Best of Houston®

Best Of 2011

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Best Of :: Sports & Recreation

Best New Astro

Clint Barmes brings more name recognition, but Angel Sanchez is the hoped-for future for the 'stros at shortstop. Raised in Puerto Rico, the six-foot-one-inch, 200-pound utility infielder has, as evident during the latter part of 2010 and during the early stages of the 2011 season, provided as much of a spark as anyone could for the struggling team. It's true that Sanchez, who can also hold his own at the second and third base positions, doesn't pack a lot of punch, but with mini hitting streaks here and there, the 28-year-old may very well be prime for a breakout campaign next season. Now let's see if the rest of these bums, uh, minor-leaguers, um, Astros players can follow suit.

Best Dynamo

Danny Cruz might not be the most potent player on the Dynamo roster, but if he's on the field against you, chances are you're going to remember him. He's high-energy, aggressive and not afraid to get a yellow card or two. Off the field, the 21-year-old has been active in raising money to fight leukemia, and he's brightened kids' lives with his hospital visits. And hey, he helped turn a theater geek into a soccer jock on MTV's Made, so he's got that going for him, too.

Best Fans

Houston voraciously welcomed its new entry in the NFL when the announcement came. But ever since play began in 2002, the team has delivered a ton of disappointment, inept playing, coaching and front-officing, and, really, little reason to cheer. But Texans fans haven't given up. They're not blindly slavish; they've made their displeasure known by being slow to fill Reliant on game days and leaving lots of unused seats when things seem especially hopeless. But any listener to talk radio knows they never have lost their passion and blind faith that one good draft, one new assistant coach, one player out of nowhere is all that's needed to bring success. And when that success comes, this town will go nuts.

Best Texan

Defensive end Antonio Smith was probably the least sucky player on a very sucky Texans' defense last year, which, as you can probably guess, isn't really the highest praise possible. But he gets extra points for us for going after spoiled, performance-enhancing-drug-taking, and lately underwhelming teammate Brian Cushing during a game. Smith ripping off Cushing's helmet as the linebacker tried to intervene in Smith's altercation with a Jacksonville player was maybe the most spark the Texans' D showed all year.

Best Dog Park
Congressman Bill Archer Park

Your dog will kiss your ass (unless you're trying to break him of that habit) for taking you to this awesome park's 17 acres of trees, ponds and agility equipment. Unlike at some other parks, neither you nor your four-legged friend will feel penned in. Whether you want to relax in one of the sitting areas while Fido does his thing, or you want to go explore the many sights, smells and sounds with him, you'll feel good knowing that you're giving your dog the chance to get outside and be a dog. And you'll feel especially good when he's too tuckered out to be in your face the rest of the day. If dogs are man's best friend, this park is your dog's best friend. 

3201 State Highway 6 N., Houston, 77084
MAP
281-496-2177
Best Sports Talk Host

If you work in the radio biz and can somehow get associated with Jim Rome, you're automatically in the airwave gold category. That's what Travis Rodgers did for $5 an hour, reading the "Huge Fax of the Day" (dude has been in this game for a long time) before hopscotching to a better gig as Jim Rome Show producer. Rodgers became as integral to Rome's segments as the host, which made Rodgers's decision to hightail it from the left coast to Houston's 1560 AM KGOW/The Game a no-brainer. He's made the most of his time since September 2010 as the main man behind Travis Rodgers Now, which can be heard from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays, thanks to a smart-aleck sense of humor that always works well with a mid-afternoon sports talk show.

