Written by Tony Pente
I was going through an old hard drive when I found all my old Hangout stuff. It was fun going back through time, but then I found a folder named "Bechler." That's when I found the tribute that I wrote for him the day that I found out he died. Thought I'd share:
It was the summer of 1999 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The Delmarva Shorebirds were playing a double header against the Cape Fear Crocs after a rain out the night before. Since it was my first opportunity to see John Stephens pitch, I wasn't going to miss a pitch, so I plopped myself down right behind the plate. In front of me was the previous game's starter, a 19-year old kid from Medford, Oregon. My first impression of Steve Bechler was right on, he was a fun guy who was having the time of his life as a professional baseball player.
Throughout the last six years of the site, I've met a lot of minor league players. Although the vast majority of these guys have been good guys, a few have stood out. They're usually the ones that actually ask how you are or how the site is going or how your family is doing? Steve Bechler was one of those guys.
During that first meeting in Fayetteville, I had my then 8-year old daughter with me at the game. During that game, Steve signed a baseball for her and generally made her feel very special. In the second game of the doubleheader, we were joined by John Stephens and it wasn't long before we sat and chatted game two away. They ordered a pizza and then made sure to offer us some. It was just very refreshing to meet a kid who didn't appear to be all about himself.
Throughout the years, I've had some great off the record conversations with Steve where Steve would voice his various frustrations over his lack of promotion or a particular manager or coach. None of it ever made it onto these pages and none of it ever will, because it was clear between both of us that I was there to allow him to vent when he wanted, but I was never going to print anything that would have gotten him in hot water.
As the Hangout grew in popularity and Steve's career continued to blossom, it was almost like we were getting promoted together. Last year was my first season with full season credentials to Camden Yards. After seven years on the net, five of which I spent tracking through the minors, I had made it to the show. So it seemed only right that Steve should make his major league debut last year too.
Last September, I was standing in the Orioles dugout before a game when I got smacked in the back of the shoulder from behind. Thinking it was probably Syd trying to get to my throat, I turned around to see a much happier site, a big smile on Steve Bechler's face. A Steve Bechler wearing a major league uniform. "Hey Tony, how ya doing?" Steve asked with a smile that I knew wasn't going to come off anytime soon.
We stood and talked at the top step of the dugout while fans yelled for autographs. We continued to talk while he signed various articles, all the time chatting with me, but cognizant enough to have a little give and take with the fans. Steve was living his lifelong dream. He was a major league baseball player, an Oriole, and he wasn't going to miss any of the perks.
The one thing stands out in my mind when I think of Steve was the way he had matured over the year. Steve love to have fun, and that sometimes rubbed his coaches and managers the wrong way. In fact, maturity on and off the field was one of his shortcomings early on in his career. But that was changing over the last few years.
Early last season at Bowie was the last game that we watched together as he charted pitches. This time, his fiancee Kiley was there with him and you could tell he was happy. Seeing him later in the year with his Orioles uniform on, an impending wedding and child on the way, there was no doubt Beck was living the dream of just about every American young man.
That dream turned to a nightmare yesterday after he collapsed during running sprints on a humid day in Ft. Lauderdale. With a history of being out of shape during the spring, I wasn't surprised when I had heard he was sent to the hospital yesterday. Like most people, I didn't think it was too serious, especially after one report suggested it was just heat exhaustion and that he was taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons.
This morning, just ten minutes after I decided to clear off my sidewalk for fifth time in two days, my wife opened up the door and said. "That Orioles pitcher died." I thought someone had kicked me in the chest. How in the world does a young man die after running a few wind sprints?
There will be an investigation, but regardless of the outcome, it won't change the fact that a young man just starting his life is gone.
At 23-year old, Steven Bechler leaves behind his pregnant wife Kiley as well as a loving family and numerous friends and teammates. I'll miss you Steve, my prayers are with you and your family.
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