It took about five seconds last August for Hermida to go from anonymous rookie to the answer to a trivia question: Who was the first player since the 19th Century to hit a grand slam in his first big-league at-bat? The six-foot-four outfielder was the 11th overall pick out of high school in the 2002 draft and was considered the Marlins' best hitting prospect even before his right-field grand slam made a game of an eventual 10-5 loss to the Cardinals. That dinger gave him a perfect 4.000 slugging average to start his career. Naturally, it was all downhill from there, but not too far; his season total of .634 was second in the bigs for players with at least 25 at-bats. He finished with a .293 average in 41 at-bats, with four home runs and two doubles among his 12 hits, a ridiculous amount of power for a guy who at the time was just 21 years old. For a team that jettisoned nearly all its big bats in the offseason, Hermida's emergence has been nothing short of grand.
While Florida Atlantic University sinks millions of dollars into a losing football team, fans have overlooked the school's best athlete, who doesn't put on shoulder pads or a helmet. (Well, except when he's batting.) Mickey Storey, FAU's hotshot pitcher, graduated from Deerfield Beach High School with more than 300 strikeouts and a career record of 22-7. Since the Owls snatched him up, he's kept improving. In his freshman year, Storey was named Collegiate Baseball's Pitcher of the Year, was chosen as a preseason All-American, and got named to Baseball America's All Freshmen Team. So what earned him all these honors? Well, he went 10-1 with an earned run average of 1.70, the lowest ERA the school has ever seen. The scary thing is, he's still improving. But already, he's written his name in the history books as FAU's greatest athlete.
He's a six-foot-nine forward but can handle the ball like a point guard. He helped lead the University of Kentucky to a national championship in 1996. His hands are about as quick as anybody's in the NBA. He's played on the All-Star team and averaged nearly 20 points a game in a nine-year career. Yet Walker couldn't find the basket for much of the season after the Miami Heat picked him up from Boston in the offseason. Often, he has looked like some brain-damaged insect, dashing around like mad before inevitably clunking the ball off the rim. You just knew he was going to miss, no matter whether he was under the basket or behind the three-point line. He fills fans with dread every time he touches the ball, like watching a manic-depressive on reality TV. But there's a great player lurking somewhere under Walker's big bald dome -- and you can only hope it comes out of hiding during the playoffs.
God help us, but this Miami Herald writer makes us laugh every now and then. And that's a lot more than you can say for most of the humorless sportswriting corps in South Florida. Mixed in his comic "Random Evidence of a Cluttered Mind" columns are the occasional gems that remind us of that other funny Herald guy, the semiretired Dave Barry. Take this snippet: "The Heat's stirring victory over Detroit renewed sagging championship hopes. Experts say the key for Miami from here on in will be Dwyane Wade averaging 17 points in the fourth quarter." Or this small riff on Olympic downhill skier Bode Miller, from the same column: "Speaking of Miller, his disappointing fifth-place finish in the first downhill race is being blamed on unexpected sobriety." For every one of Cote's pieces of beauty, there's an equally bad groaner. At times, he seems to channel the worst lounge comics in America's history. But the good outweighs the bad, and, all in all, he's a minor local treasure.
Fort Lauderdale pugilist Juan "Iron Twin" Urango isn't scared of anyone. The junior welterweight has a 13-0-1 record, enough courage to fuel an Army brigade, and cockiness that would have impressed even Muhammad Ali. In true ring hype, Urango once described himself to the boxing press as the "new generation" of welterweight fighters. But unlike many boxers, Urango has the punch to back up his mouth. A 25-year-old southpaw with Hollywood-based Warrior's Boxing Promotions, Urango scored more than 100 wins and five titles as an amateur fighter in his native Colombia. For Urango, boxing is the family business. His nickname, the "Iron Twin," refers to his brother, Pedro, who is a professional fighter in Colombia. After Urango turned pro at 21 and moved to South Florida, he rapidly earned a name for himself in U.S. and Latin American boxing circuits, winning the WBC Latin American Light Welterweight Title and IBF Latino Light Welterweight Title in fights at Hard Rock in Hollywood. He has won all of his bouts, most by knockout, except one -- finishing in a draw with Greek fighter Mike Arnaoutis in August 2004. Urango suffered an injury to his hand in his last victorious match, but don't count him out. Urango, father of three, is on his way back to the ring and remains one of the great hopes for South Florida boxing.
