Road to the Grand Slam

South Florida is still tennis mecca, drawing rising stars from near and far. Nowadays, it's not just the Florida weather (even states in the frigid north now have those inflatable, climate-controlled tennis pods where would-be tennis stars can drill year 'round) but sharp-eyed honers of championship racket technique like Rick Macci. It has been a good year for the maestro of the Palm-Aire Racquet Club in Pompano Beach, who counts the Williams sisters, Jennifer Capriati, and Andy Roddick as former charges. Macci's got a couple of up-and-comers (a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old, both girls), and the future's looking bright.

One of Macci's great pleasures is taking his three daughters -- ages 8, 7, and 5 -- to a county fair or a local carnival to get lost in the amusements. "There's a kid in all of us," Macci says.

"We always make a day of it at the county fair. What I like about it is just the enjoyment children get out of it. They can go on the littlest ride or the biggest ride and they don't know the difference." Can we call that a passion for the game?

The four-year, $52 million deal for aging first baseman Delgado, a bona fide star, was just what Jeffrey Loria needed to lift the stink off his franchise after giving away World Series hero Pudge Rodriguez. But what Delgado really brings to South Florida -- and the entire United States -- is a dose of political courage. That's right. The guy believes in something other than the next seven-figure endorsement deal he can squeeze out of some corporate giant. Delgado refuses to stand for the singing of "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch, a new ritual brought on by a knee-jerk reaction to the tragedy of September 11. Why? He doesn't like, as he puts it, "the way they tied 'God Bless America' and 9/11 to the war in Iraq in baseball." You see, he's not politicizing the game but the exact opposite: Delgado is protesting the politicization of sports. Been to an NFL game lately? Now, a good word to remember the troops overseas is one thing, but halftime has become a frickin' military procession. It's like a jingoistic commercial for the Bush Doctrine in between the ones for Buick and Bud Light. "I say God bless America, God bless Miami, God bless Puerto Rico, and God bless all countries until there is peace in the world," the new Marlins star says. Yes, and God bless Carlos Delgado too.

Some people would argue that this is not actually a sports league but a drinking club disguised as a sports league. In what other athletic association do players need to pause to put their beers in their fanny packs before making a catch in deep center field? But athleticism, strategy, competition, and team spirit are all part of the game. Players slide into home plate, make sweet plays, coach teammates from first and third bases, and debate when to bunt or sacrifice fly. The uniforms are hot too: Look for pimped-out threads complete with capes, tube socks, headbands, and beer cap appliqués. Get in on the trend while it's hot: The number of teams in the Fort Lauderdale division jumped from five in the first season to eight in the second, and registration just opened for West Palm Beach and Miami leagues. At last count, the birthplace of adult kickball, Washington, D.C., had 178 teams -- a number limited only by the number of available fields in the city.

You'd think that having your own private island would be too pricey for the working stiffs. But there's a private stretch of sand on Munyon Island at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park that's easily accessible for saps like you and me. Munyon is just a short kayak trip across the park's lagoon estuary, which is ideal for beginners, with its waist-deep water. The kayak rental will set you back $10 an hour for a single or $15 for a two-person, or $25 and $40 for a half-day trip. You'll paddle past roseate spoonbills, silver mullets, and feeding pelicans before landing along the soft sand of Munyon. There's even a covered picnic spot hidden in the trees. On most days, you'll share the island only with the hermit crabs, which will make this your own private island, at least for a day.

If you like to run, well, you're crazy. We mean, it's almost summer in South Florida, and even if you jog at midnight, you'll sweat like a pig. You'll suffer. Of course, you may end up healthier, but then again, you may end up dead. So we recommend drinking heavily. Still want to exercise? Try the 8.5-mile Hollywood Broadwalk course set by the South Florida Striders, who sponsor a fun run every Wednesday at 6:15 p.m.. The course starts at the bandshell, which is located on Johnson Street at the beach. Head north along the Broadwalk to Dania Beach pier -- you'll see some stunning vistas and get a good look at humanity (meaning albino-like, shirtless, Québecois tourists) along the way. Then turn around and head back south to the Jefferson Street parking lot. Turn around again and return to the bandshell. There are three great advantages to this course: (1) There are showers along the way, so you can cool off; (2) it's measured, so you know how far you've gone; (3) Nick's Bar and Restaurant (954-920-2800) is located just north of the course's end, so you can suck down a cool Kalik when you finish.

