SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Every Aug. 3, Kelsey Beck finds a McDonald's and orders one of the milkshakes her father enjoyed so much. It's her way of remembering him on his birthday.
On other days, the 18-year-old might be giving a speech about substance abuse and its effect on families. This is another way to remember her dad.
A major-league reliever for 13 years, Rod Beck died of an overdose in the summer of 2007 at age 38. His family began talking about his illness almost immediately. Stacey, his wife and mother of their two girls, recalls Kelsey, then 12, typing up a press release only days after her father's death. She worked in the bathroom while Stacey fixed her hair. A TV crew was on its way over to do an interview.
"We decided as a family we were not going to hide," Stacey said. "Are the details of the end ugly? Yes, they're ugly, but if we get stuck in those, we're not helping anybody."
Within hours of learning her father had died, Kelsey called Jerry Moe, the director of children's programs at the Betty Ford Center. He had counseled her and her older sister, Kayla, about four years earlier, when their father went to the center for treatment. After that conversation, her mom remembered, Kelsey said:
"'We have to help other people. Daddy can't die without helping somebody else,'" Stacey said. "That's how Pitch 4 Kidz was born."
Stacey co-founded a nonprofit for children of substance abusers, to give them the kind of support her daughters received at Betty Ford. Back then, when the center offered to bring Kayla and Kelsey, their mom initially thought they didn't need to learn that their father drank to excess and that cocaine had put its hooks in him. She didn't want to force them to confront something they could avoid.
"I said, "They don't know about this, so thank you very much,'" Stacey said.
But they did know. They saw their dad retreating, sleeping constantly -- all the signs that alarmed their mother. They went to Betty Ford for four days and learned that they could loathe their father's illness and still love him.
"It was a gift for our family," Stacey said. "The program taught them it wasn't their fault, they didn't cause it; they couldn't solve it; they can't control it, but they can take care of themselves. Four days. They got that message in four days, and they carry it with them every day. Four days, that's it."
Kelsey remembers writing a letter to her dad and then drawing a picture of how addiction looked in their home. She and Kayla, now 19 and attending the University of Arizona, drew nearly identical pictures, she said, of their father asleep on a sofa. In hers, Kelsey also drew herself about to play in a baseball game with a thought bubble saying: "Why isn't Daddy here?"
Pitch 4 Kidz offers one session every three months, over a long weekend, for children 6 to 12. Stacey would like to do a lot more eventually, but for now, the program depends on volunteers and limited donations.
A licensed counselor who received her master's degree two years ago, she works two other jobs, counseling at a Scottsdale clinic called Crisis Preparation and Recovery and selling real estate.
The urge to help people in unspeakable crises didn't start when she felt her husband slipping away. In 1993, the two of them took up the cause of AIDS patients when Rod -- or Rodney, as Stacey calls him -- played for the Giants. Each player was expected to choose a charity to support, and when he saw a movie about Ryan White, a young boy harassed in his hometown for having the disease, he knew he'd found his cause. It didn't matter to them that AIDS made pariahs of the people attacked by the virus. If anything, that drew the Becks in deeper.
An "Until There's a Cure" day began as a Giants tradition, and it will celebrate its 20th anniversary this summer. Over the years, Stacey became friends with Mary Fisher, one of the world's leading AIDS activists, and the two traveled to Zambia together in the summer of 2007, not long after Rod died.
"I left on Rodney's birthday," Stacey said. Knowing that African nations had become a critical frontier for fighting AIDS, she said, "It was always his dream to go there."
Throughout his baseball career, Rod was known as one of the most accessible players in the game. He famously took up residence in an RV behind the outfield of the park for the Cubs' minor-league affiliate in Des Moines, as he tried to rebuild his career in 2003. He found it impossible to turn down autograph requests, Stacey said.
"The one day, he had to turn down someone for an autograph, he was mortified," she said. "I was pregnant, and I had an ultrasound and we were in spring training. … He had to get out of there with his wadding wife, through this group of people. And he was just apologizing the whole way down. 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry, pregnant wife, pregnant wife.'"
Stacey laughed as she retold the story, and remembered an interview he did that drifted toward the topic of their adopting Kayla.
"Rodney goes on sports radio and starts talking about low sperm count and infertility drugs," she said. "And I'm sitting there going: 'No, they want to know what you're doing to get ready for spring training.' And he didn't see any shame in it. Ralph (Barbieri, the host) said we never got so many calls. Guys heard this big macho guy talking abut low sperm count and they thought it was OK."
Younger sister Kelsey inherited a lot of her dad's personality. She loves singing and the theater and has a part in her high school's spring production of "Footloose." But she finds herself a little more inhibited when she speaks to groups about addiction. The largest, she said, contained close to 100 people.
"I was shaking, I'm not going to lie," she said.
People react in many different ways, some of them unwilling to see it as an illness and believe that she doesn't or shouldn't blame her father.
"We still have to say Rodney died of addiction, but he was a good person," Stacey said. "You don't say that with cancer. 'She died of breast cancer, but she was a good person.'"
As the addiction grew worse, Stacey did have to tell Rod to leave their home -- "the hardest thing I've ever had to do." She still loved him, but she had to separate the kids from his disease.
The family had already staged an intervention, inviting close friends from baseball, including former Padres teammates Trevor Hoffman and Scott Linebrink, into the fold. To this day, they have remained friends, as have Rod's former manager with the Giants and Cubs, Dusty Baker ("he's uncle," Stacey said) and former Red Sox teammate Tim Wakefield.
Barney Nugent, formerly an assistant trainer with the Giants, and wife Denise live in Arizona and helped Stacey rear the girls while she worked and went to school. When Kelsey had a performance, the audience often included Barney, whose phone number is on her speed dial.
Stacey plans to re-marry, to a man she met through work. No matter what, she says she will always love Rodney. She staged one more intervention two weeks before he died, not confident it would make a difference but certain that she "had to look (the girls) in the eye and tell them I did everything I could."
Probably as a result, she said she never had feelings of guilt, even though it can be such a prominent feature of grief. Part of her will never give up on him, even now that he's gone.
"There was not one iota of Rodney that was a bad person," she said. "Not one. Not one. He was the most compassionate, caring person ever."