Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
There's something supremely gratifying about driving straight toward Disney World and then promptly passing right by the House of Mouse in lieu of the great outdoors. That feeling is especially true when your final destination is Ocala National Forest and its more than 600 lakes, rivers, and springs. Established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, it's the oldest national forest east of the Mississippi and the southernmost in the nation. Located just four and a half hours from Miami, Ocala National Forest will make you want to swap Fantasyland for a subtropical fantasy: swimming or snorkeling in the chilly, clear waters of springs that bubble out of crevices in the earth. There are also plenty of paddling and hiking options. At the most frequented destinations, including the Juniper, Alexander, and Salt springs, camping costs about $21 per night. Though you won't meet Mickey and Minnie, you may see bears, alligators, boars, coyote, and bobcats. The forest is a land of adventure and discovery too.
Christian Yelich is the finest Miami Marlins player you've never heard of. Casual observers will tell you that great baseball players hit long dingers and get a crapload of RBIs. And that may be true to some degree. But what really makes a great ballplayer is patience — knowing how to take pitches and wear out opposing pitchers, draw walks, and hit it anywhere in the field where it's safe. And Yelich is arguably one of the best at all of these things in the majors. Baseball is a game of stats, and the stat gurus will tell you the most valuable hitters on your team are the guys who can get on base. Yelich is a wizard at fouling off bad pitches and a warlock at drawing walks. This season, he's been among the leaders in on-base percentage and is driving pitchers batty with his uncanny ability to hit safely. Best of all, he now has Barry Bonds — arguably the most cerebral hitter of all time — as his hitting coach. Yelich may not be the sexiest player on the Marlins, but he's the most effective. Someone's gotta get on base when Giancarlo Stanton hits his monster dongs.
Readers' choice: Giancarlo Stanton
So here we are in 2016, again writing about how Dwyane Wade is the best Miami Heat player — what a time to be alive! In 2006, Wade was leading the Heat to the franchise's first championship. Now, ten years later, he somehow continues to lead the team. The man has cemented himself as the greatest athlete in South Florida sports history. Yes, even better than a football player (c'mon, you know who) whose jersey hangs in the American Airlines Arena rafters. Wade is the reason Miami is considered a basketball town. Outside of ex-owners who brought teams to Miami, Wade is the most important man in South Florida sports history. He has brought class, stability, excellence, loyalty, and so much else to a franchise that before him was just trying to take the next step. Wade has not only helped the team take that next step, but he's also built the team an elevator that consistently makes trips to the NBA penthouse. Dwyane Wade is what the Miami Heat is all about.
Readers' choice: Dwyane Wade
Saying a 44-year-old man is the Florida Panthers' best player sounds crazy, but Jaromir Jagr is no normal middle-aged man. Sure, he's old enough to be a father to some of his teammates, yet his dedication to his craft has him in a position to lead. Jagr was a mainstay on the Panthers' front line in 2016, leading them to the greatest regular season in franchise history and a playoff birth. Though the team didn't advance past the first round in the postseason, Jagr's leadership has the franchise going in a new direction. He's committed to continuing to play for the Panthers for as long as his body holds up, and the team seems more than happy to have him. The man isn't just a coach on the ice; he's still producing, which makes him the most valuable Florida Panther to ever tie on skates in Sunrise.
Even Jarvis Landry would have had a hard time predicting this when he was drafted in the second round by the Miami Dolphins in 2014: 194 catches, nearly 2,000 yards, and nine touchdowns in two years. It's been quite the start to what might be a long career for Landry. He has not only surpassed fans' expectations but also blown them away. Landry comes up big when it matters most and is by all measures one of the tops in the league at his position. When the team needs a big third-down catch, Landry is quarterback Ryan Tannehill's guy. When the team needs an energetic-tackle-breaking red-zone reception, Landry is the one diving at the pylon. It's been a trend for two years, and it's what makes Landry the odds-on favorite to be the face of the franchise. Most teams would say their quarterback would hold that honor, but most teams don't have Jarvis Landry.
Readers' choice: Jarvis Landry
Let's be honest — there are only a few true candidates for this honor. Luckily, Erik Spoelstra would be a worthy candidate in any city or sport. He dealt with quite a bit this past season: blending rookies playing major minutes with aging veterans, adapting on the fly to a roster that continually changed all season, and, for the second straight year, picking up the pieces after losing Chris Bosh. Unlike last year, the Miami Heat this season made those mix-and-match post-Big Three-era pieces fit. The team not only made the playoffs but also did so as a top seed. Heat fans have been spoiled by LeBron championships, so Spoelstra is set to a higher standard than many other coaches. Everything the Heat achieved in 2016 comes back to Spoelstra, and for that, he must be recognized as the cream of the coach crop in South Florida.
Readers' choice: Erik Spoelstra