Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Just south of the trendy Upper Eastside, where Russian billionaires are plotting the next wave of luxury condo towers, an older Miami holds out. Banyans line the streets of the historic Morningside neighborhood, where snow-white ibises roam freely, heading east toward the spot where Miami's best-rounded park hides nestled along the bayfront. This is not a cleverly designed concert venue or a hole-in-the-wall pop-up park. Morningside is a space conscious of its natural surroundings. On weekends, families barbecue near loved ones renting kayaks and paddleboards. Basketball courts and soccer fields brim with bustling, sweating players. But for those slow Thursday mornings, there's also a quiet bench and a sunrise waiting over Biscayne Bay.
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
Cheetah: You're listening to Cheetah and the Chimp on WBOM, Miami's best fictional sports radio channel. I'm your host, Jose "Cheetah" Chavez, with my sidekick, the Chimp.
The Chimp: This Chimp is bananas today!
Cheetah: Can't believe they let you out of the cage today, Chimp. You're wild! But now it's time to let our listeners' opinions out of the cage. We've got Ken on the phone from Doral. Ken, hit us with it.
Ken: Hey, guys! Longtime listener, first-time caller. I just wanted to say, why aren't we talking more about Joe Yearby? The guy became the ninth running back in Hurricanes history to rack up more than 1,000 yards in a single season. He led the team in all-purpose yards. The guy had eight touchdowns. I mean, I'd say he's the running back of the future for the team, but already, as a sophomore, he has established himself as one of the team's major keys.
Cheetah: You know I've seen a lot of running backs in my day, and it's true — this guy gets the ball, and he tends to run pretty far with it.
The Chimp: That's why you're the expert, Cheetah!
Readers' choice: Brad Kaaya
One shouldn't open up a piece praising the best player on the 2016 men's Hurricanes basketball team by claiming that his transfer to the team in 2013 from Kansas State was something like an angel descending from above. That would be ridiculous. Angel Rodriguez only helped lead the team to the Sweet 16, one of the Canes' best NCAA tournament showings in history. It would be just stupid to claim he moved around the court as if he had wings. The senior point guard as a teenager only left his family behind in Puerto Rico to move to Miami to pursue his dream of playing basketball. And quoting lyrics from angel-related pop songs by the likes of Sarah McLachlan or Shaggy to describe him? Forget about it. Rodriguez only averaged 12.6 points per game this past season and led his team in assists, steals, and turnovers. His talents deserve serious written admiration that doesn't devolve into lazy wordplay around the fact that his parents happened to name him Angel, and we will do that just as soon as we figure out how.
What makes Mike Inglis special is that he somehow mixes being a complete Miami Heat homer with telling it like it is, even when it is not good for the local boys. He has a way with words, good and bad, that makes him Miami's favorite sportscaster. When things are going well, nobody is better. His iconic and legendary lines after championship-sealing victories will forever be embedded in Miami Heat fans' minds. If you're missing the game, nobody is better at painting a picture of what's happening than Inglis. Even if you aren't at the game, he's somehow able to put your emotions in courtside seats. Nobody in Miami calls a game like Mike Inglis, and no Heat game would be the same without him.
Readers' choice: Will Manso
You're lying on South Beach, soaking up that vitamin D and grooving to the waves, when suddenly it all goes wrong: First comes the pushy club promoter thrusting free drink coupons into your hands. Then come the frat dudes who thoughtfully brought along their iPod speakers so everyone within a five-block radius can hear their brostep blasting. Let's be honest: You came to the beach to chill, right? So hop into your car and head a couple of miles north, to a stretch of sand that feels a few zip codes away from the busy, see-and-be-seen SoBe vibe and the concrete skyline of Mid-Beach. North Beach is clean, quiet, and perfect for precisely what the beach is best for: relaxing. And with more and cheaper parking options than elsewhere on the beach, including a giant city-run lot on 73rd Street, your suntan won't cost you $20 in meter fees.
Readers' choice: South Beach
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.
If you're a 65-year-old with a homemade costume of a Schlitz beer can in the back of your closet, you've probably heard of Stan's Idle Hour. If you're not that person, well, consider this your introduction. Two hours from Miami, straight west on U.S. 41, this colorful dive bar defines Sunday Funday. In the small town of Goodland — which bills itself as a drinking village with a fishing problem — the live music at Stan's kicks off around 11 a.m. with an elaborate recording of the National Anthem, including several verses you didn't know existed. Lunch is simple and usually fried: shrimp, scallops, oysters, soft-shell crab. Though this place isn't technically a biker bar, you'll see your fair share here. But you'll also find Marco Island condo dwellers, vacationing Midwesterners, Florida crackers, and, if you're lucky, former Speaker of the House John Boehner, a friend of the late owner, Stan Gober, who raised his family in Miami before moving to Goodland in 1969. Don't leave until the band plays "The Buzzard Lope," a sort of bastardized version of the chicken dance penned by Gober before his death in 2012 ("Looks like they're on dope/They are doing the Buzzard Lope"). If the song alone doesn't have you flapping your arms like an idiot, the signature Buzzard Punch rum drink sure will.