Unless you're buddies with H. Wayne Huizenga, paying to watch Dwyane and Shaq could leave you homeless. Fortunately, the Heat isn't the only professional team 'round these swampy parts. Last year, Broward County got its own squad: the Florida Pit Bulls, headed by player/coach Tim Hardaway. They share the BankAtlantic Center with the Florida Panthers and the likes of Bon Jovi, and competed in the ABA -- the reborn professional basketball league with that famous red, white, and blue ball. The team earned a spot at this year's ABA playoffs, entertained fans for $15 to $35, and even threw in halftime concerts that included old-school rapper Doug E. Fresh and local act Trick Daddy. It's too bad, however, that the Pit Bulls got sideways with ABA management. After a spat over Hardaway's attendance record, the team declined to show up for the playoffs, took their basketball, and left the league for good. But have no fear, local fans. Hardaway's group has applied to be an affiliate of the NBA Development League (NBDL). If approved by the NBA, the Pit Bulls could become a farm team for the Heat. We've got our fingers crossed.
Finally, a Dolphins coach who deserves to walk the same sideline as Don Shula. Saban is smarter than the mentally challenged Dave Wannstedt and more stable than the half-loony, teary-eyed Jimmy Johnson. First, he proved himself to be one of the best college coaches in America at LSU, where the folks still damned near worship him. Then Saban showed last year that he can lead an NFL team with the best of them. He turned around a team that went an abysmal 4-12 in 2004 to a respectable 9-7 mark last year. Just as impressive, the 2005 team won six games in a row at the end of the season, ending the Dolphins' seeming curse of starting like strong, capable mammals and finishing like butter-fried mahi mahi. Look for a playoff spot this coming season for the Fins, because that just seems to be where Saban belongs.
You're never too old to relive the glory days, and the guys at the Broward County Modified Pitch Softball League realize that. This new softball league, located at the park behind Henry D. Perry Middle School in Miramar, is designed for guys who want to have fun but also take their down-and-dirty softball seriously. Standard softball rules apply, with one change: pitching. Unlike most softball leagues, the pitchers at Broward County Modified Pitch Softball League don't loft the ball toward the plate in a soft arc. They bring the heat (but not as hot as fast-pitch). Not sure if the league is for you? Then go watch a game or two. Spectators are welcome. The league's inaugural season runs through May 21, the day of the championship game. Dates for the second season have not been announced yet. Fees, which range from $30 to $60, depend on which team you join and the cost of that team's uniform.
Go into some shooting ranges and you're likely to meet an intimidating stare from an employee packin' heat. Not the most reassuring combination. But at Delray Shooting Center, that's not the case. The specialists behind the counter are friendly and kind, and they treat newbies with respect. The staff caters to couples learning to shoot and goes out of its way to make the inexperienced feel comfortable with firing guns. The 15 indoor pistol ranges and two rifle ranges are clean and full of holes, just the ambiance required to spend a few hours firing high-caliber weapons at plain bull's-eye targets or caricatures of Osama bin Laden. The range offers private lessons at great prices, along with Concealed Weapon Permit classes. If you're more experienced, rent one of the fully automatic machine guns and do some paper shredding. If not, rent a .22 plinker and go for as many ten-point X's as possible. It may sound strange, but it's the perfect place to take the wife and kids to fire off a few hundred rounds over the weekend.
Okeeheelee Park
Unless you live on a houseboat, it's impossible to escape the congested roadways and pushy attitudes that are overtaking South Florida... or is it? All it takes to get some quiet time is a quiet place. And there's no better place to unleash your inner shaman than the trails behind the Okeeheelee Nature Center. However, before beginning your journey, you might want to pick up a map, unless you have a spare hour or two. Make no mistake -- without a map, you will get lost. It's not because the 2.5-mile trail is confusing by design; it's the myriad distractions you'll no doubt succumb to while donning your explorer hat. Surrounded by 100 acres of woods and wetlands, you'll find it difficult to stay on path. You'll want to explore everything -- the labyrinthine maze of pine trees, cypress trees, and marshes containing the birds and tortoises that populate the area. It's one of the few places in Palm Beach County where you can walk more than a mile without hearing a car horn or seeing a condo. Trail hours are sunrise to sunset, and there's no annoying parking fee. That's why we pay taxes, right?

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