FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Without pointing fingers, Ernie and Pat Bechler described their son's checkered medical history yesterday, a few hours before Broward County's chief medical examiner linked his death to the use of a dietary supplement called Xenadrine RFA-1.
Steve Bechler, a 23-year-old Orioles pitching prospect, died Monday morning after suffering heatstroke at Sunday's practice. Ernie and Pat Bechler left their Oregon home on Sunday night and flew cross-country to be with their son, but he died while they were in a limousine traveling from the airport.
"I'm not blaming anybody," Pat Bechler said after eating breakfast at the Orioles' team hotel.
Pat Bechler said her son had asthma when he was younger but hadn't had a problem with it for several years. He did, however, have a history of struggling in hot conditions, she said.
"In high school, he had a couple heatstrokes," she said.
Since heatstroke refers to a syndrome that shuts down at least one of the body's vital organs, Dr. William Goldiner, the Orioles' team physician, said Pat Bechler probably was referring to bouts of dehydration.
"I didn't know that [Bechler had heat-related problems in high school] until this happened," Goldiner said. "But let's say he had told me that - I would not have made any special changes in his routine vs. anybody else's.
"On the other hand, if I know a player is sick that day, if he comes to me and says, 'I don't feel well today,' then I would make a change in his regimen."
Dr. Joshua Perper, Broward County's chief medical examiner, confirmed Goldiner's statement from Monday that Bechler's death was caused by multi-organ failure brought on by heatstroke.
Perper said several factors likely contributed to Bechler's death, including a history of borderline high blood pressure, liver abnormalities, the pitcher having been on a diet, and evidence of Xenadrine use.
It will take toxicology results to confirm the use of Xenadrine, and Perper said those won't be back for at least two weeks.
Xenadrine contains the drug ephedrine, which has been banned by the NCAA, NFL and the International Olympic Committee. Perper, who interviewed Orioles officials and Bechler's family members, said he was told Bechler took three tablets of Xenadrine each morning.
"We didn't know he was taking it," Ernie Bechler said. "He [Steve] knows my feelings about it. It was a shock."
"And if he did have it," Pat added, "why was he allowed to take stuff like that? I don't understand. The other sports banned all that. I don't understand why the major leagues don't. That's upsetting to me."
When Ernie Bechler first learned about Steve's heatstroke, the feeling was all too familiar. Twenty years earlier, Ernie said, his son from a previous marriage died after suffering an aneurysm while playing baseball in Arizona.
That son, Ernest, was 19 or 20 when he died, Ernie said.
"I lost my oldest son the same way," Ernie said.
Steve Bechler spent most of last season at Triple-A Rochester, making his major league debut Sept. 6 . In three relief appearances for the Orioles, he posted a 13.50 ERA.
"Well," Ernie Bechler said, "Steve got to live his dream."
Added Pat Bechler: "The thing he loved the most killed him."
Bechler was short and skinny as a young boy, his parents said.
"We couldn't get him to eat," Pat Bechler said. "Then, about 17, he just started [growing]. But he never had a weight problem. Never, but maybe the Orioles think he [weighed] more than he should have; I don't know."
Bechler was listed on the Orioles' roster at 6 feet 2, 239 pounds. Perper said Bechler weighed in at 249 pounds on Friday, when he passed a routine physical.
Orioles manager Mike Hargrove removed Bechler from practice on Saturday because he was struggling through the running drills. Mike Bechler said he spoke with his brother on Saturday night and didn't hear any warning signs.
Bechler's wife, Kiley, was driving her car from Baltimore to Oregon when she learned of Steve's problem on Sunday night. She was near Salt Lake City, so the Orioles arranged to put her on a plane from there to fly to Fort Lauderdale.
Kiley, who is expecting the couple's first child in April, spent the night at the hospital, and Orioles vice president of baseball operations Mike Flanagan was there with her. The next morning, when Flanagan went to brief the team about Bechler's condition, Kiley asked to go with him.
"Kiley's strength in a difficult time has been an inspiration to a lot of people," Flanagan said.
Ernie and Pat went to Fort Lauderdale Stadium yesterday to clean out Steve's locker. Today, they will take part in a memorial service with the team.
"The Orioles have been great," Pat said.
Ernie Bechler spent a few minutes reminiscing about Steve's brief stint with the Orioles last September. Then he added, "It's like Mike [Bechler] said, 'This is jacked up. We should be here watching him play ball.' "