Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
The Houston Astros haven't really had the best anything compared to their competitors the past few years. George Springer is changing that. The 24-year-old outfielder isn't only the best Astro, he's one of the best rookies in Major League Baseball. He's second among first-year players in home runs and RBIs and fifth in on-base percentage. Astros second baseman Jose Altuve might be leading MLB in hits, but it's Springer who has breathed new life into the organization. He graced the cover of a June issue of Sports Illustrated. The headline: "Your 2017 World Series Champs."
After a 2005-2006 season in which the Houston Rockets went 15-26 at home, then-Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy held auditions for what he would deem the most rabid Rockets fans, and would literally give them their own section in Toyota Center. Thus the Red Rowdies were born, and the next season the Rockets went 28-13 at home. Since then the tryouts have continued each season, only they've grown much crazier and much bigger. The Red Rowdies' section — upper part of Section 114, located behind the basket at the Rockets' end of the court — has multiplied in size and volume, and today they're considered one of the greatest groups of fans in team sports. Being a Red Rowdy doesn't come without a major commitment level, as each individual is required to attend just about every Rockets home game, or else Rowdy privileges (i.e., free season tickets) are lost. With championship dreams this upcoming season, those privileges have never been more valuable or the Red Rowdy experience more fun.
This year naming Houston's best pro sports franchise feels like judging a state-fair ugly contest — even first prize needs a little makeup to leave the house. But given the competition this year (even the Dynamo were basement dwellers as of this writing), the Rockets still win this category going away. When Kevin McHale's squad was cut down by Damian Lillard's season-ending three-point dagger at the Game 6 buzzer in the Western Conference first round, well, it was still the playoffs, and it also saved fans the pain of watching their team's inevitable extermination at the hands of eventual NBA champs/I-10 rival San Antonio. In the offseason, GM Daryl Morey and his team flirted with big-time free agents Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony but couldn't pull the trigger, and they somehow let fan favorite Chandler Parsons get away to the hated Mavericks; all they came away with was journeyman guard Trevor Ariza. Not much of a master plan, but then 2013 second-round pick Isaiah Canaan led the Rockets' Summer League team to the championship game, a rare glimmer of hope in a weird time for Houston sports, and perhaps a clue that Morey knows what he's doing after all. We hope.
Located on the eastern tip of Galveston Island, East Beach is "The People's Beach," where generations of Houstonians have come to party amid the sand and surf. Outfitted with a boardwalk, pavilion and entertainment stage, the park has been hosting concerts for years, but this past summer Houston electronic-music promoters Nightculture upped the ante with the first-ever Beach Blanket Bingo festival, with DJs such as Dillon Francis, Adrian Lux and Paris Blohm providing choice beats to go with the Gulf breeze and lapping waves. Those who prefer quieter pursuits will enjoy exploring the on-site bird sanctuary, while those just seeking a pleasant day at the beach can take advantage of the showers, concessions and umbrella rentals, as well as enough parking to avoid the hassle of finding a spot on the Seawall. Honestly, East Beach's permissive attitude toward alcohol is reason enough for plenty of people to visit, but further attractions include parasailing, personal-watercraft rentals and even the American Institute of Architects' annual Sandcastle Competition every June.
While the times are getting better, over the past four years, there hasn't been much at Minute Maid Park that's made Astros fans feel like they're rooting for a Major League product on the field. Thankfully, though, every time the lineup is announced or a batter is introduced, the booming voice delivering the message is every bit Major League. That voice belongs to Bob Ford, and he's been the Astros' public address announcer for more than 20 years, spanning the early days of Bagwell and Biggio to the new age of Altuve and Springer. When you're at an Astros game, Ford's voice has a "baseball" feel as distinct as peanuts, beer and the seventh-inning stretch. The team on the field still has a ways to go, but eventually they'll be worthy of the legend announcing their names.