Tourists will probably want to take the Jungle Queen to gawk at the waterfront mansions or wallow among the plastic-surgery disasters downtown, but natives have already seen too much of that. For a taste of what the river looked like back in the day when Frank and Ivy Stranahan's clapboard house was the sole example of prime real estate in Fort Lauderdale, try the New River Trail in Secret Woods Nature Center. The 3,200-foot, wheelchair accessible boardwalk winds through live oak hammocks, over a swamp, and under a green canopy of cypress and maples. The New River here is untouched and untamed, teeming with fish, manatees, tiny crabs, pond apple and mangrove trees, wading birds -- and no mansions and only the occasional yacht to mess up your pure, unadulterated nature moment. With gleaming condo buildings growing like beanstalks downtown, it's tough to come by such a pleasant way to experience the river.

What makes this spot so damned unknown is the fact that it's so damned hard to get to. Here's how it works. Park your car at one of the very few public spots along North Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach -- you know, near Rush Limbaugh and the other millionaires. Now, either take a bike north to the island's farthest tip along North Ocean Way or hoof your ass across the soft sand for the two-mile trip. Along the rock jetty, swim into a world that most people have to pay a dive company to take them to. A reef has grown along these rocks, with living coral and undulating schools of sea life. Make sure you go at high tide, because low tide brings a cloud of silt and trash from the inlet. As long as they don't install parking spots nearby -- and you can bet those gazillionaires who live along the beach here won't let them -- this place will remain a hidden snorkeling spot that rivals anything north of the Keys.

Never mind Viagra -- every lap around the mountain bike trails in Quiet Waters Park will help your cojones get bigger. When you first start going around the 5.5-mile loop, you can take the novice route, which is full of cheat chutes that let you circumvent the steep drops and hard parts. If you crash on this trail -- which is well-marked with green signs -- well, you'd be pretty pathetic, but you'd fall onto a layer of pine needles that feels like a bed of Charmin. As soon as you become more confident, start tackling the harder trails in all their root-, rock-, and sand-bound glory. One section of single track is covered with tree branches and feels like you're tunneling through a cave; another section forces you to make tricky drops while trying not to fall in the lake. In addition to the roller coaster-esque cruise around the park, there is a trick area with teeter-totters and jumps for all levels of ability. Wear a helmet, keep at it, and soon you'll be swapping pictures of your yard sales and bruises with the folks at Club Mud -- a mountain-biking group that brings machetes to the park each month and keeps the trails in shape. Once you've mastered the trails, join the Mudders for some laps -- at night!

Nothing makes you want to show off the panty lines under your spandex like a beautiful bike route. Hop on your hot wheels and ingest some cool scenery along the water. Start at the Intracoastal Waterway, right around Southern Boulevard and Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach. Once you've pedaled east, past the fishermen on the Southern Boulevard bridge and into the town of Palm Beach, Donald Trump's Mar-A-Lago estate will be on your left. Dodging cars at the rotary here and turning left (north) around the blind curve adds just enough danger to get your adrenaline up. Flow north with the traffic on A1A along the ocean, daydreaming about which mansion you'll buy when you become a famous supermodel. You can either hang a left on Royal Palm Way, which will put you on the Royal Park bridge back to the mainland, or keep cruising north, taking a forced left in front of Estee Lauder's house, hanging a right onto South County Road by the Bethesda-by-the-Sea church, and passing the swank Breakers resort before turning left on Royal Poinciana Way, which brings you back to the mainland on the Flagler Memorial Bridge. Once you hit the mainland, go left (south) on Flagler and suck up the breeze as you coast along the super-wide sidewalks along the Intracoastal back to your starting point at Southern. The longer route measures just over eight miles.

OK, so it's an obvious choice, but so was West Palm Beach's scenic, sinuous Flagler Drive as the setting for the first marathon ever held in Palm Beach County. Flagler's tree-lined ribbon of asphalt uncoils alongside the Intracoastal and weaves through several historic neighborhoods, displaying some of the area's most appealing assets along the way. Although the weather last November 14 was far from the subtropical splendor race officials had hoped for, an almost totally level course kept the competition as fierce as the wind and rain. More than 3,500 competitors from 17 countries took the challenge, but it was Kenyan runner Charles Kibiwot who broke the tape, finishing the 26.2-mile course in just under two hours and 20 minutes. The marathon offered some unusual local color as well: Part-time Palm Beach resident Donald Trump supplied his Trump Ice bottled water to filling stations along the course, some of which were occupied by volunteers dressed as hula dancers and tie-dyed hippies. It all came together flawlessly, and a second marathon, this one open to 5,000 runners, is scheduled for early December.

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