Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
A journey into the country's "largest subtropical wilderness" shouldn't be this easy, but it is. Just an hour or so on Florida's Turnpike, and city dwellers are face-to-face with the legendary River of Grass. Hearty types can kayak, canoe, or camp overnight in the primordial soup, but there's plenty to satiate the casual day-tripper. The Anhinga Trail, just minutes inside of the 1.5-million-acre park, is a breeze to navigate. Nothing but paved paths and elevated boardwalks. Oh, and a shitload of alligators and prehistoric-looking birds. Drive deeper into the park — the crowd wanes with every passing mile — until you reach the pink Flamingo Visitor Center overlooking Florida Bay. Have a picnic in view of an active osprey nest, and scout the marina for manatees and sightings of the rare American crocodile. The cost for entry is $10 per vehicle and a little bit of driving, but the experience is beyond compare.
He was supposed to be a choker. A guy who shrank in the big moments. LeBrick. And after roughly 1 billion articles disparaging him after the Heat lost in the NBA Finals in 2011 to the Dallas Mavericks, it was apparent that the "LeBron James will never be Michael Jordan" argument was once again imminent. Then the 2012 NBA Playoffs happened. And LeBron showed the world that he had the coal-fired nuts to carry a team into the finals and obliterate all haters' hopes and dreams of watching him disintegrate into a fine powder. LeBron was an absolute freight train of devastation with his athletic prowess, littering the court with the decaying corpses of the Knicks, Celtics, and Thunder, telling any and all who doubted him, mocked him, and otherwise said ridiculous things about him to go and fornicate with farm animals. With a primal intensity usually reserved for professional assassins, LeBron came through with what was possibly the single greatest one-man performance ever witnessed in NBA Playoff history. He has carried those powers into the 2013 season, where he just won a fourth MVP award, which is something Michael Jordan never did. Grace and violence. Beauty and devastation. Poetry and triumph. LeBron James is a walking epic poem.
Red from The Shawshank Redemption was obviously a Miami Dolphins fan. When Andy Dufresne tells him that, no matter how bleak things get, despair can never touch the hope that resides in us all, the frustrated Red replies, "Hope is a dangerous thing." And maybe that's because, as a Dolphins fan, Red has tried to believe that the new hotshot quarterback is the heir apparent to Dan Marino. Since Number 13 retired, the Fins have plowed through no fewer than 12 signal callers, all of whom fizzled out and got thrown back into the fetid garbage heap of failure. But now there's Ryan Tannehill, Miami's 2012 first-round draft pick, who has taken up the hope mantle and will try to bring that elusive thing called "winning" to a disillusioned fan base. In his rookie season, Tannehill threw for 3,294 yards — that's more than Marino threw in his rookie year. Tannehill also chucked 12 TDs and finished the season with a respectable 58.3 completion percentage. More important, he's shown he possesses the moxie and badassitude we haven't seen since Marino roamed the field and annihilated NFL defenses. The Dolphins have now armed themselves with new weapons, such as receiver Mike Wallace and tight end Dustin Keller. So Red, Dolphins fans can leave their worries behind. Ryan Tannehill is the hope Andy Dufresne was talking about.
Let's face it: There's not much to get excited about from the Miami Marlins this year. The good news from the Marlins penchant for trading their best players away for no-names is that they also got to replace the train wreck known as Heath Bell at closer. With Bell shipped off to Arizona, the closer's role opened up for 26-year-old Steve Cishek, who came into the role with guns blazing. Drafted by the Marlins in 2007, Cishek was a skinny kid whose fastball topped off at just 82 mph. But thanks to a growth spurt and some seasoning through college, Cishek now breaks the radar gun at 95 mph with a nasty fastball that gives opposing hitters the hives. Stepping in as the closer late in 2012, Cishek proved that Marlins fans need not worry about at least one position. The six-foot-six gangly heat thrower converted 13 of 14 save opportunities over the season's final three months, allowing opposing batters to hit a paltry .183 average with runners in scoring position during that time. Cishek was also the lone bright spot for the monumentally disappointing Team USA during this year's World Baseball Classic. So playing with a losing team and having success should be nothing new to him. The Marlins have plenty of problems going forward, but the closer ain't one. That is, of course, until they decide to trade Cishek for another crop of no-names.
The Florida Panthers have been an absolute mess. Injuries, bad breaks, and poor play have made the most irrelevant of all local pro teams fade even deeper into the ether. However, if there were ever a reason to start paying attention to the Cats and start readying that bandwagon, it's their goal-scoring, point-amassing, defense-obliterating rookie sensation Jonathan Huberdeau. The Panthers selected Huberdeau third overall in the 2011 NHL draft (one of the benefits of being consistently stinky!), and the results have been pretty consistently kick-ass from the word "go." In his first year with the minor-league Sea Dogs, Huberdeau scored 15 goals and added 20 assists for 35 points in 61 games. In 2011, he led all scorers at the Memorial Cup (the Canadian junior-league championship), signaling he was more than ready to throw down with the big boys. Huberdeau is a virtuoso with a hockey stick in his hands. He can finesse a pinpoint-accurate pass one minute and turn a puck into a lethal heat-seeking missile that annihilates hockey nets the next. In his first pro season with a depleted Panthers team, Huberdeau has been a star. He leads all NHL rookies in points and is a virtual shoo-in for the Calder Trophy, the award given to the league's best rookie. The Panthers are still stuck in the muck of mediocrity. But their future is certainly bright with Jonathan Huberdeau setting fire to the NHL ice with his awesomeness.
