Best of Houston®

Best Of 2001

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Best Of :: Sports & Recreation

Best Houston Rocket

The Hakeem era -- those glorious days that brought Houston its first major pro championships -- is now, officially, history. The Dream is a Toronto Raptor, and he probably has a better chance of making the NBA Finals with new teammate Vince Carter than with the current Rockets. But the Rockets are the team with the better future, and much of that future will rest on the shoulders of guard Steve Francis. Francis won the Co-Rookie of the Year award after the 1999-2000 season and continued with solid play in this past season. The Rockets prefer to spread the wealth around instead of having one dominant scorer, but Francis led the team with an average of 20 points and 6.5 assists per game. He's pretty deadly from the three-point line, and he's steadily developing into a leader both on the court and off. Francis came out from the University of Maryland after his junior year but has spent this summer going back to class to get closer to his goal of a degree in criminology. By the time the Rockets move into their new arena for the 2003-2004 season, Francis should be firmly established as one of the NBA's stars.

Best Houston Astro

When Octavio Dotel came to the Astros from the Mets in 1999, he saw himself as a starter, not a reliever. As he kept getting driven from games by opposing batters last season, he still saw himself as a starter simply going through a rough patch. And when he was demoted to the bullpen earlier this year, he saw himself as a starter who would soon work his way back into the glamour of the rotation and away from the drudgery of middle relief. Since then, Dotel has accepted the reliever's role -- and thrived in it. Billy Wagner gets the high-profile job of closing most games, but Dotel is having perhaps the best season in the majors for a setup man, the guy who gets a team through the seventh and eighth innings. It's a position that has killed the Astros in the past, and a good setup man is golden for a team making a pennant run. Dotel's decision to take one for the team and accept what he perceived as a demotion has been one of the turning points for the home team this year.

Best Houston Astro

When Octavio Dotel came to the Astros from the Mets in 1999, he saw himself as a starter, not a reliever. As he kept getting driven from games by opposing batters last season, he still saw himself as a starter simply going through a rough patch. And when he was demoted to the bullpen earlier this year, he saw himself as a starter who would soon work his way back into the glamour of the rotation and away from the drudgery of middle relief. Since then, Dotel has accepted the reliever's role -- and thrived in it. Billy Wagner gets the high-profile job of closing most games, but Dotel is having perhaps the best season in the majors for a setup man, the guy who gets a team through the seventh and eighth innings. It's a position that has killed the Astros in the past, and a good setup man is golden for a team making a pennant run. Dotel's decision to take one for the team and accept what he perceived as a demotion has been one of the turning points for the home team this year.

Best Place to Hear the Crack of the Bat (and of the Bones)

Beyond the well-manicured youth diamonds of Bayland is the always reliable Field of Dreams: the domain of the Harris County Senior Softball League. These participants, of course, also are kids, ranging from the tender age of 50 upward into the octogenarian ranks. They feature some athletes who could give Triple-A upstarts a real run for their money. And they also include players long past their prime, reduced to a trot or a lob toss from second to first. From the first pitch forward, there are feisty arguments, genuine rivalry, a few long-running feuds -- and the finest kind of gentlemanly sportsmanship seen anywhere in these parts. Pro ball may continue to evoke rich (even patriotic) passions by citizens searching for the nostalgic security of the way the game used to be, before shopping-mall arenas and mega-salary standoffs. The gang at Bayland believes there's more to be had than a $6 beer and passive spectator's seat for overpaid stars. The finest tribute still is feeling the rough texture of a sandy infield, and a smile after a sharply struck single. When it comes to a love of the game, the Harris County seniors are in a league of their own.

Best Place to Hear the Crack of the Bat (and of the Bones)

Beyond the well-manicured youth diamonds of Bayland is the always reliable Field of Dreams: the domain of the Harris County Senior Softball League. These participants, of course, also are kids, ranging from the tender age of 50 upward into the octogenarian ranks. They feature some athletes who could give Triple-A upstarts a real run for their money. And they also include players long past their prime, reduced to a trot or a lob toss from second to first. From the first pitch forward, there are feisty arguments, genuine rivalry, a few long-running feuds -- and the finest kind of gentlemanly sportsmanship seen anywhere in these parts. Pro ball may continue to evoke rich (even patriotic) passions by citizens searching for the nostalgic security of the way the game used to be, before shopping-mall arenas and mega-salary standoffs. The gang at Bayland believes there's more to be had than a $6 beer and passive spectator's seat for overpaid stars. The finest tribute still is feeling the rough texture of a sandy infield, and a smile after a sharply struck single. When it comes to a love of the game, the Harris County seniors are in a league of their own.

Best Area Team

Being an Astros fan is never easy. If the team breezes to a division title, it gets knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. (If it struggles to a division title, it gets knocked out just as early.) The team seems inherently incapable of taking the big step to the next level. Last year, fresh off a series of playoff appearances, they moved into a stunning new stadium, filled each night with enthusiastic standing-room-only crowds and...they had an absolutely hideous season, flirting with the 100-loss mark. They've rebounded this year but remain frustratingly inconsistent. It's that frustration, though, that makes them the Astros. Even when they're winning, they tend to do it by winning two and losing one, never quite putting together a dominating streak. No fan will ever be truly confident until the last out of a clinching World Series game, but until then, it's enough to suffer along with the flashes of brilliance from Billy Wagner, Jeff Bagwell and Moises Alou.

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Best Houston Rocket: Steve Francis

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