Ballpark financing woes aside, the Florida Marlins can be just as dreary on the field: waiting for Alex Gonzalez to chase yet another breaking ball in the dirt or watching Matt Clement walk the bases loaded -- again. And games can be especially unpleasant during those hot summer Sundays, when the hammering sun makes just sitting in the stands akin to a full workout. But parents, take heart. The real attraction for your little Little Leaguer comes after Sunday afternoon games, when the team opens up the base paths so tykes 12 years old or younger can trot from first to home -- usually with a smiling Billy the Marlin slapping 'em five. Queue up before the ninth inning in the corridor behind first base. Then await your kid's turn. But keep an eye peeled: Ours nearly disappeared into left field before a friendly usher steered him home.
Apologies to Cliff and P-Rock, both of whom might go 30-30 this year if they stay healthy, but Demp gets the nod. In a starting rotation full of question marks -- as in, "Can Matt Clement find the strike zone?" "Can Brad Penny build on last year's strong finish?" "Can A.J. Burnett and Chuck Smith come back from early injuries?" -- Ryan Dempster provides the one exclamation point -- as in, "Damn! That slider just fell off the friggin' table!" Now if he could just pitch a few innings in relief, the Marlins staff would have no problem. At 23 years old, he's a bit young for the burden of being the ace, but if anyone can handle the pressure, it's this hard-throwin', easy-goin', joke-tellin' Canuck.
We hate to repeat ourselves, but in this case we can't help it. The Russian Rocket wrapped up his second consecutive 50-plus scoring season this year with 59 total points. His numbers lead the league for the third year straight and total 11 more goals than the closest runner-up, Jaromir Jagr of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Bure notched 30 percent of the Cats' 190 goals overall, the most any player has scored for his team in a season. But none of these numbers truly does justice to his game. Even if you're following the puck at a game or on a TV screen, the only way you can appreciate his moves is in the slow-motion replay. He's scored on every team he's faced, is still one of the quickest players on the ice, and, as he just turned 30 years old in March, he'll be lighting up goalies for many years to come.
South Florida has its share of topnotch pro coaches. Dave Wannstedt is a fundamentally sound boss who sets a good tone for his football team. (We're forgiving him for keeping a hurt Jay Fiedler on the field to lose key games when he had a proven backup QB in Damon Huard.) In round ball, we're lucky to have Pat Riley, but without Magic and Kareem around to close the deal, Riley's team tends to choke and fade at the end of the year. (And Jamal Mashburn, who was foolishly traded last year -- and yes, we were criticizing the trade when it happened -- personally removed a lot of luster from Riley's slicked-back hair by burning his old team in the first round this year.) That leaves us with John Boles, the best coach of the lot. We admit we wondered about him at first. He doesn't look like the sharpest cleat on the shoe. He always seems to be opening his eyes as wide as possible to keep from falling asleep in the dugout. But don't let that fool you. Boles single-handedly proves that nice guys don't always finish last. When thousands of fickle "fans" whined about the Great Huizenga Sell-Off, Boles was working with GM Dave Dombrowski to put the pieces together again. And he's done a masterful job of bringing a team with a payroll the size of A-Rod's monthly dry cleaning bill to respectability during the past two years. Despite a lukewarm start, we expect the Marlins to battle for a wild card spot this year. Bolesy, rest those eyes. You've earned a nap.
Markham Park
Now that South Florida is perilously close to maximum density, places to pitch a tent are hard to come by. Developers who map out suburban hells like Weston simply don't pay much attention to camping. But we'll always have Markham Park. In this 666-acre county idyll, you'll find mountain bike trails, tennis courts, a personal-watercraft lake, boating, a swimming pool, an observatory, and 96 campsites. Most of the sites are of the drive-up variety; however, a handful of "primitive" spots are nestled in a patch of thick Australian pines. It ain't exactly the Alps, but it's pure South Florida. Markham is a popular place, especially on weekends, so call first to check availability.
"If rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, alligators, scorpions, wasps, mosquitoes, chiggers, horseflies, spiders, palmetto stumps, swamp, sugar sand, sawgrass, briers, wild pigs, or World War II ordnance bother you, go back to Yahoo! The rest of you, listen up!" Welcome to the opening lines of the Website of Club Scrub, a group that has spent nearly every Sunday morning for the last year clearing a single-track, mountain bike path through the dense pineland of the 11,500-acre Jonathan Dickinson State Park. Hard-core stump-jumpers have been coming to the former Camp Murphy army base, just north of the Palm Beach line in Martin County, since the early 1990s. But it wasn't until Mark Nelson was named park manager later that decade that work began on the long-awaited trail. As former top dog of the Oleta River State Recreation Area, a mecca for mountain bikers in northeastern Miami-Dade County, Nelson had experience with the lunacy of the off-road set. So far, with Nelson's support, Club Scrub members have cleared more than five miles of trail. They hope to have an additional ten opened before year's end. Because the trail is a work in progress, each visit brings a new surprise. In late February, for instance, bikers could take a roughly ten-foot-high jump off a concrete pad that was left behind when the army camp closed in 1944. Marked with a red sign warning, "Experts Only," the jump proved to be too extreme, says Club Scrub president Steve Bucina. "No one can do it," he adds. "We'll probably put a ramp down the back side." But even without such practical adjustments, the trail offers far more than your average trek through Florida wilderness. It winds around the remains of barracks and other buildings once occupied by servicemen who were sent to the outpost for jungle warfare and radar training. Some hills are actually old bunkers. As you pedal through the place, ponder this question: Which is worse, training in South Florida heat or fighting a war?

