Minute Maid Park

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.

It doesn't matter if art, food or music is your thing — Beaumont's got it. Beaumont's 1901 Spindletop gusher made ordinary oilmen overnight millionaires and gave birth to the companies that would eventually become Texaco, Chevron, Mobil and Exxon. Over the years, that oil money has benefited Beaumont's arts community, including the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, making it one of the best small museums in the state. If you'd rather find a dance floor instead of an art gallery, try Larry's French Market & Cajun Cafeteria. Rebuilt since Hurricane Rita, Larry's is part restaurant, part grocery store and all honky-tonk. Buckets of mudbugs and piles of corncobs litter tables that have been abandoned by folks anxious to get on the dance floor. Live music three nights a week offers zydeco, country and plenty of polkas to keep everyone happy. Larry's closes early (10 p.m.), but you can keep the fun going over at Crockett Street Entertainment District, a cluster of historic buildings (including a former house of ill repute) that now house restaurants and bars. Set on the waterfront, Crockett Street also regularly offers outdoor music festivals.

Congressman Bill Archer Bark Park

What dog wouldn't love 17 acres of wide-open space, including large ponds and an agility course? And what dog-lover wouldn't want to treat his pooch to this canine oasis? If you don't feel like walking the expansive grounds, you can park on one of the many benches and sit a spell while Rex gets rid of all that pent-up energy that's been making him bounce off the walls at home. And since it's open week-round, from 7 a.m. until dusk, there's really no excuse for you not to treat your furry little friend.

Wildcat Golf Club

One of the best views in Houston does not require you take an elevator or a helicopter. How can that be, you ask? Grab your Big Bertha and get thee to Wildcat Golf Club. From the driving range, you can see several H-Town high-rises, along with Reliant Stadium, the beautiful water hazards in the Lakes course, some Longhorn steers and — fore! The stellar view is so distracting, you may forget to keep your eye on the ball. Buckets of balls can be had for $5 — a bargain anywhere — and pro instruction is available at the bottom of the hill, at Matt Swanson's School of Golf. Keep your St. Andrews; we like Wildcat. Built on a landfill, it's one of the city's best examples of refurbishing.

If the soccer pitch were an interrogation room, there would be no question about Ricardo Clark's role: bad cop, with some badness to spare. Clark, the defensive backbone of the Dynamo midfield, is an indefatigable enforcer. While teams from more temperate locales prune in Houston's humidity, this Georgia native motors around the field as if he gets a bonus for each time he suffers heatstroke. His passion sometimes lands him in trouble — see his suspension in 2007 for kicking a totally deserving Carlos Ruiz of FC Dallas, or the red card he earned in the 32nd minute during June's U.S.-Italy match in South Africa. Nevertheless, it's nice to have the guy no one wants to play against suiting up in orange.

Whatever your game is, or whether you're simply trying to get game, Professional Golf Association member Matt Schewe can meet your level. He's taught Sally Field, Kurt Russell and, well...us. We've seen him work with 20-year victims, er, veterans, of golf — and in one case, he got a golf virgin ready for a tournament in two-and-a-half months. Matt emphasizes the joy of golf, not the defeat. He'll never shame your short game or make merry at your slice. The only time we ever saw him without a grin was when someone forgot to yell "fore," narrowly missing him and his student. His etiquette tips will ensure you'll never be without a golf partner: "If you're trying to impress a client," he says, "either treat them to lunch or dinner, or take them to the pro shop and buy them a shirt from the course you played. They will always remember you when they wear that shirt."

Top Gun Handgun ­Training and Shooting Center

With the recent surge in gun sales due to the perceived fear that President Obama is "gonna take our guns away," places like Top Gun near Richmond have been seeing an increase in traffic. They offer a wide array of weapons and ammo that would make a sportsman drool with glee, from brand-new AK-47s to the latest offerings from Bushmaster, which arguably makes the world's fiercest-looking hand cannons. The retail center includes everything you need to tote a handgun, including classes where you can obtain the proper licenses and a 15-lane shooting range to polish your aiming skills. The self-defense programs look promising, including the self-defense shotgun and knife classes, useful for when things get ugly on Black Friday at the Galleria.

YMCA

There is a fitness oasis smack in the middle of downtown. The YMCA is well equipped enough, with benches, squat racks and treadmills aplenty, yet somehow devoid of that bane of the typical gym experience: other people. Those who just want to work out and go home can do so without wait times, predatory personal trainers or testosto-grunting. If you do stick around, the swimming pool, racquetball, basketball and squash courts, saunas, whirlpools and steam rooms are also both adequate and largely available. But the best-kept secret is the rooftop track, which, if you can find it, offers a secluded run amid the skyscrapers. Alas, like any oasis, this is bound to dry up. The current location will be replaced near the end of next year by a new, state-of-the-art one that's bound to attract the mirror-hugging masses.

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.

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