As pleasant as the opening of last year's Heights-area MKT Bike Trail was, its usefulness was somewhat limited. Its eastern end terminated in a desolate stretch of First Ward, about a mile from downtown, forcing riders to navigate some fairly traffic-heavy, debris-strewn streets the rest of the way to the center city. Those days are a thing of the past, as cyclists can now zip under I-45 and over White Oak Bayou, down a pleasant, oddly rural-feeling waterside stretch with a gorgeous skyline view, and all the way to the University of Houston-Downtown. Road bike riders should beware, though, as the trail still is marred with tire-popping gravel piles, but those should be a thing of the past very soon.
Nothing about the October through December 2010 version of the Houston Aeros hinted at its thrilling Calder Cup championship run. Even when the club brought Jed Ortmeyer aboard on New Year's Day, the American Hockey League franchise looked to be one of the many middling minor-league clubs of North America. However, thanks to the veteran leadership of the 34-year-old right winger, who did all of the stat-sheet-less things that many hockey players just aren't willing to do, the Aeros nearly won it all. (The team eventually fell to the Binghamton Senators, four games to two, in the Calder Cup Finals.) What made Ortmeyer's contributions even more impressive is the fact that dude almost died in 2006 from pulmonary embolism, a medical condition that can cause frequent blood clotting and one that he still suffers from today.
It came, we showed them what's up and now they're all excited to return in 2016. Houston's first Final Four since 1971 was basically drama- and lame-free, and out-of-towners left the Bayou City knowing a bit why we love living here. Along with the curious quartet of Connecticut, Kentucky, Virginia Commonwealth and Butler, Final Four Weekend hosted a Saint Arnold beer garden at Market Square Park, the interactive Bracket Town at the George R. Brown, and Sublime and Kenny Chesney at Discovery Green. When it was game time, Metro handled the transportation overload to Reliant Stadium, where the games went off, with ease. Yeah, the championship snoozer between Connecticut and Butler was a bummer, but in no way did it pooh-pooh the overall experience.
The water's much prettier and greener than that of the Upper Coast, and there's both grit and family-friendly fun in this Coastal Bend town less than four hours down the Southwest Freeway. Fishing charters, dolphin-watching tours, parasailing adventures and ferries to nearly uninhabited Saint Joseph's Island embark from the town's harbor daily, and there's good food to be found if you get away from the tourist traps. (Think Shells, Kody's, Marcel's, La Playa and Roosevelt's; avoid Moby Dick's, Fins, and Virginia's on the Bay, except for cocktails. Also, seek out dockings of the mom-and-pop shrimp boat Pollyanna for home cooking.) Dive-bar connoisseurs will love Port A Harbor's legendary Shorty's Oldest And Friendliest Bar, while those seeking a livelier night out won't be let down by Sharkey's nightclub a little way out of town. (Tip: Avoid that dreaded DWI by hiring a beach bike from one of the rental services.)
Picking a Best Astro was no easy task this year. The team is suffering through a season of legendary ineptitude. Still, Hunter Pence, All-Star and great guy, seemed like a lock. Until he was traded. No worries, we'll just pick Michael Bourn — and then he became an Atlanta Brave. So let's go with Bud Norris. On an awful squad, he's the ace, with a good ERA (in terms of Astros pitchers), he seems unflappable, unlike some others on the staff. He just goes about doing as solid a job as he can. For this year's Astro team, that puts him on top.
With its modern interior and exterior, indoor track and spacious confines, the new YMCA in the heart of downtown Houston breathed new life into fitness in our city. Hell, sometimes we go just to gawk at the view of the skyline from the treadmills, and before we know it three, er, ten miles have passed us by. Replacing the historic building less than two blocks away, this YMCA opened up just last fall, with upgraded equipment, locker rooms and family areas. There's also an indoor playground area that makes even adults jealous. Everything is new and improved, from the saunas and steam rooms to the basketball courts, which are always teeming with the sounds of vigorous games of roundball. The old location isn't all forgotten, with the neon "Y" from that building displayed prominently in the free-weight area of the gym.
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.

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