Florida Atlantic University baseball finished atop the Sun Belt Conference in 2012, and if the major baseball analysts and experts from Baseball America and Perfect Game USA are to be believed, the Owls are poised to repeat that feat this year. Better yet, they have an excellent chance at hitting up the NCAA tournament, where they can test their mettle against the big boys. A huge part of their success comes from their six-foot-five, dart-throwing southpaw, Austin Gomber. Gomber started nine conference games in 2012 for the Owls, posting a 3.82 ERA and mowing down 63 batters in the process. He also led FAU to a three-game sweep against rival Florida International University when he pitched a six-inning, ten-strikeout gem against the Golden Panthers. This season, Gomber has led FAU back atop the standings, where he's enjoyed a stretch of retiring 14 consecutive batters while continuing his dominance over FIU with an eight-strikeout performance earlier in the season. FAU baseball is ready to make some noise and wreck some butts in the NCAA baseball landscape, and Gomber will be leading the way with his flamethrower arm.
Quiet Waters plays host to the annual, tremendously popular Renaissance Festival. The park has its own ski rixen — which, if you're unfamiliar, is like wakeboarding minus the expensive boat — as well as a marina where you can rent boats. Splash Adventure is a children's "water playground," open seasonally within the park. The best part about Quiet Waters, though, is more the quiet than the water. With 430 acres to roam around in, you actually feel like you're out in nature in the middle of Deerfield's urban landscape along Powerline Road, and there are plenty of campgrounds. You can rent bicycles and pavilions, platform tents and teepees. There are also basketball courts and one of the few mountain bike trails to be found, built up with boardwalk-type ramps and maintained by park volunteers. There is nothing you could hope to find in a park that you won't find in Quiet Waters.
Yeah, alligators are pretty badass, but there's more to Florida's flora and fauna than those leathery, prehistoric beasts. The trails at Cypress Creek offer a glimpse into seven of the state's ecosystems that are home to an array of creatures both great and small. Step over bobcat and deer tracks as you amble through an oak and pine canopy before wandering past Sandhill cranes and purple gallinules chilling in a marshy flatland. Routes are well-suited for beginners but varied enough to hold a veteran hiker's attention. The 2,000-plus acres — much of which was acquired and rehabbed by the county in the past 15 years or so — are blissfully underused. That said, don't be shocked if one of those gators (or a snake or two) crosses your path at some point in the journey. Parking and entrance are located north of Indiantown Road, about one mile west of Florida's Turnpike.
Looking for a killer place to launch a kayak? Go west, young man. It seems counterintuitive, yes, but the region's inland rivers, lakes, and streams are among the most beautiful bodies of water you're likely to encounter. An outing at Riverbend can be tailored to suit your style. An early riser who prefers solitude and a quiet paddle? Travel into the park's interior to explore the sloughs and lagoons that are home to a menagerie of alligators, mammals, wading birds, and fish. Looking for more of a party-on-the-water vibe? Follow the crowd out of the park proper and onto the Loxahatchee River, where you'll find eight or so miles of cypress-shaded twists and turns. Technically speaking, alcohol is prohibited, but the gators won't tattle if you crack a barley water or two, so long as you don't leave the cans behind. Daily rentals of single and tandem kayaks are available for reasonable rates at Canoe Outfitters of Florida, Riverbend's designated, on-premises livery.
In between the bustling beachfronts of Fort Lauderdale and Miami is a sunny coziness to be discovered by joggers, diners, and amateur sand-castle architects (and the people who love them). The Hollywood Beach Broadwalk is a 2.5-mile stretch of mellowness, featuring a brick-paved pedestrian sidewalk bordered by the sandy beach on one side and an array of charming restaurants, cafés, shops, and inns on the other. The Broadwalk also features three oceanfront parks with playgrounds, a weekly produce market, and free performances at the Hollywood Beach Theater most nights. Park your car for the day and allow the free trolley to move you and the family up and down the Broadwalk and over to the lovely downtown area as well. There's lots to discover here and absolutely no hurry to do so.
A snorkel session along the jetty at Red Reef Park will remind any South Florida resident or visitor that it is absurd to associate glowing tropical fish and swaying coral with a desktop screen saver rather than the eye-popping live experience. Especially since this precious Boca Raton spot makes the underwater world of eels, seahorses, brain coral, and clownfish so easily available. All a curious mammal has to do is strap on a dive mask and wade in from the beach. In an instant, the noisy reality of I-95, office cubicles, and endless chatter vanishes and one is floating in a luminous dream. After a spectacular snorkel, a picnic at one of the park's pavilions is a nice way to gradually reenter the world of gravity and traffic lights. The parking fee of $16 to $18 is a small price to pay for such a therapeutic excursion.
This vista is positioned just right, so that an early-evening bike ride down A1A will bring you to the highest bridge in South Florida shortly after the road breaks away from the coastline, snaking its way west. If you time it right, arriving just as the Intracoastal Waterway below begins to mirror the fiery hues of the sky above, an end-of-day calm seems to come over all that is within your elevated view of Fort Lauderdale. A contemplative moment is to be expected. If you've brought a date, a kiss may earn you beeps from passing traffic (bonus!).