Best Of 2001

Sure, laugh, he's a punter. He gets about the same amount of respect as a pederast used-car salesman -- the wuss boy on a squad of hulking mercenaries. But Gardocki is no wuss. He's 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, for one thing. He also excels at his position. Consider: The man averaged 45.5 yards per punt last year, good for third in the league. In one game against the Ravens last year, he punted 10 times, with an average (for the game) of more than 49 yards. His longest of the year was 67. Yet that's not even the most impressive thing. On a team as bad as the Browns were in 2000, Gardocki had all of zero punts blocked last season. In fact, he now holds the NFL record for consecutive punts without a block -- around 730 -- which is about how many times Browns brass should thank him. That's one position they don't have to worry about.
Guests at this 1874 red brick town house not only get an elegant place to stay that's close to Cleveland's cultural amenities; they can also enjoy a lesson in the city's history. That's because innkeeper Robin Yates has an unabashed enthusiasm for his hometown, and he eagerly shares it with anyone who's interested. He goes so far as to give driving tours to show off the city to out-of-towners, in the process regaling visitors with an entertaining and insightful account of Cleveland's past and present.
Most professional athletes use the excuses of age and injury to explain woeful performances. Not Hector Marinaro. Despite closing in on 40 and being sidelined for six games in the 1999-2000 season, he still earned his sixth consecutive National Professional Soccer League scoring title, amassing 231 points. He has also been named the NPSL's most valuable player six times. His scoring dropped off last season, but he still topped the Crunch's roster with 161 points.
If Manny really wanted to play for a cursed, luckless baseball franchise, why didn't he stay in Cleveland? Ramirez went to Boston this season, lured by the real Green Monster: cash. Tribe fans not only lost their team's best hitter; they endured his whining on the way out. Apparently, Indians management had the nerve to ask Manny to suit up to help the pennant chase. That sort of resistance to labor doesn't play well in Cleveland. Indians fans had lungs ready when the Red Sox arrived in July, and when Manny dug in for his first at-bat, the boos shook the rafters. Let that be a lesson, Juan Gon, should you be tempted to split town.
If you're planning on playing Northeast Ohio's finest 18, be sure to pack an extra box or two of Top Flights -- chances are, you're going to need them. With more than 150 water hazards and sand traps, the Reserve at Thunder Hill has myriad ways to make your ball disappear, along with your handicap and most likely your ego. But the experience is well worth the dose of humility. Besides beautiful views and challenging greens (the Thunder Tees could only have been created by Satan himself), the Reserve offers professional-quality holes at amateur prices. It's $62 for 18 on the weekends, but come during the week before 2 p.m. and pay only $40 for 18 holes, three complimentary balls, and a free Thunderdog hot dog at the turn. A golf course that feeds you while it embarrasses you -- what more could anyone ask?
It's no wonder our great country turns out the world's finest miniature golf professionals: The bucolic courses on which they hone their skills are second to none. And in the Cleveland area, it's hard to beat the charms of Goodtimes' dual 18-hole courses. From the towering dragon that greets you at the first hole (then gobbles your ball on the last) to the serenading waterfalls that cascade into rolling streams, the golf can take a backseat to the beauty. Which, for hacks like us, is not a bad thing.
What's a poetical soul to do in this age of frenzy and rush? Even the water's edge, that traditional spot of dreamers and thinkers, has become filled with jet skis, whining children, and boomboxes. The spit of beach at Avon Lake's Veterans Memorial Park has none of these, which is exactly what makes it so nice. A grassy hill separates the picnic area from the sand, and there isn't much reason to go down, unless you're feeling moody: The swimming area is minimal, the beach isn't long enough for walking, and boat launches are strictly banned. Usually, no one is around to squawk if you decide to stroll out, sit in silence, and stare at Lake Erie.
Men of lesser fortitude might sooner crumble than overcome a late-May batting average under .200. Jim Thome didn't hang his head or reach for an excuse. He weathered daily criticism from the town he's dedicated his career to, and -- eventually -- he caught fire. Posting the best offensive statistics of his career, Thome has plenty of reason to gloat this season. But you'd never know it by his ceaselessly calm demeanor. Jim Thome may be just another coddled millionaire athlete, but he's our coddled millionaire athlete. Someone should write a song about him.
Indians GM John Hart has never been shy about making trades. He detests letting players walk away for nothing via free agency, and he loves veteran hitters. (Yes, Kevin Seitzer and Dave Winfield really did play here.) Our pick for the best deal is the one last season that sent David Justice to New York for Ricky Ledee, Jake Westbrook, and Zach Day. Trading Justice, a.k.a. Mr. Glass, freed up the salary to sign Ellis Burks, solid batsman and clubhouse prince. Day was later traded for Milton Bradley, the heir apparent to Kenny Lofton.
In early April, a 6-foot-7, 250-pound figure strode to the middle of the Jacobs Field diamond, climbed the mound, and proceeded to hurl 98-mph baseballs past guys like Cal Ripken Jr. At the time, he wasn't old enough to get into a bar. C.C. Sabathia had become, at just 20 years old, one of the big leagues' dominators. Now 21, Sabathia has harnessed his mighty arm, diversified his pitches, and settled in for a stretch run at a pennant. At a time when some longtime Indians are thinking retirement, we're glad to welcome a fresh talent like Sabathia, whom we hope to see on the Jake mound another 20 years.

If there's one thing baseball fans love more than bloated numbers on an all-star slugger, it's a bloated pitcher who can strike him out. Leading the Indians in saves and trips to the buffet is Bob Wickman, whose considerable girth makes him better suited to the rigors of big-time bowling than big-time baseball. But if the plumber fixes your leak, you don't knock his physique. As long as Wickman keeps getting batters out, he can eat sausages on the mound for all we care.
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