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Ephedra ends dreams


Shane Bechler was somebody's son, somebody's husband and was about to be someone's father. And now he is gone.

He is gone from trying to live a dream that thousands of boys carry with them like a baseball mitt on the handlebars of their bikes.

He is gone for trying to do too much, too fast and his body couldn't handle it.

He is gone from doing the most American of things - going for the quick fix, instead of a long drawn-out process.

He is gone because of baseball players' ignorance and singular mindset to live that dream that they held as children.

Shane Bechler is gone. It was absolutely avoidable and baseball has no one to blame but itself.

Most people have heard the story of Bechler. He was the young Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect who died of heat stroke almost two weeks ago.

After fighting a weight problem for much of his career, Bechler was frantically trying to lose weight to make the Orioles' big league roster. He was doing wind sprints in the Florida heat with no food in his stomach and ephedrine pulsing through his veins.

It was all too much. His body couldn't handle it. It was overworked, under-rested and being fooled by a stimulant that made his heart race faster than he could ever throw a baseball. It finally gave out. Heat exhaustion was the preliminary report. After being taken to a hospital, Bechler suffered from multiorgan failure and died less than 24 hours after his collapse.

People die from heat exhaustion every year. You usually hear about it during football two-a-days. In the last two years, Rashidi Wheeler, a defensive back for Northwestern, and Korey Stringer, an All-Pro lineman for the Minnesota Vikings, both died from heat exhaustion.

But this was baseball, this was 74-degree heat and this didn't seem right.

Upon further investigation, it was learned that Bechler was using the supplement Xenadrine RFA-1, which is used to boost the body's metabolism to make it burn fat faster. The chemical in RFA-1 that does this is ephedrine. It stimulates the heart rate, which in turn speeds up a person's metabolism.

Ephedrine is a controversial topic in the world of supplements. Its pros and cons are still in the process of being studied.

Many experts believe ephedrine is simply too dangerous for athletes and that it places too much pressure on the heart as well as reduces perspiration, which cools the body temperature. It has been linked to deaths around the country.

It is bad enough to be banned by the Olympics, the NFL and the NCAA.

Not surprisingly. though, it isn't banned in Major League Baseball, whose drug policy borders on the ridiculous.

Major League Baseball finally succumbed to testing for steroids this year after several players admitted to years of use.

Recently, Commissioner Bud Selig approved testing for ephedrine but only at the minor league levels.

That's like trying to stop a fire with a glass of water. The use of supplements with ephedrine is just as, if not more, prevalent at the Major League level.

It's this same shortsightedness that plagues baseball as a whole. It's the same logic that led Bechler to use RFA-1. There's a problem: Fix it as quickly as possible without considering the ramifications.

What's even more galling have been the U.S. congressmen who have scolded Major League Baseball for not banning ephedrine. It wouldn't have to be banned in baseball if they would have banned it altogether.

RFA-1 isn't illegal. Anyone can buy it at a health food store. In fact, there are dozens of ephedrine-laced supplements that are available over the counter.

If it's so bad and baseball should ban it, shouldn't Congress step forward and call for a ban of it altogether?

That's the problem with bureaucrats and politicians in a situation like this. All they care about is pointing out what is wrong and finding someone to blame for it.

In the lengthy list of people to blame for Bechler's death, a group of people are suspiciously missing - the players themselves.

The reason for baseball's lack of drug testing is twofold. The owners fear finding out how many of their players test positive, and the players fear of being caught.

The Major League Baseball Players Association is by far the most powerful union in professional sports and has been totally unwilling to submit for drug-testing. They call it an invasion of privacy, a violation of their basic rights. The real reason is that players use everything and anything to get ahead. When the base salary of Major League player is close to a million dollars a year, a few pills seem worth the risk.

Will it take Bechler's death for players to realize that they are wrong? It seems sad that one of their own had to die for them to see baseball is still only a game meant to be played by children.

One thing is for certain: Shane Bechler is gone. And the dreams he shared with his mother and father and his wife are gone.


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