The city's best and perhaps most-used public pool can be found in Emancipation Park, set in the Third Ward just east of downtown. During the segregation era, Emancipation was Houston's lone municipal park for African-Americans. Today it's a hub for athletics and all kinds of fun and friendly neighborhood activities. The popular pool and water slide attract thousands throughout the ­summer.

It's been a long, long time since the Houston Rockets have done anything in the playoffs, but hope springs eternal. Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming are the Rockets' superstars, but when it comes to quiet, solid contributions to the team, forward Shane Battier is the real superstar. Rarely out of position or outhustled on defense, he's long been considered an ultimate team-first guy. Plus he's a brainiac from Duke who speaks fluent German, plays jazz trumpet and — unless Obama gets there first — could just end up being the nation's first black president. (It's not so far-fetched: He famously asked his mother, when he was just three years old, whether he'd make a good president.) Battier brings nothing but good to the Rockets. Now if he'd only help them get past the first round of the NBA playoffs, we'd be happy.

Taking nothing away from the Coogs' C-USA championship night, Houston was host to another athletic night to remember for all time this year. The 2007 Astros season opened with all eyes on ­second-baseman Craig Biggio as he chased the storied mark of 3,000 career hits; unfortunately, Bidge struggled at the plate and on the field, making the drama more of a slog than a celebration. All that changed on the night he finally reached the plateau, however. He entered the game June 28 three hits shy, no doubt creating dreams in owner Drayton McLane's head that several more nights of sold-out crowds were still to come. Instead Bidge blasted five hits that night, the most important one coming on a seventh-inning single that made him Mr. 3,000. Amid the ensuing wave of affection, cheering and hugs, Biggio marched to the Astros dugout and forced former teammate Jeff Bagwell to take the field with him. Seeing the beaming pair — with Bags shaggily resembling a surfer dude headed for the beach — is an image Houston sports fans won't forget.

Houston has more sports-talk stations than any fan really needs, but far fewer good sports-talk shows than anyone would like. There's a slew of hosts who don't know basic stuff but prefer going for cheap laughs talking about babes and movies. On the other hand, there's Charlie Pallilo of "The Sports Animal," KBME 790. No one in town — no one in the state — retains more sports knowledge than him. You think he's madly Googling to come up with some obscure stat? Think again — he simply remembered it. Pallilo has a great radio voice and presence, he enjoys a good argument and he doesn't dumb things down (too much: he does feel the need to pimp "the babes" on the station's Web site). Some listeners complain he's too cerebral, but he's actually a refreshing and entertaining antidote to moronic radio.

The voice booms and echoes through the stadium. The names are announced clearly. And with authority. The man behind the microphone at Minute Maid Park never fails to let you know who's batting. Or pitching. Or coming in from the bullpen. Bob Ford's the one constant with the Houston Astros. ESPN once said that he had the voice of God, and when you hear his voice at the ballpark coming out of those speakers, you agree. It's the voice of authority. It's a voice of sincerity. Ford's a former Houston radio DJ, the voice of Fox Sports Houston, and he does voice-overs for Channel 8. But whenever you hear his voice, you think Houston Astros. He's not a cheerleader. He's not a screamer. He's calm. He's precise. He's the man in the know, letting you know. So all hail the voice of God.

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