Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Face it, the Panthers aren't looking all that good this year. Most days, their defense is porous, and if they send a puck or two to the back of the net, then it's been a good night. This is why goalie Roberto Luongo is -- without a doubt -- the team's most valuable player. Luongo joined the Panthers in the same trade that netted the team last year's winner, Olli Jokinen. But while Jokinen has had a so-so season, Luongo has been providing stellar performances between the posts night in and night out. If you have any doubts, just check the statistics: Luongo led the league in saves during the regular season with an astonishing 495 more than the number-two goalie. The Panthers scored barely two goals a game this season, yet 17 of the team's wins came with a one-goal margin. Luongo has clearly gained the respect of the rest of the league, as he was chosen by coaches as the Panthers' only delegate to the Eastern All Stars, and his name has been mentioned as a contender for both the Vezina (Best Goaltender) and Hart Memorial (league MVP) trophies. The Panthers' own acrobatic brick wall broke the record for most shutouts by a goalie under the age of 25 two-thirds of the way through the season and should look forward to a long career, hopefully here in South Florida.
The 2003 version of the Marlins wasn't just the best team in South Florida, or in baseball, or in all of sports last year. They were, from a dramatic standpoint, one of the best teams in recent memory. First off, the horribly nicknamed "Men in Teal" weren't supposed to do much, except maybe give the Braves some decent practice before the postseason. And the team's risking of a large percentage of its payroll on an aging star catcher seemed a bit odd, if strangely welcome. To no one's surprise, the Fish came floundering out, quickly falling to a dismal record. Then they hired Jack McKeon, a septuagenarian manager who decided to trade his grandkids for one more chance at major league glory. Then some kid pitcher named Dontrelle Willis, who had a delivery reminiscent of a prehistoric mating dance, joined the club -- and captured the country with an eight-game winning streak. Then another kid named Miguel Cabrera joined the team and, in his first game, hit a walk-off home run to win it. Then that aging catcher, Pudge Rodriguez, carried the club to the pennant. Josh Beckett, the young ace with a Texas drawl, finished off the Yankees in New York to win the world championship. So... what about this year? They're going to be good, damn good. But failing to sign the only sure Hall of Famer on the team -- that aging catcher -- wasn't smart. Expect them to make the postseason but fall short of a repeat.
Nobody really seemed to think much of Juan Pierre when the Marlins signed him last offseason. Fast guy, kind of goofy looking, solid hitter, but not someone who would ever, as he might put it in his hyperbolic fashion, shock the world. But in a way, he did, using his dashing speed to help the Marlins win the World Series. He led the league in stolen bases -- but to do that, he had to get on, and he did it in all sorts of ways. Lacing line shots to the gaps, hitting the rare home run (OK, he got one), running out the infield hits. But it was those bunt singles that really made him special, his magical ability to absorb a 93-mph fastball with his bat and make it crawl like a baby down the baseline while he sped to the bag. Out in center, he had a knack for chasing down balls that had triple stamped all over them. Pierre doesn't have the glove talent of an Andruw Jones or a Jim Edmonds, but he makes up for it with speed and will. And he was a key part of the Marlins' magic. Remember the demoralizing 25-8 drubbing by the Red Sox in June? The very next night, the Fish incredibly overcame a 9-2 deficit to take a one-run lead in the ninth. Then, with a man on second, Johnny Damon ripped what looked like a sure game-tying single to center. Pierre charged, dove, and somehow caught the ball two inches off the ground to start a double-play and end the game. Oh, he had four hits, a walk, and two steals in that one too. Run, Juan, run.
OK, so we know you aren't the gaudy type whose tikes hanker for those newfangled water parks like Castaway Island in Hollywood. And the high-tech stuff in Fort Lauderdale's Holiday Park, which includes a train locomotive, is a little too much for your precious little rowdies. So consider this: There's a modest collection of swings, slides, and other climbables on the ocean near Angelo's Corner (954-923-0679) on Hollywood Beach. The kids love this place, cuz there are lots of others there. There are picnic shelters, nearby paddleball courts, and of course, it's on the ocean, so the aesthetics are, well, perfect. At Angelo's, you can get a pitcher of beer and a slice, then watch the kids while they do their business.
Located on the eastern periphery of downtown West Palm Beach, Flagler Drive is the picturesque waterfront roadway that embodies the city's more enticing aesthetic qualities. Each year, the road is home to a few significant cardio-related events, such as the American Heart Association's HeartWalk and the Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's Race for the Cure. But even when the street isn't blocked off for pedestrian use, the wide sidewalk that runs along the Intracoastal Waterway is ideal for those early-morning jogs. With the island of Palm Beach across the Intracoastal to the east, the horizon spreads out just enough for you to take in the rising sun while you burn those breakfast calories. And don't worry about the hustle and bustle of the nearby automobiles; the sidewalk is set far enough back from the road to keep the traffic at a distance, and you don't even have to cross through any intersections. Also, the sparsely strewn line of palm trees on the grass median adds a nice tropical touch to the otherwise urban view. It'll tempt even the most ardent couch potato to strap on some sneakers and hit the pavement.
There are those cool gyms. You know the ones. Lotsa lycra, gizmos galore, and shoes that cost more than the gross national product of Honduras. Well, those aren't for us. We like kids who fly through the air with the greatest and then sneeze. The top location for this is Tag Gymnastics in Weston. The place has produced "a steady stream of state and national champions," according to co-owner Elena Lechner. One of them, Ruben Chamorro, recently took the overall Florida title for 10-year-olds. Tag, which has been open since 1973, for the last four years at its relatively obscure location near a Home Depot, is a great place for kids and adults. It has wonderful pits filled with large chunks of foam rubber that are meant for training but also provide a soft landing pad for the would-be human flier. There are floor-level trampolines too. Costs aren't bad at this Olympic-level training facility. One hour a week for 12 weeks will set you back $170. And if you want to have a kids birthday party here, they have a bounce house and the largest indoor blow-up slide that we have ever seen. And we've seen a lot. Birthday parties cost $200 for two hours and up to 20 children.