Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
The Armand Bayou Nature Center is a good place to be outside. Located in a suburban neighborhood in far south Houston, the center is not "off-the-beaten-path" cool, but it is a big area where you can experience a lot of nature-y things. One of those is a canoe trip down the Armand Bayou. The nature center offers a guided trip on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month. About a three-mile round trip, it costs $25 and reservations are required. We can't guarantee you'll see anything breathtaking — you might — but Armand Bayou has enough of a backwater atmosphere to make you feel Deliverance.
The saying is that a good defense will always beat a good offense. And last season the Houston Aeros didn't have a good offense. The fact that the Aeros made the playoffs can be attributed to their good defense, led primarily by goalies Nolan Schaefer and Barry Brust. The two accounted for ten shutouts, and they allowed the fewest points in the American Hockey League. Due to injuries and call-ups to the National Hockey League's Minnesota Wild, Schaefer and Brust split their time in the crease, and it was as if neither wanted to let the other down. But more importantly, these guys didn't want to let their coaches or their teammates down. After a game, no person was more desolate after allowing a goal than Schaefer or Brust. Luckily, they weren't desolate very often.
Hunter Pence hit the big leagues like a man on fire last season. Any ball that came close to him, he hit. And any ball that came close to him in center field, he fielded. Not even an injury slowed him down. This season, Pence has become Mr. Indispensible to manager Cecil Cooper. He bats first, second, third, fifth, sixth or seventh, and he hits from any spot in the order. More importantly, Pence moved from center to right field this season without complaint, and already his glove and arm have saved several games. But Pence is also the Best Astro because of his attitude. He always hustles, always runs. He never complains. He just does his job the best he can. Every at bat, every game.
The courts at the Downtown YMCA are a solid place to find a pickup game. Or, if you don't have the stamina to physically run the length of a basketball court, there's usually enough space to find an open hoop where you can just shoot around. There's a group of older guys that play Monday nights, but the 50-somethings can hoop. And you know the old guys play dirty. Learn the times for league games, though, because those usually dominate the courts later in the evening and can get intense, especially when the local Pro/Am league swings through. If you're interested in watching the oil industry's finest live out their hoop dreams, check out the Corporate A and B leagues.
If your idea of paradise is a long, secluded beach with gently rolling waves and miles of sand to dig in, you won't find a better place than this. Besides sunning and swimming, fishing is popular at Crystal Beach — both surf (wade out into waist-deep water on the second sandbar) and jetty fishing (you can walk two miles out on the rocks). There are plenty of bait camps and charters that can point you in the right direction. And don't forget to bring your crabbing gear, too. There are plenty of beach house rentals and low-cost motels, in case you want to spend the night. Crystal Beach also offers a wide variety of restaurants, from Mexican and Italian food to good ol' Gulf Coast seafood, so you won't leave the beach hungry.
Hockey is a wonderful sport to watch live. It's even better to watch up close. And there's no better or cheaper place to do both than at a Houston Aeros game at Toyota Center. You can sit center ice, just a few rows back, for $31 — the same seats the Rockets will charge you a couple of hundred dollars for. The cheap seats, in the lower bowl, go for just $13. The sport is fast, and the hits are brutal. The team's cheerleaders greet you as you enter, then walk through the stands during the game. There are lots of fan contests. The Houston Aeros provide the best bang for the sports buck in the city. No contest.