C. B. Smith Park
Everybody knows that one of the best stress relievers in the world is to go out and whack balls. (We're talking golf balls here, gutter head.) The sprawling park has a new golf center that includes a pro shop, greens for putting and pitching, and a two-tiered driving range that offers both artificial and natural tees. While you're hacking away, the kids can play putt-putt on a well-kept and challenging little course. Don't feel like practicing your golf swing? Then go next door to the state-of-the-art batting cages and try your luck with some fastballs. Once you get your timing down, it's a blast (literally). And if that's not enough, ten freshly painted tennis courts lie nearby (954-437-2674), where you can practice your stroke. Whacking, swinging, stroking... By the time you finish at this park, you'll need a cigarette.

Sure, well-heeled folk would like to keep this little slice of paradise to themselves, but the 17-mile-long island is so peaceful and so doggone pretty that it demands a two-wheel tour. With speed limits of 25 miles per hour on most stretches -- and as low as 15 mph in places where golf carts need a fighting chance -- combative motorists are kept at bay. Only two bridges connect the isle to the mainland, so it's mildly remote. If you're feeling particularly energetic, start at Jupiter Lighthouse Park near the southern bridge. Then take Beach Road over the Intracoastal Waterway and head north on the island's only north-south public road. Coral Cove Park is a chance to pull over, rest, and get a good view of the ocean. As you pedal through Blowing Rock Preserve, homes disappear, and you'll have the chance to imagine what the island looked like a hundred years ago. But don't worry, the flora remains lush even as the preserve ends and the palatial homes begin.
Say you are the kind of skater who doesn't go for the fancy stuff -- trick skates, snazzy wheels, too many pads. You want an ocean breeze but don't have the perfect thighs and svelte tummy required to traverse popular stretches such as Fort Lauderdale beach. You just like a good workout where the chance of death is low and the view gives you that skater's high. Well, this tree-lined residential neighborhood fits the bill. Warm up at Joe DiMaggio Park on Harbor Islands, where a pleasant, paved trail circles two pretty saltwater ponds, then head east on Washington Street, curve north onto South Lake Drive, and proceed around the lake to South Seventh Avenue, then head north under the bridge, past the tot playground to North Lake, and continue to the turnaround at the northeast corner. Reverse direction and head back to your car, where, if you're smart, you will have stashed a few cold ones.
Walk to the end of the Lauderdale-by-the-Sea pier to discover some of the best hunting in all South Florida. But you're going to have to get wet. And you have to be a certified scuba diver even to have a shot, because the quarry, found between 30 and 60 feet down, is fish. Delicacies such as hogfish and mutton snapper are the reward for the skilled spearfisher; people who live for this exotic and skill-testing sport say the hunting has never been better. "Spearfishing in Broward and Palm Beach is as good as it gets," says Stephen Picardi, president of the South Florida Spearfishing Club. You can also find big fish around artificial reefs all up and down the coast, but you'll need a boat to reach most of them.

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