FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - One week from the day her husband collapsed on an Orioles practice field, Kiley Bechler flew home to Oregon yesterday after taking a few moments to publicly thank people who supported her through a trying week.
Steve Bechler, a 23-year-old Orioles pitching prospect, died last Monday from heatstroke, with Kiley Bechler at his bedside. She was driving cross-country when the Orioles delivered news of her husband's collapse, and they put her on a plane to Fort Lauderdale from Salt Lake City.
Kiley Bechler, 22, who is expecting the couple's first child in April, declined another interview request yesterday, saying she isn't ready to answer questions about her husband's death. But she made a brief speech yesterday morning at a breakfast the Orioles held behind Fort Lauderdale Stadium for their spring season-ticket holders.
"We asked her to speak [Saturday], and without hesitation she said yes," said Orioles vice president of baseball operations Mike Flanagan. "She got up and thanked everybody and thanked the organization for making a difficult week for her a little easier."
Flanagan hugged Kiley Bechler when she finished her speech. She walked into the stadium and had her photo taken next to an orange panel on the right-field wall where Steve Bechler's No. 51 is painted in tribute.
Kiley Bechler hugged a few of her husband's teammates and flashed the occasional smile, as she walked with grandmother Carlene Pratt and mother Carla Edmondson.
At one point, Kiley Bechler even took a moment to autograph the back of a child's jersey.
Later in the morning, Flanagan drove her to the airport, closing another chapter in this emotional story. Flanagan had never met Kiley Bechler before she arrived at North Ridge Medical Center shortly after midnight Feb. 16. He spent the night by her side in the intensive care unit, getting updates from doctors on her husband's condition every 30 minutes.
A team of about 14 doctors and nurses worked on Steve Bechler overnight, and when he died from multi-organ failure caused by heatstroke, Flanagan said, he saw many of them in tears.
On Friday night, Kiley Bechler had dinner with several members of the emergency room staff, and though the tears returned, some of the nurses asked her to please send a photo of her baby when it's born. She's expecting a girl and has already chosen the name Haley.
"Sometimes you see blame, and then there's guilt," Flanagan said. "[Kiley Bechler] was excellent about all that. She didn't pass blame or judgment on anyone."
By the time they said goodbye, Flanagan and Kiley Bechler had grown close.
"She's looking at life ahead with the baby, and [wondering] how does that all work?" Flanagan said. "But there's a certain surety in her mind. In other words, there were no cracks in the system. They did everything they could for him, and that included the ER people, the 911, our trainers; she didn't question any of that."
In his preliminary autopsy report Tuesday, Broward County's chief medical examiner, Dr. Joshua Perper, said he "could not point to any medical mistakes. They responded promptly to his collapse, they tried to cool him as much as they could ... and they immediately called 911."
The Orioles' training staff gave Bechler fluids on the field and applied ice once he reached the training room. The 911 call was placed at 11:40 a.m., and the rescue squad arrived at 11:46 a.m.
Paramedics worked on Bechler in the training room and brought him to the ambulance at 12:18 p.m. They arrived at the hospital five minutes later.
One day before Bechler collapsed, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove pulled him from practice and lectured him about his poor conditioning. After the collapse, when it was still unclear how dire the situation was, Hargrove spoke with a staff member about establishing a customized pre-practice workout regimen for Bechler, designed to help him get in better shape. Those plans went in vain.
Perper linked the cause of death to the use of Xenadrine RFA-1, an over-the counter supplement that contains the stimulant ephedrine. Perper's findings won't be confirmed until the results of the toxicology exam return, which could take at least another week.
Steve Bechler's brother Mike has said he knew Steve was taking ephedrine products in December. Kiley Bechler addressed her husband's teammates less than two hours before he died, and several witnesses have said she spoke very strongly against the use of ephedrine.
"There's always been this side of her, that, in her mind, I think she knows exactly what happened," Flanagan said without delving into specifics. "It's very clear in her mind how it all came about, and I think that's one of the reasons she's able to be accepting."
Today or tomorrow, the Orioles are expected to announce the establishment of a Steve Bechler Memorial Fund, with proceeds to support Kiley Bechler, who might not qualify for Major League Baseball's life insurance premium because her husband didn't have enough major-league service time - just 27 days.
Club owner Peter Angelos has already pledged a significant contribution, and Flanagan said several other teams have offered to donate money.
"One of the things she said at his deathbed, was, 'I'm not ready to be a single mom, and I wanted you to see this baby born,'" Flanagan said. "I think it's also part of the reason she's really wanted to keep a record of everything that transpired. Newspaper articles, those kinds of things. She said over and over to me, 'I want to be able to tell her what her daddy was all about, what he went through and how much they cared about him.' "