Marlins Park

Some sports stars seem to fit seamlessly into their cities, like left hands into well-worn mitts. Derek Jeter was destined for Yankees pinstripes. George Brett was made for the muddy modesty of the Midwest. And Wade Boggs embodied Boston with his blue-collar attitude and bizarre superstitions, like eating fried chicken and mashed potatoes before every game. Under Jeffrey Loria, however, the Marlins haven't had much of an identity. Ozzie Guillen was supposed to imprint some personality, but he confounded Cubans by loving Fidel and lost everyone else by, well, losing games. Last season, when white-bread manager Mike Redmond was plopped atop a flavorless lineup, the Fish's season looked sure to be blander than your abuela's overbaked bacalao. But then, on April 7, after losing five of its first six games, the Marlins called up a young pitching prospect by the name of Jose Fernandez, and an otherwise insipid season suddenly got spicy. By now, you probably know Fernandez's story: Born into poverty in Cuba, he tried to leave three times but failed and found himself in jail. On his fourth attempt, he had to dive overboard to save his mother from drowning. But they made it, first to Mexico and eventually to Tampa. On his Major League debut, Fernandez fanned a rookie record of eight opponents. In another game, he struck out 13 — only to do one better his next time on the mound. He won a team-best 12 games with a miserly 2.19 ERA and an absolutely stingy .182 opponent's batting average. His National League Rookie of the Year award was the diamond atop another 100-loss season. But the real reason Fernandez makes Miamians proud isn't his pitching prowess. It's that the kid has character. Sometimes he's goofy — dancing behind teammates during interviews, joking with opposing players, or celebrating Giancarlo Stanton homers like he just won the lottery. Other times, he's deadly serious. In his last start of the 2013 season, Fernandez was cruising to a win over the Braves when they started talking trash. What did he do? He smacked his first-ever home run in the direction of that godawful dolphin sculpture and then told the Braves they could ride that thing back to Atlanta. Sadly for Fish fans, his 2014 campaign was cut short by Tommy John surgery. But if there's a reason to hope for the future of the franchise, it's his long-term future with the team. Fernandez fits the 305 like an old leather glove.

Whoever came up with the saying "You can't go home again" has never watched goaltender Roberto Luongo's long and winding — and award-winning — career with the Florida Panthers. Luongo's first stint with the Panthers began in 2000 and resulted in franchise records being set, Vezina Trophies being won, and shutouts galore. But then he was inexplicably traded to the Vancouver Canucks in 2006. Vancouver became instant Stanley Cup contenders while the Panthers sunk back into mediocrity. But then, on March 4, 2014, Luongo was given the Prodigal Son treatment and brought back to the Cats via a trade. Roberto, it would seem, picked up right where he left off. In his first game back, Luongo turned in a beauty of a performance, shutting out the Buffalo Sabres with 25 saves, leading the Panthers to a 2-0 victory. The Florida faithful serenaded him with "Louuuu!" chants and showered him with rubber rats. With Luongo manning the net once again, the Panthers are on their way back to mattering again. See? You can go home again. 

Hard Rock Stadium
Michele Eve Sandberg

It's been tough to find a silver lining in the Miami Dolphins for the better part of a decade, what with all the suck that has washed over this franchise like a terrible wasting disease. Yet by some miracle, there was actually at least one player who gave the Fins faithful hope. Cornerback Brent Grimes, who had missed 15 games the previous season when he tore his Achilles playing for the Atlanta Falcons, was signed by Miami last spring with the hopes that he'd contribute a little if he could stay healthy. Not only did the 30-year-old Grimes contribute and stay healthy but he recorded 60 tackles and four interceptions and never once allowed a touchdown to an opposing receiver against him. Grimes' renaissance earned him Pro Bowl honors, and he was rated the NFL's second-best cornerback for the season by prestigious football analysis website Pro Football Focus. Grimes' kick-ass season also earned him a four-year, $32 million contract extension with the Fins. It was a season filled with despair for Miami, with a bullying scandal that brought embarrassment to the once-proud franchise and yet another year of missing out on the playoffs. New changes have swept the Dolphins this offseason, and there's always uncertainty with this team. But we at least know that opposing receivers will be on lockdown for the next four years with Grimes manning the defensive backfield.