Best Urban Nature Spot
West 11th Street Park

A 20-acre pocket forest park inside the Loop, West 11th Street Park is the hidden jewel that makes the Timbergrove neighborhood live up to its name. The glade's many tall pines abound with a variety of woodpeckers, from the common downy and yellow-bellied varieties to the mighty crow-sized pileated and the gaudy redheaded, a bird so flashy it inspired Salvador Dalí. It's also a rare urban spot to see huge great horned owls; almost everywhere else in urban Houston, only little screech owls can find suitable habitats. Even if you aren't into birds, the park has lots to offer. In addition to the forest trails, there's ample open space for picnicking. But it's the woods that will bring you back: After a rain, the smells of the forest deliver you far from this concrete, smog-choked, ozone-addled petropolis. It's a little island of Big Thicket in the Heights.

W. 11th St., Houston, 77008
MAP
Best Comeback Attempt

A lot went into the toilet when University of Houston star quarterback Case Keenum crumbled to the Rose Bowl Stadium turf with a shredded knee. At that time, in September 2010, the Abilene-born athlete had put his name in the Heisman Trophy race, led a long-comatose program (and Houston's sports scene) out of infamy and placed the Cougars among the potential BCS busters. Then it all went poof when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament on the road against UCLA. However, Keenum — who was granted a sixth-year-eligibility waiver by the NCAA in January — has one last shot to return to greatness after enduring nearly a year of arduous rehabilitation and therapy. At press time, the Cougars will have completed nearly a third of the 2011 regular season, which means that the 23-year-old, barring injury, has had four games to prove himself. Stay tuned.

Best Cheap Tickets

The UH Cougars play exciting football at a high level that can be very entertaining to watch, in an old-school stadium which has its charms if you don't need the modern conveniences, and at night there's a great view of the skyline to add to the atmosphere. Sure, they play in Conference USA, but that's where the "cheap ticket" part comes in. Just go to any of the C-USA games at Robertson Stadium, wear your Coog colors, be friendly and chances are pretty good someone will give you one of their extra tickets. It doesn't come cheaper than that, and all you have to do is cheer on the red and white in return.

Best Gun Range
The Arms Room

The first time we entered the Arms Room in League City, we were hit with the smell of gunpowder and the music of gunshots in the air, from handguns, semiautomatics and shotguns alike. For people who are averse to the steely art of bullet-shooting weapons, that may sound like a nightmare, but for the customers of Arms Room, it's paradise. The indoor gun range, built inside of a former Circuit City, also has a fully stocked shop inside it complete with all manner of tactical gear and supplies for the gun enthusiast, and you can take a Concealed Handgun Class in the classroom located just inside the building. You can rent all manner of boom sticks to use on the range, for a small charge, including an FN P90, which looks like something out of Blade Runner and has almost no kickback, considering it shoots some pretty powerful ammo.

3270 Gulf Freeway S., League City, 77573
MAP
832-226-5252
Best Picnic Spot

This really should be "best picnic spots," because there's not just one place in this beautiful park to have a friendly (or romantic) picnic. Spanning nearly 450 acres, this historic park near the Texas Medical Center and Rice University is one of the most picturesque places in Houston. We really like spreading our picnic blanket down on the hill at Miller Outdoor Theatre, but maybe you want to share some wine and cheese with your significant other in the resplendent beauty of the Japanese garden. Or maybe you want to hunker down by the reflecting pool. Or maybe you want to wave at the kiddos on the miniature train while you nibble on your vittles. Point is, there are so many great spots here where you can while away a sunny afternoon on the picnic blanket. Save some wine for us.

Best Rocket

If a multimillionaire NBA player could ever be considered an "everyman," Chuck Hayes would be the guy. A six-foot-six center, Hayes gives up a huge height advantage to opponents but plays dogged, tough defense. He's an utter scrapper who gives you everything he's got. The New York Times called him "a player for fans who appreciated the fight for low-post position more than a shot swatted into the third row, a good off-ball screen more than a swished fade-away jump shot, and a tough rebound in traffic more than an ankle-breaking crossover." Hayes's shooting style is notoriously ugly but — mirabile dictu — this season he got the league's least-likely triple-double. How could he not be named Best Rocket?

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Best New Astro: Angel Sanchez

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