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Sports & Recreation

Best of Cleveland 2011: Sports & Recreation 

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It's about our sports teams, but also about the endless riches that surround us: our parks and beaches, our forests and waterways.

Yeah, there's always next year — but there's this year too.

Best Team

Cleveland Browns

You say they've hit a rough patch over the last generation or so? You'll excuse fans for choosing not to notice. We may win an NBA title or a World Series crown before the Browns sniff a Super Bowl, but it won't matter to the rabid populace that rolls with its gridiron heroes in good times and bad. Is there genuine reason to believe these days? Every bit as much as any other year: Mike Holmgren's at the helm, stars are emerging on both sides of the ball, and the Steelers and Ravens are due for a down year any decade now.

clevelandbrowns.com

Best Coach

Byron Scott

Perhaps no coach in history has had the rug pulled out quite like the Cavaliers' latest top guy. Brought on board in the wake of last season's playoff meltdown, Scott signed on with a team that needed only the slightest boost to overcome its championship whammy. What it didn't need was for its singular superstar to skip town on a nationally televised sideshow mere days into Scott's tenure. The season that followed has gone every bit as badly as the coach's worst nightmares could suggest: injuries to every difference-maker on the roster, an all-time-worst losing streak, and players who seem only modestly into, y'know, doing what they're paid to do. But Scott has the support of management, and seemingly the confidence in himself to see this through. He's also got a fan base starved for a winner, yet patient as they come.

The Best of Everything

Year in and year out, no person or place dominates Scene's Best of Cleveland quite like the Cleveland Metroparks.

And perhaps nothing else could be more deserving: We count on our Emerald Necklace year-round — for everything from transportation to exercise to communing with Mother Nature.

Below is a sampling of the categories our Metroparks dominated yet again this year; you'll find others elsewhere in the issue:

• Best Place for Outdoor Exercise

• Best Place for Cross-Country Skiing

• Best Spot for Winter Recreation

• Best Picturesque Workout

• Best Place for Road Running

• Best Place for Off-Road Running

• Best Place for Biking

Best Athlete

Joshua Cribbs

Best of Cleveland voters have adopted the tack taken by NFL teams everywhere: Just because Joshua Cribbs doesn't burn you every time doesn't mean he won't next time. So the league tried its best to keep the ball away from Cribbs, and indeed, his 2010 stats didn't approach those of past seasons. There were no game-changing kick-return touchdowns, no wildcat-formation miracles for the former Kent State quarterback. But there was a palpable sense that the fearless Cribbs made a difference just by courting such rabid attention from defenses. He's also got the attention of adoring fans, who sense that one of their own is going to battle for them.

Best Indians Player

Shin-Soo Choo

The multitalented Choo has yet to be part of a Tribe team that hasn't crapped its pants coming out of the gate. But with a decent April, this could be the year Choo's still-developing talents reach the radar of baseball fans everywhere. A .300 hitter since emerging in 2008, the Tribe right fielder has also developed into our best power threat, bashing 42 homers over the last two seasons. Pair that with above-average speed and a Howitzer arm, and you've got the makings of a superstar. Pair that with a contract that locks him in through 2013, and you've got reason to breathe a little easier.

Best Browns Player

Peyton Hillis

Brady Quinn never looked so good as he did leaving town in a trade for this guy. With his straight-ahead bulldozer running, his tree-trunk arms, and his unabashed Dawg Pound pandering, the Browns' unlikely new feature back is a rising star fans have quickly grown to adore. Hillis was an overworked, unyielding tank in 2010, and it was a miracle he didn't break down. The Browns will surely look to ease his workload this year, which should be easier with an improved supporting cast due in camp.

Best Cavaliers Player

J.J. Hickson

When the Cavs' 6-9 forward-center goes on one of those shot-blocking, rim-rattling rampages, he's as electrifying a presence as you could hope for. But if there's a problem with the still-developing Hickson's game, it's that we don't see that madman often enough. There's no question that the N.C. State product has enough talent to thrive; the question is whether he has the drive. We'll likely know more by next season, when a few of the team's fractured pieces should be mended.

Best Sports Executive

Dan Gilbert

It says much about the makeup of Cleveland sports fans that Dan Gilbert earned this honor just after his team set the all-time world record for losing. But Gilbert also delivered the best years of basketball Cleveland has ever seen, and he vowed better days when the wheels fell off the wagon last summer. No, there's not much to recommend his Cavaliers these days, but there's a strong sense Gilbert won't stand for much more losing. In a town where the agony of defeat is served daily, one guy who insists otherwise can be king.

Best Minor League Team

Lake County Captains

The 2010 Midwest League Champions did not sit idle over the offseason: They concocted a lineup of game-day entertainment to rival any we've ever seen. Try this 2011 season sampler on for size: Monday Buck Nights (eat cheap), Tuesday Dog Nights (bring your pooch), Wine & Wing Wednesdays (showcasing local establishments), Thirsty Thursdays (because 10-cent beer nights always end well), and weekend fireworks extravaganzas. As far as we know, there will also be baseball games.

35300 Vine St., Eastlake; 440-975-8085;

minorleaguebaseball.com

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