Best Of 2004

Thank heaven for bum knees. If old Omar had merely passed his physical last winter, he'd be a Seattle Mariner now. At the time, the nixed trade looked like bad news to all but Omar's legion of swooning admirers: The whispers, after all, had started a couple of seasons ago that he couldn't go to the hole anymore, and the injuries and fielding miscues started to mount last year. But this season, the Tribe's last link to the Era of Champions played like a champion again, hitting .300 and notching one of the best fielding percentages among shortstops. Next season will probably bring the Era of Jhonny Peralta at short. So be glad for what Omar brought this year, and for the grace with which he always did it. We'll miss you, O.
If you're planning to spend some serious time in the saddle, it pays to spend some serious money on a bike that doesn't suck. In addition to top-quality bikes from Italy and America, Spin has friendly, well-informed salespeople, who take the time to ask questions about how you ride and give no-B.S. answers about what you should buy. Spin's got mountain bikes that start at $400 and road bikes that start at $700 and climb into the $3,000 range, so it's difficult to leave there with a hunk of junk.
For those who like to live DIY, the Ohio City Bike Co-op offers used bike frames, new and used parts, and the tools you need to put them all together. And if you've never greased a chain before, the co-op offers inexpensive classes on bike maintenance. Memberships go for $50 or 10 hours of volunteer work, so you can help fix bikes for neighborhood kids and enjoy some of the area's most intimate views of the river. (The co-op moved from Ohio City to a great warehouse in the Flats earlier this year.)
There is every reason to love Tribe rookie Grady Sizemore: The young center fielder has the speed of a striking tiger and the graceful swing and unshakable poise that are the foundation of Cooperstown-bound careers. But what the scouts inexplicably didn't mention are Grady's molten eyes, his pouty, full lips, his innocently slackened jaw, and his sturdy, streamlined build. If this baseball thing doesn't work out, Grady, a career in tightie-whitie modeling awaits you. Heck, there's no rule that says you can't do both.
Beginning in the foothills of Independence and running all the way down to Akron, the Towpath Trail is as lengthy as it is lush. Winding through forests filled with deer, the smooth, mostly asphalt bike path is the area's most scenic, running amid towering pines next to the Ohio & Erie Canal. There are plenty of watering holes just off the route, such as Fisher's, the restaurant-tavern frequented by Peninsula's locals, and the swank Lockkeepers in Independence, where you can replenish all the calories you've just burned off.
The dog park isn't just for people with dogs; it's also for frustrated apartment dwellers who are forced to exist canine-free because of pooch prohibitions. Our sad, sad kind must live the life of a proud dog owner vicariously, through repeated viewings of Air Bud and trips to the areas best hang for hounds: the Rocky River Reservation's dog park. A roomy, fenced-in, gravel romping ground, with a water fountain for thirsty pets, the place is always busy with a dozen or so of man's best friends, playing, sniffing, and antagonizing the abundant wildlife of the reservation. And there are plenty of benches, perfect for taking in all the action and dreaming of one day getting a wiener dog. And a life.
Behold the daredevils as they pilot their expensive remote-controlled airplanes off this dangerous cliff, over a mouth filled with rocky teeth several stories below. It makes for a neat miniature air show, complete with loop-the-loops, but it's not for amateurs. When a plane crashes, the rescue mission requires a treacherous foray through ankle-twisting boulders. Still, if you're going to play with a toy airplane, it should at least look dangerous.
You want frills? Join Bally's, and hop around with the rest of the gym bunnies. This is boxing, a sport that prizes the basics. That's what you get at Alta House, a Little Italy gym that attracts East Side pugilists, despite an aroma like a rotting jockstrap. Casey, the trainer, can be seen growling tutorials. The old cuss has knocked many a young man on his ass -- bruises are lessons. You're paying for that. Or you can whale on the heavy bag by yourself. A bell marks the three-minute rounds all day. And if you still haven't quenched your thirst for destruction, there's a crude set of weight-lifting equipment in the next room. But if you inflict enough pain on yourself at Alta House, it means you can inflict even more pain on the outside. Time to call up that grade-school bully.
If you're an easy rider, stick to motorcycles. The true born-to-be-wilds do their damage with pedals. The founding members of Biker Mayhem had the punk attitude, with all its requisite disdain for authority, and they also had 10-speeds, which made them dangerously mobile. It was just a matter of time till they discovered the rush that comes from crossing a freeway, from exploring the bowels of Tower City, or from riding herd on a hapless security guard on the 64th floor of Key Tower. You can launch your own Biker Mayhem crew. Just make sure you don't get caught by the originals -- they'll show you some road rage.
It's a little easier to wake up early in the morning for a jog if you know that as you pound that treadmill, you can watch SportsCenter on a movie screen. Booya! You're experiencing the Rocky River FitWorks, newly renovated this spring. The equipment's almost all new. The music is programmed, so you don't have to hear radio commercials. And a fringe benefit is the chance to rub elbows with local celebrities -- Scene Editor Pete Kotz has been spotted here. (He's the guy who brings his ashtray to the stationary bike.)
A native of Detroit, Gates led the Kent State basketball team to the NCAA's Elite Eight in 2002 and was an honorable mention All-American the following year. But when the NBA overlooked the burly forward in 2003, Gates walked on with the San Diego Chargers -- his first football action since high school. Dropped after the preseason, he returned as an injury fill-in at tight end and wowed coach Marty Schottenheimer's staff with his soft hands. Now far from a walk-on, Gates opened this season as San Diego's starter -- and caught eight balls for 123 yards in week one alone. He's living out his football fantasy, and fantasy-leaguers are starting to notice.