital by ambulance shortly after.
Bechler's condition rebounded at times Sunday, said Goldiner, the team physician. His temperature peaked at 108 degrees. Bechler did not regain consciousness after being taken to the hospital, Goldiner said.
"We would think we were getting ahead of it, then, invariably, another system would fail. Eventually it lead to his death [Monday] morning," he said.
Bechler, along with the rest of the pitchers and catchers who reported to camp last week, had a physical Friday. The results were normal.
"As far as we could see, he was fit to go," Goldiner said.
Bechler had battled weight for much of his five-year professional career. Asked about the pitcher's conditioning, manager Mike Hargrove was quoted as saying it was "not good."
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 amphetaminelike stimulant, he said.
"Weight-loss drugs are never prescribed by us," Goldiner said. "They're never condoned by us."
Bechler's wife, Kiley, is seven months pregnant. She arrived in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday night after being contacted by the team. She was driving from Baltimore to Bechler's home state of Oregon when reached by cell phone. She took a flight from Salt Lake City, arriving in Miami shortly before midnight. Bechler's family flew from Oregon on Sunday, arriving in Miami on Monday.
Bechler made his major league debut in September against the Anaheim Angels. He pitched 4 2/3 innings in three relief appearances, giving up six hits, walking four and striking out three with a 13.50 ERA. Bechler's record during five minor league seasons was 35-48 with a 3.82 ERA.
Born in Medford, Ore., Bechler was drafted in the third round of baseball's 1998 amateur draft out of Medford High. This was Bechler's second invitation to the Orioles' spring training camp, Stetka said. He was projected as a starting pitcher at the Orioles' Class AAA farm club in Ottawa, Canada.
While Bechler is believed to be the first baseball player to die from heatstroke, he is not the first professional athlete to die from it. Pro football player Korey Stringer, a 335-pound offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings, died in August 2001, from complications due to heatstroke.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.