Things are going well for baseball's defending World Champions. They hold one of the best records in the majors and have held the top spot in the NL East nearly every day of the '04 campaign. Mike Lowell, the team's franchise player, is putting up MVP-caliber numbers, registering among the NL's top ten in batting average, home runs, extra base hits, slugging, and on-base percentage. He's also leading all of baseball in game-winning RBIs. Newcomer Armando Benitez has been a revelation, nearly perfect in converting save opportunities. The once-maligned closer became only the fourth active pitcher ever to collect a save against all 30 major league clubs a few weeks back, and he has already set a Marlins record for consecutive innings pitched without allowing an earned run; the previous mark had stood for a decade. Oh, and Grandpa Jack got some more good news last week, as A.J. Burnett, he of the Tommy John ligament surgery last season, made his return to the bigs against the Mets at Shea Stadium.
The fans are responding to all this good karma. Attendance numbers are nearly double what they were this time last year, and the crowds are wearing more teal and cheering for the visitors less. Defense of the title is going quite smoothly, and everyone is doing the Fish. What, if anything, could throw this steaming South Florida locomotive off its tracks? Let's hope it's not interleague play. Yes, it's that time of year again. The period all hardball purists loathe: American and National League squads intermingling during the regular season. AL pitchers taking at-bats, and NL managers allowed opportunities to use the DH.
The Marlins' first AL opponents at Pro Player Stadium (2269 Dan Marino Blvd., Miami) will be the Chicago White Sox, a team that, much like the Fish, has been rolling. The Sox are led by former Marlin Ozzie Guillen, and the first-year manager has his club comfortably atop the AL Central standings, quite a feat for a squad that hasn't finished better than second since 2000. The three-game series against Chicago opens on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. Call 305-626-7492. --Russ Evans
Rubbish Worth Relishing
"We'd like to thank the academy, volunteers, and especially the schleps who spew spilth into the Atlantic Ocean each and every year." A chance to deliver this Oscar (Ocean Watch Saves Corals And Reefs) acceptance speech is yours if you haul in the most debris from Broward County's shoreline. The 16th Annual Reef Sweep & Beach Cleanup happens at six pier locations from Hollywood to Deerfield Beach. Anyone who shows up can help. Divers who have their own gear can book a spot with one of several participating charter boats offering discounted rates, with proceeds benefiting Ocean Watch's marine conservation programs. Fruits of cleanups past include dentures, a handgun, and Winnie the Pooh underwear. Let's hope Johnny's parents don't toss the briefs out with the boom next time. The cleanup lasts from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by a "Reef Sweep Party" and awards ceremony at Baja Beach Club at Las Olas Riverfront (300 SW First Ave., Fort Lauderdale) from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission to the party costs $5 for volunteers, $10 for nonvolunteers, and $3 for children under 12, and includes refreshments, live entertainment, prizes, and cruise raffles. Call 954-467-1366, or visit www.oceanwatch.org. -- Michele D. Omenson
Go with the Flow
An event for girls who love dirt
It's awesome to be a female mountain biker. Why? Women "have never known the joys of jock itch or getting one of your 'boys' caught under the seat," as the folks at Club Mud, an association of area riders, put it. On top of that, ladies can join Club Mud's monthly "Feminine Flow Ride" -- an excellent tool for dealing with the side effects of having a uterus. During these rides, which take place at a different park each month, women can channel the uniquely female emotional madness that makes them feel simultaneously aggressive and needy. Designed for riders of all skill levels, the event lets aggro ladies speed off while a "nobody gets left behind" group nurtures the more mellow riders. This month, the ride takes place at Markham Park (16001 W. State Rd. 84, Sunrise). Although it's pretty much an all-girls event, men "are welcome to bring grills and/or beer." Riders meet at 9 a.m. and hit the trail at 9:30. Visit www.clubmud.com. --Deirdra Funcheon
Good, Clean Fun
Can a car race be staged with no engines? Sure, if there's a decent-sized hill around to serve as a starting point. That's the idea behind soap box races, and on Saturday, kids of all ages will race in the Fort Lauderdale Soap Box Derby benefiting the YMCA and other charities. This generation's Jeff Gordons and Tony Stewarts will rub chasses along downtown Andrews Avenue, one of Fort Lauderdale's main arteries, which will be blocked off for the day to serve as a grand prix thoroughfare. Kids from age 5 all the way to 17 will take part in the daylong event, with the first race commencing at 9 a.m. Admission is free, but you might want to bring along a folding chair, as seating in the Riverwalk district is limited. Call 954-468-1541. -- Russ Evans