What do you get when you offer 5K races to anyone who wants to sign up and you don't charge one cent? You get teenage couples running together on a Sunday morning with the sun barely peeking over the horizon. You get whole families not only urging each other on but joining in at their own pace. And you get dedicated runners blazing through the streets at six-minute-mile clips, all part of one of the most economically and ethnically diverse enterprises in Houston sports history. Believing that an entry fee of $20 or more shouldn't be a deterrent to adults and kids running in 5K races, the non-profit Houston Wellness Project is the biggest breath of fresh air in the past year among all the verbiage calling for everyone to be healthy. On the first and last Sundays of every month, the organization hosts races, and those races are free. Register a few days in advance, and you get a runner's bib with a chip in it, just like in the big contests. You're timed by a professional company, Run Houston Timing, and the results go up on a board at the race site and online later in the day. Right now the races are held at either George Bush Park or the Heights Hike & Bike Trail, but organizers say they're trying to open them up in more sections of the city. It's not fancy, with the top three finishers among males and females getting medals, and there's not a whole lot of extras other than water at the finish line. But it's a chance to get up, get out and get running with no one stopping you because you don't have the money. And there's usually a boom box at the start to get you going.
Heading into his tenth season in the NFL, Houston Texans center Chris Myers has been one of the team's true leaders in the transition from the Gary Kubiak era to the Bill O'Brien era. A two time Pro Bowler, Myers is anxious to help the team bounce back to playoff form in 2014. That's Chris Myers the player, the guy on the field. Great teammate, great leader. Yet as solid a player as he's been, it's Myers's off-the-field acts of kindness that have cemented his legacy, as he is extremely active in many charities, including Blue Cure for prostate cancer awareness, and Operation Smile, an organization that raises money so that children around the world with cleft palates, cleft lips and facial deformities can receive free surgeries. Myers's generosity is inspired by his young son Keane, who himself has had surgery for a cleft palate. Myers's Twitter bio says it all — "Proud father...loyal husband." (His bio also says, "Part time plus size model," proving that a good role model has to have a sense of humor, too.)
Menil Park offers a refreshing change of pace in the bustle of the Inner Loop. Even though the park is not huge, there's ample room to spread out a blanket in the shade. It's a quiet space that's anything but boring. The creative types who frequent this green spot make for good people-watching while you lunch al fresco. Parking is usually pretty easy to find, and once you're done, you can tour The Menil Collection or contemplate the inner workings of the universe at the Rothko Chapel. Pack what you want for lunch, and do what you want at Menil Park. This Sunday afternoon is yours.
We hear that every few weeks in the fall, thousands of people pack NRG Stadium for some sort of sporting event. We're not really sure what that's all about, because we're there to see 34 supremely talented young women dance about and shake their pom-poms. They're also wicked cool — cheerleader Caitlyn agreed to go to a Crosby teen's high school prom if his request was retweeted 10,000 times. Everyone stepped up to the plate. Well, except us, because we had invited her to dinner at McDonald's. But she's just one of a squad who look especially strong this year. We'll be there to cheer them on.
It used to be that when you wanted to put your life in danger and have it captured for time immemorial, you brought along a friend with a camera. In the age of the selfie, thanks to technology, we can make already dangerous situations even more so by taking the photo ourselves. What photographer Derrek Barlow managed to capture in this shot was not just someone taking a risk but someone who took a risk and wanted the world to know about it. After all, if you put your life on the line but don't have a selfie to upload, did you really put anything on the line at all?
Beach camping. That's right, beach camping. Even if Galveston Island State Park offered nothing else, beach camping would put it on our "must-visit" list. Of course, the park does offer lots more, including fishing, birding, kayaking, biking, swimming and hiking. There's an observation platform, boardwalks, trails, overnight sites and even a freshwater pond. (We're not sure how that got there.) We suggest a visit to Karankawa Reef. It's under water, so there isn't much to actually see when you get there, but it might be your only chance to visit the home of reputedly cannibalistic Native Americans in Texas, who would reportedly wade from the reef to the mainland, where we're pretty sure they scared the hell out of early settlers.
When it comes to outdoor basketball courts, the two key criteria are atmosphere and court quality. Nestled snugly across the street from Toyota Center amid several downtown high-rises and in absolute mint condition, Root Memorial Square's basketball court grades off the charts in both of those categories. It's the ideal place to participate in or watch a pickup game or just shoot around with friends, as its close proximity to the Rockets' home gives this area a cool "basketball campus" feel. With lighting for evening games, depending on the time of day, you never know whom you'll see showing off his basketball wares in the heart of downtown Houston. Root Memorial Square is most definitely where the big boys play.