Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
You better get your fill of baseball now, while it's still the national pastime. 'Cause if Bob Alman has his way -- and he's so persistent, passionate, and charismatic, there's a good chance he will -- we'll all be taking each other out to a different kind of ball game pretty soon. Alman started playing croquet as a youngster but could never beat his dear old grandma. "This kind of thing scars you for life," he says. He played intermittently before moving to San Francisco in the 1970s, where he and his friends -- whom he describes as "intellectual outlaws" -- invented guerrilla croquet. "We would dress in white and go to places we didn't belong," Alman says. "We climbed the walls of the Spreckles Mansion in broad daylight. We played on a military base." Because of their outfits, they "looked authoritative" and rarely got booted from the property. "We went to Hewlett-Packard headquarters, and the security guard bought us lemonade. We played at the governor's mansion in Sacramento." Besides having convinced the City of San Francisco to build the country's first public croquet lawns, Alman was instrumental in lobbying for the establishment of the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach, where he now works as a consultant. Recently, Alman has been promoting more variations on croquet, including Toequet (in which you ditch the mallets and kick oversize balls through giant wickets) and Extreme MalletBall (in which Toequet's oversized balls are used but mallets are reintroduced). He's taking these sports to recreation leaders around the region; and soon, the state; and not long afterward, to a baseball diamond near you.
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.
Lots of people like to rent canoes and paddle the Loxahatchee River in North Palm Beach County or Everglades National Park way down near Homestead. Some local stalwarts stand by Hollywood's Anne Kolb Nature Center. But we're more civilized. We like to drop our ocean kayak in the drink near the eastern end of South South Lake Drive, open a cold one, and drift around. You can see a passel of million-dollar homes here, open another brewski, and then zip around the corner on the Intracoastal Waterway to North Lake. There aren't too many motor boats in these parts, so you'll be able to relax and maybe strike up a conversation with a friendly homeowner. If not, hey, there are several bars on the water -- including our all-time favorite, Le Tub (954-921-9425), so you can stop in for a quick one. Not that we recommend drinking while boating. Uh-uh.
"You play like a fag!" That's arguably the most insulting barb a person can hurl in the homophobic world of sports. But if you say that to one of the guys bending it like Beckham for the Florida Storm, he might take the jab as a compliment. That's because the Florida Storm is Broward County's gay soccer team. Formed last summer, the Storm has enjoyed early success, bringing home a gold medal at the 2003 International Gay and Lesbian Football Association World Cup Tournament in Boston. This year, the team will compete in tournaments in New York and San Francisco. But that's not all. In addition to kicking grass across the country, the Storm shows gay pride off the field, dressing in uniform for local pride parades and manning an information booth at this year's South Florida PrideFest. And, it should be noted, these guys got skills. Stop by Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale on a Saturday afternoon and watch these Marys practice. Once you see Joe Arndt slip a sweet pass between two defenders so that it lands on Gerwin Mucke's right foot, you'll understand how the Storm became first-year champions. For more information, visit www.floridastormsoccer.com.
A couple of kids chatter at each other in Creole. Then one issues this proclamation: "It'll be us two small guys against you two big guys. And we'll win." Other big guy turns out to be a lout, and these scamps can ball, so indeed, the big guys crash hard. That's the egalitarian world of hoops at Holiday Park. So you're a chunky preteen with no skills. Or a 4-year-old whose papa's busy balling on the next court. Or a scrappy 20-something with jeans sagging to the middle of your buttcheeks. Doesn't matter, because practically everyone gets to play somewhere on these two courts, despite the run-and-gun, five-on-five games that dominate the west court from about 7 to 9 most nights. On a given day, you're likely to hear as many as four languages, see games of all skill levels, and enjoy lights until 11 p.m. Even after the lights go black, the more ferocious games of one-on-one persevere as shooting, shouting shadow ballet. During summer evenings, courts are blocked off for league practice, but you can play around that, right?
In our fair region, it seems that every real estate developer shares the same approach. In a word, bulldoze. We're not saying that the Jacaranda golf course is one of the natural wonders of the world, but its designer (Mark Mahannah) did take advantage of its beautiful tropical environment. Ficus, live oak, banyan, and, yes, jacaranda trees create a luscious atmosphere. But don't let that distract you from the cruel game of golf. Jacaranda has two par 72 courses; at each, 16 of 18 holes are bordered by water. On the east course, greens vary in shape and size and provide the aggressive player a chance for birdie with the risk of bogey. The shorter, tighter west course requires you to become a more exacting player. Prices range from $35 in low season to $99 on holidays, with discounts for Broward and Palm Beach county residents. Readers' Choice: PGA National Resort & Spa
Really now, unless you're retired or without family of any kind, isn't 18 holes a bit much? You've got a life and, hell, you play a full round and the entire day has been duffed. That's why we often opt to play at Eco Golf Club, the best nine holes in Broward County. It's a beautiful and challenging 2,259-yard half-course, with four par 3s, four par 4s, and a good par 5 that you can walk or cart. Recently renovated, it's sprinkled with lush landscaping -- and the greens play like pool-table tops. Best of all, at $12 to $14 a pop, it's about half the price of your average dozen-and-a-half-hole public courses. And when you're done, you've got plenty of time to stop in at the 19th Hole bar -- yeah, it should be called the 10th Hole, but who's counting? -- and have a few buck-50 drafts while keeping in mind that all things, even golf, are best had in moderation.
Who woulda thunk that a bucolic setting such as this would be so close to the hubbub of I-95? Well, the producers of There's Something About Mary were certainly savvy enough to find it. For it was upon Aqua's small fake-turf tees that Matt Dillon began his clumsy overtures to win the heart of Mary, played by Cameron Diaz. Which means, by just driving a $4.75 bucket of balls into the range's huge pond, you'll have achieved a mere one degree of separation from the goddess Diaz -- or for the more bizarre-minded, one degree from Dillon. If, however, your passion is misplaced on golfing rather than stunning blond actresses, then you'll be pleased to know that Aqua is open days, evenings, and weekends and offers lessons for men, women, and children.