Top 10 Sports Stories of 2003

By Darrell K. Carter

Baltimore area sports were especially interesting in 2003. Many records were broken and legacies were left behind. A baby was born, and there were untimely deaths. Johnny Unitas had a stadium named after him. The Orioles traded away Sydney Ponson. The Blast won a championship. And the lowly Wizards drafted Terrapin Steve Blake. And that’s not all, by any means.

Let us look at this year’s top ten sports stories.

#10 Ravens draft Boller and Suggs
The Baltimore Ravens selected Arizona State defensive lineman/linebacker Terrell Suggs with the tenth pick overall and traded for the 19th pick in the first round and selected California Golden Bear quarterback Kyle Boller. The Ravens gave up the 41st pick in the second round and a number one in 2004. Suggs has played a prominent role on the defense, serving as the primary backup at linebacker and lineman in third down situations. He recorded 12 sacks and earned defensive “Rookie-of-the-Year” honors. Boller won the starting quarterback job out of training camp before an injury sidelined him, but was able to post a 5-4won/lost record before the injury.

#9 Anthony Wright shines on the field
Quarterback Anthony Wright spent the 2002 season on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad. This year he emerged from the third-string quarterback position after an injury to Kyle Boller, and became the talk of the NFL. In his first four games, Wright steered the Ravens to three victories, outscoring his opponents 119-60. He mounted a second-half comeback against Seattle and won the game 44-41--and then rushed to the hospital later that night to attend to his pregnant wife during childbirth.

#8 Orioles Anoint New Leaders
Former New York Yankees’ first base coach Lee Mazzilli was hired as the Baltimore Orioles’ 15th manager since 1954. Mazzilli, 48, only has experience as a manager from the Yankees’ minor league system from ’97-’99, where he had a 220-197 won/lost record. He played in the Major League, where he batted .259 during his 14-year career.
      General Managers Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan pulled off a coup at the winter meetings, when they signed former Oakland power-hitting shortstop Miguel Tajada and former Atlanta catcher Javy Lopez. Tajada signed a six-year $72 million dollar contract, becoming the richest Oriole in history. Lopez hit 43 homeruns last season and signed a three-year $18 million dollar contact.

#7 Towson Catholic Carmelo Anthony drafted
Carmelo Anthony’s high school basketball career started at Towson Catholic before he transferred to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. The Baltimore native became the third pick overall to the Denver Nuggets in the National Basketball Association annual draft. He spent one year at Syracuse University, where he led the Orangemen to a National title. In 2001, he was named Baltimore City and County Player of the Year, All Metropolitan Player of the Year and Baltimore Catholic League Player of the Year. Currently, Anthony is the starting small forward for the Nuggets.

#6 Eddie Murray is a Hall of Famer
Former Baltimore Orioles great Eddie Murray was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, becoming the 38th player in baseball history to be selected on the first ballot. He joined Willie Mays and Hank Aaron as the only players to collect 3,000 hits and 500 home runs in their career. A prolific switch hitter who hit 504 home runs with 1917 runs batted in, Murray’s career includes 19 grand slams, eight All-Star games, and three gold gloves. Eddie is currently the hitting coach for Cleveland.

#5 Baltimore Marathon
The third annual 5k Baltimore Marathon once again had that repeat feeling to it. Erick Kimaiyo of Kenya and Elvira Kolpakova of Russia won in their categories for the third straight year.
      Downtown Baltimore witnessed Erick Kimaiyo and two of his compatriots finish in the top three. Kimaiyo won the race in 2:18:40.2; Christopher Kipkosgei finished second in 2:18:44.6, and Charles Kamindo finished third in 2:20:50.4. Charles Powell of Baltimore finished 15th in 2:48:10.3.
      Elvira Kolpakova won in 2:48:49.4, Lee Dipietro of Ruxton, Maryland finished second in 2:50:36.1, and Laurie Gordon of Newton, NJ finished third in 3:06:02.9. Joleen Kajdas of Baltimore finished in eighth place in 3:13:45.3.

#4 Michael Phelps Swims into Record Books Again
Baltimore native Michael Phelps, 18, broke his own world record at the US Championships, winning the 200-meter individual medley in 1 minute, 55.94 seconds. He trimmed one-tenth of a second off the old mark he set at the earlier World Championships in Spain. Phelps also became the only man ever to win five individuals events at the National Championships. He won the 100, 200, and 400 freestyles meets as well as the 200 backstrokes.

#3 Jamal Lewis breaks NFL Record
When Jamal Lewis was drafted number five overall four years ago, there were high expectations for the former University of Tennessee star running back. Since then, Jamal Lewis has exceeded all expectations, and then some. He made a prediction that rivaled that of Joe Namath’s 1969 Super Bowl guaranteed win. In the week leading up to the September 14th game against Cleveland, Lewis said he would break the NFL single-game rushing record if he had 30-carries. He kept his promised and rushed for 295 yards on 30 carries, surpassing the previous record of 278 yards set in 2000 by Cincinnati’s Corey Dillon. Lewis finished with 2066 rushing yards, becoming the second leading rusher in a single season, and the fifth man to rush for 2000 or more yards.

#2 Loyola head coach leaves legacy
Diane Geppi-Aikens may not have been a household name in the major sports world, but she was a dominant figure in women’s college lacrosse. She died at the age of 40 from a large inoperable brain-stem tumor. The cancer that invaded her body did not keep the courageous coach from coaching her team, while bound to a wheelchair. The team finished with a 17-2 won/lost record and earned a number-one seed for the first time in the NCAA tournament. Coach Geppi-Aikens, a Baltimore native and 1984 Loyola graduate , complied a 197-71 (.735) overall won/lost record during her sensational 15-year coaching career.

#1 Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler dead at 23
Pitching prospect Steve Scott Bechler, 23, died February 17, 2003 from multi-system organ failure while participating in spring training workouts with the Baltimore Orioles in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. During the autopsy, Florida medical examiner Dr. Joshua Perper discovered the remnants of three capsules that contained ephedra, also known as ma huang, an herbal derivative that contains the stimulant ephedrine. Bechler used this over-the-counter diet supplement on a regular basis to control his weight.
      Bechler graduated in 1998 from South Medford (Oregon) High School, where he was team captain his final two years. He earned first-team all-conference honors in his junior and senior years, and honorable mention all state as a junior. He earned the Bob Feller Pitching Award at the American Legion World Series and was first-team all-tournament. Also, he played Little League and Babe Ruth League Baseball.
      Known as “Beck,” the promising athlete was married, and his wife was pregnant when he died.

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This story was published on January 3, 2004.