Mike Rogers compares his gym in St. Charles to Average Joe's in Vince Vaughn's Dodgeball. It's tiny, off the beaten path and totally unlike the area's MMA mega-gyms. Rogers, a burly heavyweight, sports a bushy beard and prowls the mats wearing slippers and a Waylon Jennings T-shirt, a laid-back exterior that belies a badass of the highest order. He is a black belt in Brazilian jujitsu from the Rodrigo Vaghi school, an amateur-boxing champion and a King of the Cage champion. His young fighters — including Josh Sampo, Matt Ricehouse and Lance Benoist — dominate in both the cage and the ring. They won the St. Louis Golden Gloves novice division in 2009 and rank near the top in almost every weight class for local amateurs, with the victories to back up the hype.
If your game is being broadcast, odds are that you'll find it at the Over/Under Bar and Grill. The bar places signs under its TV sets informing patrons what game they can expect to see on that monitor, and for the duration of the game, the channel doesn't change. Period. With 37 high-def televisions, there's always something to watch at the Over/ Under. More than that, the bar's downtown location is within a few blocks of all three sports stadiums, making the Over/Under — and its massive patio along Washington Avenue — the place to meet before and after the game. Add great food and an impressive lineup of microbrews on tap, and what more could the sports fan want?
We're really spoiled in St. Louis. One example: Try going to San Diego some weekend and taking in their zoo. Sure, it's a world-class institution, and half the staff has been on The Tonight Show at one point or another, but it's also going to cost you a few hundred dollars to take the family on a one-day pass that doesn't even include all the good stuff. Meanwhile, our own zoological treasure is free to the public every single day of the year. And there's no better time to appreciate the best our zoo has to offer than when the weather turns cold. The scenery is beautiful, the animals are generally much more active than in the heat of summer, and if there's a better opportunity for public snuggling with our partner, we have yet to find it. Sure, going to the zoo is traditionally thought of as a classic warm-weather outing, but like revenge and leftover pizza, it's actually much better enjoyed cold.
Take two of the least-known bike trails in St. Louis, connect them with a jaunt through the UMSL campus, and you have a ride that's a revelation for any cyclist who's burned out on circling Forest Park for the millionth time. This ride, approximately eight miles one way, begins at the entrance to St. Vincent Park off St. Charles Rock Road and winds through oak stands and wildflowers, past baseball fields and the looming turrets of the magnificent St. Vincent Asylum, and over more corkscrews and dips than a Moto GP track. At the official end of the greenway, continue on through the UMSL campus, riding a narrow paved path to the Touhill Performing Arts Center, and up to the UMSL North MetroLink stop. Below that is the Ted Jones Path, a straight two-mile, tree-canopied strip along the Normandy stretch of the Wabash Railroad. You'll cross bridges, tunnel under I-70 and stop at old downtown Ferguson, where in the summer you can refuel on peaches and scones at the hopping farmers' market.
Oh, so you're that guy. The one who makes himself feel like he's the man by showing off, hitting a ball so much farther than little kids. We know you. You're so into your hitting skills that you scouted out all the batting cages in the area — and decided that Tower Tee's thirteen armed machines are the best. We could tell you about the machines' history, how they used to be made of wood and the springs of junked-out cars, with speed topping out at 65 mph — but you already know that. You also know that, on Wednesdays, Tower Tee lets you swing away at 90 mph fastballs. You know everything about this place, Big Guy Ahead of Us in Line at Tower Tee. But only we know that you're about to step in a wad of gum, and we're not going to warn you. Take a swing at that.
Yeah, yeah, wise guy, we know: Fantasy sports are "played" online, usually when the "athlete" should be doing his real job instead of cruising the waiver wire for a second-string running back who can help carry his team into the playoffs. Why not add a social element to your fantasy life? The Post Sports & Bar Grill will host your league, and you can hold your draft in a special room, complete with a 60-inch draft board. It's so lifelike that you might pull a move just as boneheaded as drafting Chris Long and Jason Smith with the No. 2 overall pick in consecutive years! There are opportunities to win prizes and, if you really want a challenge, you can enter one of the Post's "High Stakes" leagues. The cost to enter isn't cheap — up to $1,000 — but first prize can be as much as $7,000, plus a free happy hour for you and your friends. And rather than just track your "players" online, the Post is a cool place to watch the real players do their thing: There are plenty of TVs, the beer list is decent, and the food is terrific.
