Rod Beck
1968-2007
Few of Rod Beck's longtime friends kept in regular touch with him in recent years or knew how he spent the majority of his days. Their memories of him essentially stop about the time Beck's major-league career ended in 2004. "Like a lot of his friends, we all kind of got a little distanced from him the last couple of years," said former Giants infielder Steve Scarsone, who lived near Beck in Arizona. "He went a different direction."

But one person close to Beck offered some insight Saturday into the weeks preceding his death, at age 38, on June 23rd. Tina Buchanan, who worked as Beck's personal assistant the past three years, said he visited "doctor after doctor after doctor" to receive treatment for a staph infection. Buchanan also said Beck was hospitalized for 10 days last year, on antibiotics, to treat a persistent staph infection. Later that summer, on a visit to Wrigley Field, Beck told former Giants manager Dusty Baker he "almost died" because of a staph infection earlier in 2006.

Baker said Beck historically had health problems, and other friends said he battled high blood pressure. Beck often was sick in recent weeks, Buchanan said, and sometimes struggled to walk because his legs had become so swollen. "He would never admit he didn't feel good," Buchanan said. "He said he felt all right -- and then he would ask me when the next doctor's appointment was."

Many friends acknowledged the transition out of the high-profile, adrenaline-filled world of major-league baseball wasn't easy for Beck -- as is the case for many former players. He endeared himself to teammates and fans with his spirit and blue-collar charisma, but in recent years he seldom socialized with Scarsone or other baseball friends who live in the Phoenix area.

Scarsone can summon many memories of the engaging, gregarious reliever -- enjoying a clubhouse beer and cigarette after earning another save for the Giants, mingling with fans at a Boston restaurant after his Red Sox debut, hanging out in his garage on a random Tuesday night in the offseason.

Scarsone, who hadn't seen Beck in more than a year, called him a few times, but his messages were never returned. "We were worried, but he was a grown man," Scarsone said. "... You look back now and kick yourself."

Rod Beck had an acting role in a recently completed independent film, "Work Week" (about gangsters and the mob), produced by Buchanan's nephew. Beck also was trying to start several online businesses. He frequently attended 12-year-old daughter Kelsey's Little League games, watching her play right field for the Cubs; took motorcycle rides with Kelsey and her 13-year-old sister, Kayla, and rode dune buggies and 4-wheelers on visits to the sand dunes of Glamis, across the state line in California.

Baker, who attended Beck's funeral Thursday in Scottsdale, recalled once asking him what he planned to do after he left baseball. "I'm going to ride my motorcycle and break every scale I see," Beck replied.

Barney Nugent, an assistant trainer with the Giants in the 1990s and one of the speakers at Beck's service, saw him a few weeks before his death, at one of Kelsey's baseball games. Beck had gained some weight but looked "strong as a bull" and seemed in good spirits, Nugent said.

Beck savored spending time with his two daughters the past few years, making up for the time he was gone during his baseball career. "He did other things for adrenaline, like go motorcycle riding with the girls," said Beck's wife, Stacey, who was separated from Rod. "He loved hanging out with the kids. He loved coming home, because he didn't have to be Rod Beck, signing autographs at the grocery store or something. He didn't mind that, but at home he could be Dad. He could be Rodney."

Beck's friends in baseball nonetheless worried about him. He went through rehabilitation for substance abuse in the spring of 2004, when he took a leave of absence from the San Diego Padres. He returned later that season and pitched in 26 games. Padres general manager Kevin Towers said Beck lived for the game and had few interests beyond baseball and his family, which made Towers wonder how Beck would cope with the end of his career. Towers, too, rarely spoke to Beck after the Padres released him in August 2004.

The same was true with Matt Williams, another longtime Giants teammate who attended Beck's funeral. Williams hadn't seen Beck in three or four years, even though they both lived in the desert. "He did not keep in touch with people in the game," Nugent said. "It may have been a little painful."

Two people who identified themselves as Beck's friends called 911 on June 23, according to Phoenix police sergeant Andy Hill. They said they went to Beck's house and found him dead. Officers responded and confirmed he was dead at the scene, Hill said. Investigators found no signs of foul play. Buchanan said she and her sister, Angela Wall, were the ones who called authorities. Beck had called Buchanan and asked her to come over because "he wasn't feeling well," she said. She and Wall arrived about 25 minutes later and discovered him unconscious on the bedroom floor.

A spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's office said Friday that no cause of death will be determined until the results of toxicology tests become available. That can take anywhere from 45 to 90 days. Beck was living in northeast Phoenix, in a modest neighborhood of older, low-slung brick houses. Daniela Geonkova, who lives next door, described Beck as friendly but "not so social." Another neighbor, a teenage boy, said Beck often worked on cars in his driveway or garage and would wave when the boy rode past on his bike.

The passion for cars traces to high school, when Beck rebuilt one car and perpetually tinkered with others. He even bought a race car during his baseball career; Stacey's brother, Andy Neyer, drove the car in junior-circuit races around the country, and Beck often accompanied him. But the expenses involved prompted Beck to pull back from racing after he retired from baseball.

His career achievements are well documented: 286 saves, three All-Star selections, an instrumental role on the Giants team that nearly won the NL West in 1993 and the team that did win the division in '97. But another part of Beck's legacy in San Francisco was his early involvement with "Until There's a Cure Day," the annual event to benefit AIDS/HIV research.

The team had sent a memo to players about charity work, saying they wanted 100 percent participation. About the same time, Rod and Stacey watched "The Ryan White Story," a television movie about the Indiana boy who courageously battled AIDS. At one point, Stacey said, Rod turned to her and said, "No kid should be ashamed to be sick."

The Becks told the Giants they wanted to make AIDS research their charity of choice. That met with skepticism from club officials and some teammates, but Stacey recalled Rod telling management, "If you want 100 percent participation, that's what we're doing." Soon thereafter, "Until There's a Cure Day" was born. (Stacey, Kayla and Kelsey Beck will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at this year's event in China Basin on July 27.)

"The Giants thought it might be too controversial, but the Becks said, 'This is what we want to do,' " said Greg Sempadian, then the club's player relations coordinator for community development and now the director of athletic development at USF. "When Rod believed in something, he was going to fight for it until the end."

Said Williams: "He didn't just go along with what was popular. He felt compelled to help these kids who had this deadly disease. He didn't care what people thought, because he knew it was the right thing to do."

There were many smaller examples of Beck's generosity. He and Stacey hosted Christmas parties in which they asked guests to bring toys for needy children. Once, while Beck was with the Red Sox, a coach named Buddy Bailey complimented him on his boots. A few days later, Beck showed up with a similar pair of $1,000 boots for Bailey.

Even in a moment of professional frustration, Beck showed his awareness of others' feelings. Then-San Diego manager Bruce Bochy clearly was uneasy when he called Beck into his office to release him in 2004. Beck, sensing Bochy's discomfort, responded by saying, "I was wondering what took you so long."

That's part of what made the past three years so baffling for Beck's friends: The man who once was so social and outgoing drifted farther and farther away.

Source: SF Chronicle.com