Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
When poker skyrocketed in popularity a few years ago, games sprouted around South Florida like mushrooms. Poker fans can pick up games anywhere from pubs to megacasinos. Amateur players delight at the large number of games around town, but old, salty poker dogs aren't so thrilled. Where to go for a more authentic experience? The forgotten halls of Dania Jai-Alai's Cardroom are as real as you can get around here. The tables are small and intimate, live simulcast betting is a glance away, and jai alai balls crack against concrete in the background all night. The players know the game all too well and keep a close eye on their cards. Every day but Monday, from noon to midnight, games of Texas Hold 'Em, Seven-card Stud, and Omaha Hi/Lo keep the cards turning. But there isn't the crush of the bigger gambling palaces, with a hundred waiting players queued up to take your place. As soon as a table fills, it's a mini-tournament. On the weekends after 5 p.m., no-limit Texas Hold'em cranks up. But the real night to play is Wednesday, when the beer flows for a buck a cup and $1 chicken wings fill paper bowls.
When your business is nightclubs, you want to spend some time in the fresh air. From time to time, you want to stretch out in grassy open space. That's why Larry Wald, owner of Cathode Ray Café, started to gravitate to Fort Lauderdale's Holiday Park, and it's why he became a soccer fan. The park, with 11 playing fields up and running during the season, is home to one of the busiest soccer programs in South Florida. During his park forays, Wald learned to love soccer as a spectator sport. It's not about the teams, he says, but the quality of play. And at Holiday, the quality is good. "It's great to go to the park without following any particular team," he says. "You can't be disappointed. You're just watching it for the game." Wald, who owns not only the gritty gay wi-fi club on Fort Lauderdale's Las Olas Boulevard but also Boulevard Café next door, would rather be at Holiday, assessing a crossing pass than watching the Heat at Triple A. And when the soccer season is over, Wald drifts over to the softball fields or the racquetball courts. "There's enjoyment for everybody," he says. It's a sports spectator's paradise.
Surprised at this choice? Well, before you start looking for somebody to chop block, think about it for a moment. Crowder was a rookie last season, a lowly third-rounder in the 2005 draft. Why so low? There were questions about his character after having a couple of run-ins with the law at the University of Florida. But the only law broken since he left the Gators was theft -- by the Dolphins for getting Crowder as the 70th pick. In the NFL, Crowder has proven to be more than a standup guy. Forced into more playing time after future Hall of Famer Junior Seau was injured, he stepped up big, and his sturdy play helped turn the team around at midseason. By the end of the year, the rookie was second on the team in tackles. At six-foot-two and 245 pounds, Crowder is a dream linebacker, tough as hell and with a nose for the ball that he was born with. Literally. His dad, Randy Crowder, was a defensive lineman for the Dolphins and Bucs back in the 1970s. Look for big things from the Chan man next year.
This is easy. The best Heat player is a guy named Shane. Or is it Dwaq? You know, the scary, 325-pound guy who muscles the ball to the rim like a breaching whale, who also happens to be the high-flying six-foot-four guard who zigzags through opposing defenses like a barracuda in sargasso weed. All right, we equivocate. Shaq or Dwyane? Dwyane or Shaq? One has the Superman shoulders that can carry a team through the rough spots, the other the creative moves and the torrid shot that put fear into the hearts of opponents. The big guy has been notable in his absence this season, missing 18 games with an injury early on while the Heat muddled along at .500. Since Shaq got back, they're a .700-or-better team. Powerful evidence of Shaq preeminence, wouldn't you say? But shouldn't we factor Alonzo Mourning in there? Could O'Neal be anywhere as effective without a Hall of Famer as backup? (Can you say Dwaqzo?) Then there's Wade, the money player, the guy who sells the tickets, keeping the team within striking distance when others are having a bad night, single-handedly winning games with furious fourth-quarter scoring. So we're going to go with the acrobatic Dwyane Wade. Let's just say he's the emotional heart of the team, an inspiration to his compañeros, and, damn, don't even think about going all the way without him. Does this smell of arbitrariness? Hell, yes. And so what?
Cabrera's groupies have put up an Internet fan site that carries this disclaimer: "Everyone in this group is considered Miguel's #1 fan. Please do not argue over it!" The group could include any pro baseball fan in South Florida who watched Cabrera rotate positions with ease during the Marlins' 2003 World Series run and who will watch him perform as the best player on a lousy team in 2006. Stat freaks adore him. He was third in the majors in batting average in 2005. The youngest ever to have back-to-back 30-home-run seasons (Albert Pujols, a future Hall of Famer, was 80 days older). The fourth-youngest to have a 30-homer, 100-RBI season (behind Mel Ott, Al Kaline, and Ted Williams, HOFers all) and youngest to do it while scoring 100 runs. All fine and good, but he wouldn't be here if the kids didn't love him too. Now 23 years old, he looks 16 -- just old enough to drive the SUV he stopped after a game last season when it became clear he was the head of a comet with running children as its tail. You have to wonder about the arguments breaking out at the driver's-side window, over who wanted his autograph most. No matter. He signed and signed.
The Nobody Home League resumed play this year, and unfortunately for the Panthers, the team is still borderline at best. Billboard-ready goalie Roberto Luongo started the year gangbusters, then tapered off to merely good. This is a team that needs a stopper, no doubt, because while scoring is up leaguewide, Florida is mired in the bottom third. Only the six-foot-three, 215-pound Jokinen has proven capable of putting the biscuit in the basket with any regularity. Not only have the Panthers failed to find another offensive threat -- Jokinen is the only Panther among the league's top 50 scorers -- they depend on the center's touch for wins. Of the 22 games in which the baby-faced Finn didn't score or assist on a goal, the Panthers lost... all 22. As if that weren't enough, the 27-year-old captain was quoted earlier this year as saying that his philosophy about opponents once he gets a lead is to "break their necks." Exactly the guy you want taking your face-off.