Best Of 2009

If you want to lollygag, drink and chat up hotties, try something else. If you want to test your limits, join a Sportsplex soccer league. People come here to play hard — maybe too hard, considering that their blood, sweat and tears aren't exactly bringing home the World Cup. But the competition creates fascinating social interaction. We've witnessed shoving matches between women. We've seen opponents and teammates bark at each other. We've seen bruised joints, scraped skin and blown ligaments. So why bother? We like to think that athletic competition is all about respect, and this is the kind of place where a rival will pay you an honest compliment, offer a firm handshake and maybe even buy you a beer after a game. If you survive this arena, you will have definitely earned the respect. (31515 Lorain Ave., North Olmsted, 440.979.9997, — Guevara

As the neighborhood lanes die and mega-obnoxious bars/dance clubs/restaurants try to cash in on the belated hipster/urban appeal of bowling, you can take solace in Mahall's. A Lakewood institution, this testament to the game remains a bastion of elegance and simplicity. The machines and decor look vintage because they are — not much has changed, even the machines, in decades. It's like stepping into your dad's bowling alley from the 1970s, just the way we like it. Actually, it's the only way it should be done, especially when you can drink a pitcher, roll a few games and not even drop a Jackson in the process. (13200 Madison Ave. Lakewood, 216.521.3280) — Grzegorek

Years before roller derby became a big-screen Hollywood subject, it was a way of life for women who had to blow off some steam on the weekends. More than 60 rough-and-tumble girls from all over Northeast Ohio compete on the four teams that comprise the Burning River Roller Girls, Cleveland's first all-female, skater-owned, flat-track derby league. Stocked with beauty queens and bruisers, the league includes colorfully named teams like the Cleveland Steamers, Hard Knockers and the Rolling Pin-Ups. For three years in a row, the three-peat champs have been the Hellbombers, who conduct circuitous full-contact under roller-names like Magic Lee Malicious, Buggie Smalls and Ivanna Destroya. The season won't start again until spring, but check their website for special one-off events. ( Ferris

So here's what you do: Take your favorite route from downtown to Tremont. Get to the south end of West 14th Street and, just before the moron-death roundabout, you'll see an asphalt path to your left headed down the hill on Quigley Road. Take that path — it'll lead you through a couple of small tunnels, and you'll soon find yourself pedaling along with a picturesque view of the loading docks behind Steelyard Commons on the right and trains galore on your left. When this path ends, you'll find yourself dumped onto Jennings Road. Take the Jennings bike path (you'll know it by the assloads of broken glass congregated there) to Harvard Road and go left. Within sight, on the right side of the road, will be the Harvard Metroparks entrance, which also happens to be the Northern terminus of the Towpath. This will take you maybe 30 minutes, and you'll be set loose in some of the most humane surroundings that Cleveland has to offer. You're welcome. — Kretsch

Cars are magnets for ill-fortune: Insurance companies, mechanics and traffic courts use them to take your money, thieves want to steal them, other drivers crash into them. It's easy to grow weary of the car-centric world we've created. That's why the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op is so refreshing. It reminds us that transportation can be simple yet effective, good for your body, good for the Earth and fun. The Saturday morning rides offer a laid-back, easy way to meet people and see new parts of Cleveland. The co-op specializes in refurbishing and selling used bikes, and they'll even let you borrow a bike for the social ride if you don't have one. They also have bikes for sale or rent and host repair and riding classes. Kids are welcome too. It starts at 10 a.m. (1823 Columbus Rd., 216.830.2667, — Guevara

Blood was shed and bodies were broken in July at War Games, the biggest monthly show yet by Firestorm Pro Wrestling. Regularly drawing between 200 and 400 fans at the Phantasy Theater, the Cleveland federation concentrates on homegrown and regional talent, and regularly welcomes veterans like Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka. (Even a now-infamous appearance by Jake "the Snake" Roberts a year ago didn't dent the company's growing reputation.) At War Games, a two-year feud came to a climax, pitting Team Firestorm (Raymond Rowe, Patrick Hayes, the Aftermath and Starless) against Team Big League (John McChesney, Shane Taylor, J-Rocc and Bill Collier). Erie-based heel McChesney put his heavyweight title on the line against owner/promoter J.C. Koszewski's control of the company in an eight-man war-games match held in a 15-foot steel cage. When the baby-faced Rowe put the hated Taylor through a table, fans were the real winners. ( Ferris

The Indians are in search of a new manager, Eric Mangini has been roundly panned and opinions on Mike Brown are split. So this year, Cleveland's best coach comes from the college ranks. Gary Waters, at the helm of Cleveland State's men's basketball team, has already taken the Vikings to the verge of the Sweet Sixteen in his short tenure. In a town dominated by the pros, Waters has helped carve a niche for the urban university with a mostly commuter-based enrollment. No longer does the legacy of CSU basketball have to rest with Kevin Mackey. And that's a good thing. — Grzegorek

There is one Cav who has been LeBron's teammate since the moment the King was drafted. He's unheralded, yet one of the most prolific and dominant centers in franchise history. And this very well might be his last year in a Cavs uniform. From the early foot injuries to his imminent move to back-up behind Shaq, Ilgauskas has persevered through every possible adversity, on and off the court, to become one of the most beloved guys ever to wear the Wine and Gold. Here's hoping he stays healthy, sticks around the whole year and gets that ring. — Grzegorek

There wasn't much good to say about the Wahoos after they dropped to the cellar of the American League in 2009, but one bright spot (other than the end of the Eric Wedge era) was the emergence of Cabrera and Choo. Each guy hit about .300 for the season. Each plays some spectacular defense in his own way, Cabrera with his glove and Choo with his arm. And, honestly, with Cliff and C.C. and Victor gone and Grady injured, the team's in desperate need of some new leaders. They were the best reasons to watch the team near the end of the dismal season and they're the best hopes that the future will be better. — Grzegorek

The haul from the Sabathia trade has finally made its way to the majors. Michael Brantley came up late in the season, looking as if he was born to hit leadoff in the Show. LaPorta showed the power that so excited the Indians as they were mining the Brewers' minor league system for prospects to acquire. If there's any hope for the woeful Wahoos in the next few years, these two are going to have to keep producing at their current paces and stake claim to the starting lineup. No reason to expect that they won't at this point, but we are talking about the Indians here. — Grzegorek

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