Best Of 2009

What do we like about this hole? For one, its name. They call No. 12 "Gambler." Any golf hole named after the best damn song Kenny Rogers ever sang is a birdie on the scorecard of life. We also like that despite its name, "Gambler" is a thinking-man's hole that rewards smart play over big risk. A par five, the twelfth hole at Pevely Farms features an elevated tee that requires you to hit over a creek and marsh to reach the fairway. Big swingers then attempt a huge second shot in hopes of crossing another creek as the hole doglegs to the right. Best bet, though, is to lay up in front of the creek, then take a crack at the two-tiered green. Oh, and one more thing about No. 12: Off to the side of the tee box is an old abandoned building with a whole lot of broken windows. As you wait for the group ahead of you to clear the fairway, ask yourself: How'd all those broken windows get there?

The four new basketball hoops at the 12th and Park Recreation Center just south of downtown attract players for much of the center's operating hours, from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m. Even when it's raining, you'll usually find a solitary player practicing free throws. The new courts are equipped with smooth blacktop; fresh white lines; red, white and blue nets and dunkable rims. If there's one downside to the courts, it's the double rims. Yes, those contraptions where one rim is welded on top of another. It's to help them last longer, but as anyone who spends five minutes shooting on them can tell you, the ball will bounce out of the hoop with greater frequency and speed, like a basketball at a carnival game. That one downside politely noted, these new courts are surrounded by green fencing and are equipped with two benches for watching, a modest parking area and a constantly changing audience — the commuters on Tucker, stuck in traffic.

Whether you're looking to test your mettle against 90 mph fastballs or crank slow-pitch softballs off a distant wooden Cubs logo, Tower Tee is a hitter's paradise, equipped for just about any batting option one could possibly desire. For slow-pitch softballers Tower Tee offers three different arcs; for fast-pitch there are two speed options. Baseball gets a whopping eight machines that range from 30 mph spongeballs for the littlest swingers all the way up to 80 mph. And if 80 mph doesn't do it for you, show up on Wednesday when they crank that baby up to 90. Got a competitive streak? The Tee teams up with Happy Joe's for an annual hitting contest each July and a junior contest in late August. OK, so none of us is the next Albert Pujols. There's no crime in getting out there and pretending you're standing at the plate at Busch Stadium, ready to win the game in the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off home run.

It needs — it demands — a name, but what? The Move? The Deke? Fans on the official NHL website voted it the "Goal of the Year," and for now that will do. Really, though, words don't do justice to the goal Blues rookie T.J. Oshie scored against the Vancouver Canucks on March 26 of this year, sending the hometown faithful into a delirium that lasted until those same Canucks eliminated the Note from the team's first playoff appearance since 2004. Dig it: Oshie takes the pass from David Perron at the boards, fakes out Rick Rypien (who falls down) and sails toward the net. Mattias Öhlund stands between him and Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. As Oshie approaches, he dekes ever so slightly to his left. Öhlund bites — a nibble, really, but by the time he recovers, Oshie has already passed him. Oshie sets up to the center-right of the goal. Luongo lunges too far to his left, leaving the net wide open, and Oshie drills home the goal. Elapsed time from the moment of Perron's pass? About nine seconds. The goal, one of fourteen the 22-year-old former first-round draft pick scored in 57 games, gave Stanley Cup-starved Blues fans a glimpse of the promise of the team's young nucleus: Oshie, Perron, David Backes, Patrik Berglund and more. What to call the goal? How about: The Beginning.

You know you're in the right place when you see the black-and-whites of the Rat Pack in front of the Sands hanging in the entryway. Actually, that just confirms it; you were pretty sure this was the right place when you espied the purple exterior of Olivette Lanes amid all the strip malls and parking lots, a bold swath of color along Olive's march to 270. Now that you're inside, the place doesn't disappoint: It's a beauty of a bowling alley — and the beauty of it is that it's a bowling alley that's not trying to be a bowling alley. It just is. The drinks are cheap, the shoes are funny and the scoring machine reminds you of a Commodore 64. The place is plenty spacious, but not so big that you feel you're in a warehouse. Bowling alongside you are the sort of folks you wouldn't mind having a drink with. Speaking of drinking and bowling, you could even see yourself joining a league here — which is exactly what the RFT staff did last year. And we loved every minute of it.

There was a time when seventy-five, a hundred kids worked out every day in Jimmie Howell's gym. Come Golden Gloves tourney time it was all Howell could do to tape the fists fast enough for his boys to get in the ring and fight. Of course, that was ten, twenty, thirty years ago. To keep ten kids on the roster regularly today counts as success. "It's a tough, tough sport," says Howell, founder of the North County Athletic Association. "There's so many distractions today, we're lucky if 10 percent stick around." But that doesn't mean Howell's punching out anytime soon. On the other side of 70 years old, he's still got plenty left to give. "My father ran the gym when I was a kid, and I would like to keep giving back some of what was given to me," he says. And how: Howell and his three fellow trainers run the gym at no cost to fighters. To pay the rent, they depend on donations, fundraisers and door charges at fights. Though Howell's known for his soft side in a violent sport, he's respected by fighters, trainers and refs alike.