Mark Edwards is poised to become the John Wooden of Division III college hoops. In 29 years at the helm, the Wizard of Washington University has amassed a career record of 529 wins and 239 losses. Last year, the 63-year-old became just the fourth coach in NCAA history to win back-to-back D-III national championships. A four-year letter winner for the Bears in the late '60s, Edwards still ranks in the top ten in career rebounding for his alma mater. As a coach, his teams have won twenty or more games ten times, participated in fifteen NCAA tournaments and finished first or second in their conference, the UAA, twenty times in 23 seasons. Over that time, Edwards has also coached sixteen All-Americans and six Academic All-Americans — and the majority of those players weren't even on scholarship. Not even the real Wizard, may he rest in peace, can claim that feat.
If there were any lingering doubts that Adam Wainwright was a bona fide ace after his Cy Young-worthy 2009 season, the righty's 2010 campaign has silenced them — emphatically. For pretty much all of 2010, Wainwright's ERA has hovered around 2.00, his WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) a measly 1. In a year when even Albert Pujols struggled at times to find his stroke, Wainwright has been the most consistent Redbird, with each start basically a guarantee of seven innings, half-a-dozen strikeouts and very, very few big flies. And while the national baseball press were quick to ooh and ahh over the sheer power of Washington Nationals' phenom Stephen Strasburg, Cards fans know that few pitches are as devastating as Wainwright's great, sweeping curve ball. Heck, the guy also has a Gold Glove and more pop in his bat than almost every other pitcher. 2010 is already known as the Year of the Pitcher. If there's any justice in baseball, it will also be the year that Adam Wainwright becomes a superstar.
Sometimes you just want to get away from it all. And sometimes you just want air-conditioning and a nice view. Meramec State Park offers a little bit of both, all about an hour's drive southwest of the city. For the hardy, the "Wilderness Trail" is a ten-mile trek through forested hills and sun-drenched meadows; past streams, wild blackberry bushes and the mysterious ambiance of the watercress-filled Copper Hollow Spring & Cave. The park also includes a spider web of short trails appropriate for children. Overnight options include both sites along the "Wilderness Trail" and hookups for RVs and air-conditioned cabins, for those inclined to shower after their passage through the backwoods.
In the quest for continual self-improvement, certain members of the Riverfront Times softball team make regular treks to the slow-pitch, high-arc batting cages at Tower Tee, the Affton-based funplex dedicated to baseball, softball and golf. But on occasion, we've also been known to work on our short game — emphasis on "short." The miniature golf course at Tower Tee may not have the most serpentine designs or the flashiest attractions, but it demands a geometrical precision and an ability to think (literally) around corners. And like all great mini golf courses, Tower Tee does have its fair share of faded, oversized attractions: You can putt through the limbs of a sleepy-eyed gorilla on one hole and experience the odd pairing of the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty on another. It's these kinds of beautiful incongruities that make miniature golf at Tower Tee such a nice little slice of Americana.
The Cardinals are easily the hottest ticket in town, but for those in the know there's a way to get tickets to every regular season home game for a mere $11 per pair. Simply show up at the ticket window on Eighth Street when it opens at 9 a.m. on game day. If you're one of the first 275 people in line, you'll receive a voucher good for two tickets to that night's game. Ten minutes before the first pitch, the Cardinals staff starts handing out the tickets at Gate 5 on Clark Street — all that's needed to claim your pair is a picture I.D. and your voucher. The tickets come sealed in an envelope and could be for any section in the ballpark, from box seats to standing-room only. It's totally random (being first in line doesn't get you better seats), but that's half the excitement. Well, that and a ticket that costs less than a beer and a hot dog.