Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
When baseball veteran Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez signed a one-year contract with the Astros back in March, we didn't know what to expect out of the 37-year-old. We'd just lost longtime backstop Brad Ausmus to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he was no doubt a key part of our sometime spotty success. But with his veteran hustle and steely glare, Rodriguez came in and injected a new spirit and sense of excitement for the game that we sorely needed. "Pudge" began his baseball career in 1991, up north with the Texas Rangers, where he caught his first game as a big-leaguer at the age of 19, after being called up to the majors the same night as his first wedding. This season, we were lucky enough to see Rodriguez hit his 300th home run and also pass up longtime Chicago White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk for most games caught. Unfortunately, at the end of August, he was dealt to the Rangers for two minor leaguers, as the team was deep in a playoff battle and desperate for depth at the catching position. Hopefully the boys in Arlington can close out his career right with a World Series ring, because Lord knows we aren't going to here.
Any respectable hockey team needs an enforcer — especially in the minor leagues, where fisticuffs are much of the draw. Luckily for the Aeros (and speedy scorers such as Corey Locke and Krys Kolanos), they've got one of the best in six-foot-six ice-boxer Matt Kassian. Like many a good enforcer, Kassian isn't much of a skater, but his fists have gained him YouTube notoriety while clearing the way for Locke and Kolanos to attack the nets without worrying too much for their safety. Kassian racked up an impressive fight card of 20 this season, according to www.hockeyfights.com, no small feat considering he appeared in just 56 games. (Props are also due to mean-as-hell defenseman Mitch Love, who, while lacking Kassian's intimidating physique, managed to lead the AHL with 34 brawls.) Further cementing his reputation as a goon among goons, Kassian took home the "Sickest Beard Award" in the Aeros' post-season facial hair contest.
A reporter once questioned the "athleticism" of Philadelphia Phillie John Kruk. "I ain't an athlete, lady," Kruk growled. "I'm a baseball player." Many of the Astros fit that bill — you need look no farther than left field, where Carlos Lee stamps his pasture nightly, to see a classic example. Hunter Pence is one of the rare exceptions. Despite last season's sophomore slump, it's hard not to be excited about what the future holds for the Astros' young (at least by this aging club's standards) right fielder. The rangy native Texan has all the tools – power, speed, a sniper-rifle arm – and is still learning to harness them. And this year he is really coming into his own, with a career-year pace for home runs, RBIs, steals and runs scored.
The sights, the sounds, the smells — who doesn't enjoy a good bowl every now and then? Well, from 8 a.m. until midnight, Sundays through Thursdays, and 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, you can get your bowl on at The Palace. Reasonable prices, automatic scoring and kid-friendly bumper-bowling make this alley a winner. Plus, we love the snack bar — great burgers, sandwiches, salads and pizza, not to mention beverages of the alcoholic (and nonalcoholic) variety. And, of course, Palace has good weekly specials and birthday specials. So what are you waiting for? Get on your bowling shoes and get going.
There's a certain kind of shock that comes when you luck into a friend's great Astros ticket and you look at the price. Fifty bucks? For a single night at the ballpark? But the truth is, you can have yourself a great night at Minute Maid Park and not put much of a dent in your pocket at all. (We do advise filling up before the game, though; some tickets are cheap, but hot dogs and drinks are another story.) There's always a slew of great offers on the team's Web site: Maybe it's buy an adult ticket for seven bucks, and two kids under 14 can get in free with you. Or maybe it's a ticket, hot dog, soda and chips all for $10. The point is, bargains are there to be had. "Sure," you scoff — you old scoffer, you — "But the seats are probably in the last row near the roof and in fair territory." To a degree, true, but not completely. And the fact remains that Minute Maid is about as easy as it gets when it comes to the time-honored tradition of "improving" your seat. There's the Home Run Alley standing room, of course; there's also typically a wide selection of field-level seats sitting empty. Wait a couple of innings and then look like you belong.
Rockets coach Rick Adelman had a great year, leading Houston to the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time in 12 years. Still, you can't ignore Katy High School football coach Gary Joseph. In 2007, Joseph led the Tigers to a perfect season, capped with a state championship. Then he lost almost every starting player to graduation. When this year's team lost its initial two games for the first time since 1984, losing in the second week 47-0 against The Woodlands, it looked like the Katy dominance was done. But Joseph retooled the team, and after demolishing a team from Florida in a nationally televised game, Katy lost only once again. In December of last year, the team won the state championship, the first back-to-back titles in the school's storied football history.