Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Despite the fact that it derives its name from a Native American word meaning "friends," Texas is a pugnacious state, one far more in line with its unofficial "Don't Mess With Texas" motto than any other. And there's nowhere better in the area to revel in that orneriness than at the San Jacinto Battleground, where you can not only see the place where Sam Houston routed Santa Anna's much larger army and changed the fate of North American history in 17 minutes, but also the world's last "Dreadnought" battleship. Commissioned 100 years ago this year, the USS Texas shelled the Nazis at Normandy during the D-Day landings and is one of only six remaining ships to have seen action in the Great War. If you want to board the great craft while it's still afloat, you'd better hurry: The Texas is slated to move to a new dry berth within five years. The history museum at the base of the San Jacinto monument is worth the trip alone, as is the satanically awesome view of the petrochemical refineries from the great cenotaph's top.
Houston is really going to miss Aero Jon DiSalvatore, who was team captain and a top offensive player who did tons of charity work and loved interacting with fans. He's left to play with a team closer to his home in Connecticut. We'll remember him as a coach's dream who sacrificed the best parts of his game — including his scoring ability — to help set up the younger players so they'd fit into the team.
A lot has changed at the 86-year-old resort village on the rim of one of the Frio River's most scenic canyons. Sure, the boulder-strewn, aquamarine-watered old swimming hole is still one of the finest in Texas, the dining hall's still offering up chicken-frieds to die for (or kill over), and all ten million of those Mexican free-tailed bats are still boiling nightly from that guano-reeking Hades of a hole in the ground a few miles down the road. The Frio's still a pleasant float through some of the most breathtaking of wild western Hill Country terrain, if a little shallow and light on rapids most of the time. Skunks, 'coons and white-tailed deer will raid your campsite for scraps once the moon rises, and mama mockingbirds will still harass nest-plundering roadrunners from scraggly ancient hillside oaks. Those are the eternal verities of this angel-kissed Eden on the Edwards Plateau. What's new? More amenities. There's a family-friendly icehouse now on the premises in Joe Jimmy's, where bands play country and classic rock hits under Milky Way skies to two-steppers and tricyclists alike on the large outdoor dance slab. There's a catch-and-release fishing pond, and a return to the Neal's Lodges of old in guided horseback rides in and around the Frio. It's Texas distilled, and it's only about five hours away: a little more if you take the gorgeous route over the roof of the Hill Country through either Tarpley or Vanderpool.
In an industry becoming increasingly cluttered with boisterous blowhards who want to be Jim Rome, stat geeks who worship at the Moneyball altar, and seriously unfunny wannabe comedians, Lance Zierlein is a rare triple threat. He is equally comfortable asserting his opinion, dissecting complex statistical analysis or creating funny characters. His ability to be both informative and entertaining is the radio equivalent of a five-tool player in baseball. Now that he has a partner in Charlie Pallilo, who is his equal in terms of experience and sports intellect, the two could dominate sports talk radio in Houston.
When Galveston Island gets overrun with tourists, one of the best and easiest things to do is hop on over the San Luis Pass to the tiny hamlet of Quintana, a wonderful summertime Gulf haunt. Just south of Freeport and its factories, Quintana Beach Park has picnic facilities, hook-ups for RVs, cabins, camping facilities and other amenities, but it's the swimming you're here for. The beach is "unmaintained," meaning the park officials don't comb the sand other than to remove trash, so you'll often find small shells, driftwood and more along the water. Speaking of the water, for some reason it always seems bluer here than in Galveston. That's not to say it's clear — but it is more private, more quiet and more convenient than nearly any place else along the "Houston coast."
No, he doesn't get this award for tweeting a picture of his MRI when he suffered a hamstring injury. Although that's certainly an indication of the freewheeling content on Texan running back Arian Foster's Twitter account, which can range from philosophical observations ("There is life outside of your beliefs") to random WTFs ("Even though it isn't an accurate rumor, I may go Einstein on y'all and wear one suit this whole year") to talkin' smack with fans about other sports ("Lol, I'm done. I'm arguing with highlight watchers"). Hands-down the best tweeter among Houston athletes.
Houston has plenty of nice neighborhood city-run dog parks, but we think the funnest place for both Fido and you is the Boneyard. Why? Because you can get your drink on while Fido plays fetch. The bar just north of Memorial Park has a 7,000-square-foot double-fenced yard with picnic tables, toys, poop bags, water and a dog-washing station. Inside, the bar specializes in Abita beers (Turbo Dog, anyone?) but also has a great selection of Belgians, Texas brews and wine. They don't sell food, but there's usually a truck outside, and the bar often hosts fund-raisers for local pet-adoption organizations. Just be sure to read the park rules: No kids allowed.
Now that you have bought your rifle or handgun, you have to learn how to use it, right? Drive on out to League City and spend a few hours at The Arms Room, a gun store and range built inside an old Circuit City. Weekends get pretty hectic, and the wait to get a lane could be up to an hour most Saturdays and Sundays. The Arms Room now allows you to shoot your shotguns inside, but leave your ammo at home. You have to use the shells at the range. None of that homegrown-loaded stuff will fly here.
On the field, Connor Barwin was able to make Texans fans forget the loss of Mario Williams to injury. Off the field, we're not sure Houston's ever seen an athlete like him. He's intensely into the local music and arts scenes — he even wrote a Summer Fest review for us — and he's come out in favor of gay marriage. He's easily accessible to fans who wonder if they're hallucinating seeing a Texan digging the music at some dive, and — probably most important — he's become a key part of the team's vastly improved defense.
Kicks is 28,000 square feet of fun, including a multipurpose field, a gym and — praise Pelé — a full-on bar open seven days a week! (The sports extends to the bar, too, with billiards, beer pong, flip cup and FIFA PlayStation 3 competitions.) Kicks offers games for adults and kids, and year-round training camps for kids as well. It doesn't matter if you're an expert or beginner, or if you have a team or are looking to join one — Kicks can accommodate you. Registration fees are affordable, so there's no reason not to expand your soccer enthusiasm beyond just watching at home while stuffing your face and honking your vuvuzela. They also rent out the joint for semi-private or fully private parties and corporate events. We have to say it: Kicks kicks ass!
It's almost too good to be true, and we might regret giving this away, but Sheldon Lake is honestly one of the best kept secrets in Houston. If it weren't for the sound of the nearby industry, you might think you'd stumbled onto some Precambrian swamp. The terrible lizards are still there (in the form of lake-dwelling alligators), but the reservoir is also home to a large rookery of migrating and nesting birds, making it a popular destination for kayakers. A boardwalk on the lake gives a decent view of the nesting trees on islands across the water, but you'll need your binoculars. The real treat is to head to the visitors' center on the east side of the lake. Once part of a fish hatchery, each pond is now its own separate, semi-wild ecosystem (the alligators like to nest here, too). Some are overrun with water lilies and lotuses with lily pads the size of large pizzas. In addition to the nature stuff, the park plaques also describe how the entire center was built with environmentally friendly details such as reclaimed wood and solar panels. It's a great spot for a picnic. Not to miss: the massive viewing platform that overlooks the lake, the industry of east Houston, downtown and more.
You might mistake him for Russell Brand in a lineup, and at 32 his prime years are probably behind him, but Luis Scola has been a solid all-around Rocket for five years. Rarely out with an injury, he's mastered the baseline jumper, gets some rebounds and plays defense about as well as anyone on the team does, which is to say not all-time great, but adequate. In many ways Scola has become the leader of the Rockets, and they could do much worse.