American Airlines Arena

Seven seconds. The Miami Heat was seven seconds away from losing its NBA crown and watching the San Antonio Spurs celebrate the 2013 NBA Finals championship on the Triple-A home court. Heat fans were seven seconds away from having their hearts ripped out of their chests and their souls condemned to a weary and sullen existence, pondering the cruel fate of their beloved team. The Finals, for all intents and purposes, were over. Done. Kaput. The Spurs were up 95-92 and were seven seconds away from the title. The home crowd was exiting the building, the Spurs locker room was being covered in plastic for the champagne celebration, the ministage was being readied for rollout onto the court for the trophy presentation, and yellow tape was being put out to keep nonessential personnel from walking onto the court during the Spurs coronation. And then, it happened. We looked, and there before us was a pale horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the Earth to kill by sword, famine, and plague, and by the wild beasts. The rider wore a robe dipped in blood. From his mouth came a sword, taking the form of a three-point shot. And the heavens shook. Ray Allen, AKA Jesus Shuttlesworth, hit the most epic three-pointer in Miami Heat history, tying the game and forcing overtime. The game, and the series momentum, shifted in the Heat's favor, and the home team eventually won its third NBA Finals championship. But not before Ray Allen sealed his icon status in Heat lore forevermore by hitting The Shot and then yelling at the arena security people to get rid of that damned yellow tape. 

USF quarterback Steven Bench had to have known he was in trouble the minute the ball left his hands. His team was down to the Florida Atlantic University Owls 21-10 late in the fourth quarter, and he was desperate to get his team back on the board. But Bench decided to throw in the direction of FAU cornerback D'Joun Smith. Off shotgun formation, Bench took the snap, rolled out, and looked for his receiver downfield. Problem was, his receiver was blanketed by the speedy Smith, who had pretty much been feasting on interceptions from opposing quarterbacks all year long, leading the conference in INTs and passes defended. As is usually the case, Smith was his receiver's shadow, like a menacing, ghostly figure ready to devour the ball and break his opponent's back. And sure enough, as soon as Bench's pass got near the cornerback and receiver, Smith used his strength and instincts, plucked the ball out of the sky, jammed it into his side, and ran 75 yards back for the nail-in-the-coffin touchdown. Smith ran past the USF players with a fluid and effortless speed you usually see only in the NFL. Smith's accolades are only just beginning, and the American football viewing audience is starting to take notice. D'Joun Smith is going to be NFL-bound some day, where he'll be devouring passes from the likes of Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, no doubt.

There's a reason we make kids run three-legged races. It teaches them about teamwork. To win the race, one must work with the other person as a unit. The kids learn to communicate, burn a couple of calories in the process, and maybe even get a plastic trophy at the end of the day. Teamwork, my friends, can be a beautiful thing. But there's a reason adults don't partake in three-legged races: They suck. And over the years, our ligaments have morphed into microwaved rubber bands. But even adults (especially adults) need the occasional refresher course in synergy. And this is where Cycle Party comes in. Because Cycle Party is not only a master class in teamwork; it is also an excuse to get very, very drunk. In case you've never seen one rolling around Fort Lauderdale, Boynton Beach, or West Palm Beach, a Cycle Party looks like the child of a bicycle and a pub. Seating up to 15 people (though only six are required to book a party), Cycle Party has room for all the friends you actually care about. Ten people work together to pedal the giant machine from bar to bar, and by the end of the trip, you're part of a team. Or you're making out with each other. Either way, you've grown closer.

King's Head Pub and Restaurant

The World Cup is right around the corner — why not get off the couch this year and take in the excitement in a pub that makes you feel like you've been following the sport the past four years (you haven't, but you can pretend!). The King's Head Pub in Sunrise is the best place to take in a soccer game. Tucked into the corner of a strip mall located on University Drive, King's Head has all the looks of a dive bar from the outside, but all the comfort and excitement of a place you have been going to your entire life on the inside. Between the great specials and unique friendly staff, half the excitement and fun is just being inside the place, before you even take a sip of their draft beers. The Pub also posts the TV schedule for the bar days in advance, so no need to call to see if the game will be on there; it will — just head on over.

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