Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Some sports stars seem to fit seamlessly into their cities, like left hands into well-worn mitts. Derek Jeter was destined for Yankees pinstripes. George Brett was made for the muddy modesty of the Midwest. And Wade Boggs embodied Boston with his blue-collar attitude and bizarre superstitions, like eating fried chicken and mashed potatoes before every game. Under Jeffrey Loria, however, the Marlins haven't had much of an identity. Ozzie Guillen was supposed to imprint some personality, but he confounded Cubans by loving Fidel and lost everyone else by, well, losing games. Last season, when white-bread manager Mike Redmond was plopped atop a flavorless lineup, the Fish's season looked sure to be blander than your abuela's overbaked bacalao. But then, on April 7, after losing five of its first six games, the Marlins called up a young pitching prospect by the name of Jose Fernandez, and an otherwise insipid season suddenly got spicy. By now, you probably know Fernandez's story: Born into poverty in Cuba, he tried to leave three times but failed and found himself in jail. On his fourth attempt, he had to dive overboard to save his mother from drowning. But they made it, first to Mexico and eventually to Tampa. On his Major League debut, Fernandez fanned a rookie record of eight opponents. In another game, he struck out 13 — only to do one better his next time on the mound. He won a team-best 12 games with a miserly 2.19 ERA and an absolutely stingy .182 opponent's batting average. His National League Rookie of the Year award was the diamond atop another 100-loss season. But the real reason Fernandez makes Miamians proud isn't his pitching prowess. It's that the kid has character. Sometimes he's goofy — dancing behind teammates during interviews, joking with opposing players, or celebrating Giancarlo Stanton homers like he just won the lottery. Other times, he's deadly serious. In his last start of the 2013 season, Fernandez was cruising to a win over the Braves when they started talking trash. What did he do? He smacked his first-ever home run in the direction of that godawful dolphin sculpture and then told the Braves they could ride that thing back to Atlanta. Sadly for Fish fans, his 2014 campaign was cut short by Tommy John surgery. But if there's a reason to hope for the future of the franchise, it's his long-term future with the team. Fernandez fits the 305 like an old leather glove.
At daybreak, before the Maseratis and the Duck Tours clog A1A, before the sand temperature matches that of the coals on the grill, before the throngs of socks- and Teva-wearing tourists kick sand on your towel, Fort Lauderdale Beach is yours. You know it's worth waking up early for the sunrise, so by 6 a.m., you've already staked your claim in the sand, glowing pink from the morning's first rays. Here, there is more space for your volleyballing and picnicking than anywhere else, with courts and benches and grills you've already claimed for the day. Here, you know the tricks to finding the best parking (which has been made infinitely easier with a years-long parking project now complete). Here, there may be rules, but you know how to break those rules, because this is your beach. So have another mimosa and let your dog fetch some driftwood. At least until the lifeguards show up.
Parks, we've got a few here in the Sunshine State — 161 state parks alone. But while plenty of states can boast of plenty of parks — some with giant redwoods and others with grand holes in the ground — in Florida, we have more of one thing than almost anyone else: beaches. So it only stands to reason that one of our best local parks would include a beach. The park is named after John U. Lloyd, who served as the Broward County attorney for more than 30 years — which isn't a particularly poetic origin story, but Johnnie was the guy responsible for securing the land for our public use, so he deserves to be commemorated. The park offers more than just miles of perfect South Florida beach with pavilions and picnic tables. Activities include fishing, surf casting, canoeing, swimming, boating, and kayaking. Enjoy the wildlife, including the manatee sanctuary at Whiskey Creek — just do not ride, touch, pet, or otherwise molest our precious sea cows.
Not all dogs are created equal. Some fit in handbags. Others stand taller than their owners. And some may very well consume as much chicken as their owner on Wing Night. At Happy Tails Dog Park, all dog's creatures — especially those in need of a good run — can frolic together in harmony in this five-acre mecca designed for man's best friend. There's an agility course where your Westminster-in-training terrier can practice his high jump. There's a huge pathway that Master can walk along while Fido plays fetch. And the park is divvied into weight-restricted sections to keep your two-ounce chihuahua away from the Rottweilers. A home-run slide in poo is rare here. Not only does the park provide bins and bags for the inevitable but visitors actually use them. And the only time you'll have to pay to get in is during Doggiepalooza, an annual event typically held in January where $1 gets you access to every kind of pet product you've never heard of but suddenly have to buy. Who knows? You might even adopt a friend for your man's best friend.
Surfing is a state of mind, they say. It's not so much a destination but a journey of the soul. But you do actually have to go to a destination to surf. No need to drive forever and wind your way to some secret spot when there are miles of coastline smack in the middle of the city. So wax up the deck and get riding here off A1A between Belmar Street and Viramar Street. This spot can get littered with tourists from time to time, but the way the wind kicks up and the waves rush in toward the shore, it's worth fighting them for parking. When a tropical depression hits, it's all yours.
Motors have ruined boating. There was a time when taking to the sea meant adventure — just you and your vessel, fighting nature together, working as one to tame that violent lover known as the ocean. Gone are those days. Now you just hit a button and let technology do all the work while Jimmy Buffett sings you a song about a hot dog or something. Damn you, Buffett. But all is not lost! There is still a way to capture that primal feeling of oneness with the water, to wave goodbye to land, just you and a paddle, floating inches above the water, staring manatees right in their cold, dead, vegetarian eyes. The kayak. A piece of technology seemingly tailor-made for South Florida's canals. And there is no better place in Broward to recapture your inner seaman than Middle River. Launch off at George English Park (it's free, though the iguanas will try to intimidate you) and begin your journey. Paddle north for a more residential and serene route. Feel free to judge everyone's backyard along the way. Or go south toward the bustling Intracoastal, where you'll experience wide-open canals and, if you go far enough, waterfront bars. But drink responsibly, and keep your head on a swivel. We've lost good people to sneaky pelicans.