CHICAGO, November 19, 2008—Sara Lee Corp. today said it will close its kosher hot dog and meat-processing plant on the South Side of Chicago. Best's kosher beef hot dogs were staples at U.S. ballparks, including Wrigley Field in Chicago and Busch Stadium in St. Louis. But Sara Lee says the best hot dog's numbers aren't the best, and that the company is exiting the kosher hot-dog business altogether. Sara Lee acquired Best's Kosher in 1993. It was launched in 1886 by Isaac Oscherwitz, a Jew who immigrated from Germany. R.I.P.

As we compose this ode, September lies before us, and the road to the postseason seems lined with lovely fall colors. Will we indeed be able to look back on '09 as a glory year for the St. Louis Cardinals franchise, one in which all aspects of the team clicked into sync in late summer and drove relentlessly to the finish? If so, the honor of Best Cardinals Player could go to any of more than a half-dozen candidates: Colby Rasmus, the rookie whose moment has finally arrived. Chris Carpenter, who roared back from two injury-lost seasons. Adam Wainwright, who threatens to outshine Carp. Ryan Franklin, for his beard. Outfielder-turned-keystone-man Skip Schumaker, for achieving the improbable. Brendan Ryan, who unquestionably deserves a Gold Glove. Yadi, for being Yadi. The foursome of mid-season acquisitions one sportswriter recently pegged perfectly as Matthew (Holliday), Mark (DeRosa), (Julio) Lugo and John (Smoltz). Still, we're gonna buck our knee-jerk counterintuitiveness and go with...Albert Pujols. Though he's no longer flirting with the triple crown, barring a total collapse at the plate, 2009 will be the ninth straight year Pujols will have notched a .300-plus batting average, 30-plus home runs and 100-plus runs batted in. Nine years — that'd be, oh, each and every year he has played in the bigs. Pujols now has the most home runs in the first nine years of a career. He holds the record for most career grand slams by a Cardinal and will at the very least have tied the National League record for slams in a season (five). A two-time Most Valuable Player Award winner, he's almost a lock to notch MVP No. 3. Right now Albert Pujols is the best player in baseball. Period.

The joke about Mike Anderson on opposing campuses is that the University of Missouri men's basketball coach bears an uncanny resemblance to Sherman Hemsley's George Jefferson character on the '70s TV show The Jeffersons. Like his doppelganger, Anderson and his family are movin' on up in the echelon of Big 12 basketball. Last season the Tigers, led by DeMarre Carroll — the coach's nephew — won 31 games en route to the Elite Eight. To revive the sputtering program, Anderson, now entering his fourth year, employed a frantic full-court press and a tenacious playing style aptly dubbed "40 minutes of Hell" that he learned from his mentor, Arkansas' great Nolan Richardson. The strategy has worked wonders — not only did Mizzou defeat top conference foes Kansas and Texas, they spanked a Memphis team on a 27-game winning streak in a Sweet Sixteen showdown. In the off-season, Anderson spurned contract offers from Memphis and Georgia and elected to stay put in Columbia. Expect the familial success to continue next season with Anderson's son Michael Jr., a walk-on senior guard.

Apparently, the knack for knocking down three-pointers runs in the Lisch family. Theresa, younger sister of Saint Louis University men's basketball star Kevin Lisch, led the A-10 conference in scoring, averaging nineteen points per game last year and breaking the school's single-season record for total points scored. The junior guard also set school records for free-throws made, career free-throw percentage and points scored in a single game. Lisch has got game off the court too: She was a first-team academic All-American and the A-10 female scholar-athlete of the year, graduating summa cum laude with a degree in communication sciences and disorders. So committed is she to her studies that Lisch elected to forgo her senior season in order to pursue a graduate degree. It's a decision that caused SLU fans to weep and opposing coaches to rejoice.

For all you urban anglers, the nine-acre Fairgrounds Park Lake in north St. Louis is a solid bet. Here's why: Carp, bluegill, crappie and largemouth bass reproduce naturally there. But that's not all. The Missouri Department of Conservation drops about 300 channel catfish into the water roughly every couple of weeks from late March to early October. They don't announce the stocking ahead of time, says fisheries-management biologist Kevin Meneau. But right after stocking, they update a St. Louis fish-stocking hotline: 636-300-9651. The limit is four catches per day, and bass must exceed eighteen inches. One fisherman we met at the lake swore he was thisclose to snaring a five-pound catfish the day before. (And we were thisclose to believing him.) For more info, call Meneau at 636-441-4554.