A devoted Holbrook father described as a passionate backer of youth sports died after being hit in the head by a baseball while pitching batting practice to his 12-year-old son's team, his family and Suffolk police said.
Richard Becher, 50, was struck about 5:30 p.m. Saturday "during warm-ups" at Baseball Heaven, a popular youth sports complex on County Road 101 in Yaphank, police said.
When paramedics arrived at the complex, bystanders were attempting CPR on Becher, according to police. He was taken to Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center in East Patchogue and pronounced dead a short time later.
A baseball hit by one his players struck Becher in the head during a pregame practice session, said John Bree, 51, Becher's brother-in-law.
"He threw a pitch, the ball got hit. It was a line drive," Bree said yesterday. "He was hit in the head, he dropped to the ground."
Bree said Becher was throwing from behind an L-screen, which is designed to protect a pitcher during batting practice.
Members of Becher's son's team, the ELITE, in the 11-year-old division, were rushed off the field soon after he was hit, Bree said, adding that they were preparing for a Tri-State Tournament game Saturday night. The game was canceled.
"It's pretty rare if you're behind the screen, but you can stick your head out for a second" and get hit, said Michael Rubenstein, president of Sachem Little League and the Ronkonkoma Youth Organization. Becher served as vice president of both groups.
Rubenstein said he will consider putting more safety measures in place, such as having coaches wear masks and helmets while on the field.
Officials with Baseball Heaven, a 30-acre multidiamond facility that hosts youth baseball games, were arranging counseling for any coaches or children who requested it, said Frank Zitaglio, the facility's general manager.
"There was a tragic accident here. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family," Zitaglio said.
Becher's youth sports commitment went beyond the green baseball diamonds, friends and family members said.
The owner of Holbrook-based Bech Air Corp., a sheet-metal installation company, Becher also coached his son's youth basketball team, Bree said. He was married and also had a 14-year-old daughter.
Bree, of Holbrook, described his brother-in-law as "the perfect father. He gave 100 percent of his time to his kids. He touched so many people."
Christopher Pierre, past president of Sachem Little League and Becher's close friend, said Becher was always ready to step in and lend a hand.
"Whatever you needed, Rich was . . . always looking to help," said Pierre, 49, also of Holbrook.
Pierre said coaches get hit by batted balls in the shoulder or knees, but he called Becher's fatal injury a "freak accident."
"It's hard to believe this is not a nightmare," Pierre said. "He passed away doing one of the things he loved doing, being on the baseball field coaching his son."
His devotion was often seen when Becher's son stepped out of the batting cage, said Tom Downey, an instructor at the Long Island Baseball Academy in Ronkonkoma.
" 'Did you have fun, bud?' That was always his thing," Downey said.
Becher's death should serve as a reminder to coaches that baseball at any level can be a dangerous game, even during batting practice, Downey said.
"All of my years doing this, I've never heard of a substantial injury or death while doing that," he said. "Everyone should be aware that the ball, when struck, is hit hard and can hurt you."