Best Of 2019

Best of St. Louis 2019 Sports & Recreation

Best of St. Louis 2019 Sports & Recreation
Forest Park.

It's easy for St. Louisans to take Forest Park for granted. It's always there, it's always great, it always contains the zoo, which is always free. So what else is new? In this way, we can be a bit spoiled. But it's worth stepping back every now and again to acknowledge the fact that, hot damn, we have it good. From the aforementioned gratis animal jail to the untouched majesty of Kennedy Forest to the city-uniting sledding utopia of Art Hill, Forest Park just might be unmatched by any city park in the country. It houses St. Louis' art museum, history museum, science center — all free of admission fees, too — as well as a lake for paddling boats, a six-mile bike trail and the Muny, the open-air amphitheater that has operated for more than 100 years. You could easily get lost in Forest Park's 1,371 acres of land. Hell, you could probably even live on that land undetected for months if you really tried. Forest Park has long been the place where St. Louisans of all shape and size come and gather with no concern for class or race, a neutral ground where any and all are welcome to take in its natural beauty, an oasis of inclusivity in a city that is too often divided. In short: Stop being so spoiled and show some respect to one of the best attractions the whole of St. Louis has to offer. It's well earned.

The Cards owe Jack Flaherty.

After sleepwalking through the first half of the season, the Cardinals sprang to life after the All-Star break, thanks in no small part to Jack Flaherty. The young pitcher was dominant in the mid-to-late summer. In August, he took home National League Player of the Month honors. During that month, Flaherty went 4-1, including seven shutout innings in a big victory over the Cubs. His second-half surge helped propel the Cardinals from an even 44-44 record to first place in the Central Division.

As the Cards headed toward the postseason, the 23-year-old right-hander had already topped 200 strikeouts, making him the youngest Redbirds pitcher to do it since the 1800s. His performance has helped assuage some of the fan frustration after the Cards front office failed to land a frontline starter by the trade deadline. Heading into the playoffs, he was looking like the ace they needed all along.

Josh Wolf is in tune with the needs of his yoga students.

Kundalini yoga is not the most athletic or physically taxing form of yoga, with much of the activity taking place in the noggin and the lungs. But there's still plenty of movement, cardio work and the energy rush of a two-hour session that never lacks for variety. Josh Wolf takes the teachings of Yogi Bhajan, who brought kundalini to America, and runs them through the individual needs of the day. If the class is collectively stressed, it's time for deep relaxation. If the group is lacking energy, it's time for a boost on that front. Inside of an adaptable south-city storefront on Thursday nights at 6 p.m. and Sunday mornings at 9:30 a.m., Wolf takes his small groups through a couple-hour journey into a collective bit of goodwill. He sends participants out into the world with a renewed sense of vigor and vitality and, routinely, a class ends not only with real physical benefits but also a few words of wisdom to chew on through the day. (Find class info at SoSLo BAB, short for South St. Louis Bliss & Bodyworks, on Facebook.)

Justin Poole wins.

In the criminal justice system, arrests are often considered a moment of utter demoralization for the unfortunate soul in handcuffs. But not so for Justin Poole, a Blues fanatic whose arrest at a Busch Stadium watch party during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals went from good to bad to legendary — all in the span of a single Facebook video. Poole, drunk on both the Blues' championship victory and, well, booze, had been singled out by an usher for expulsion from the stands. Poole responded by refusing to move. As a bystander filmed, officers attempted to handcuff the long-haired superfan. All the while, Poole held onto something far more important than a municipal violation for trespassing: his glass, Stanley Cup-shaped commemorative beer mug. As the arms of the law closed around him, Poole thrust the cup toward the person filming, and with three words — "Protect the cup!" — invoked the spirit of the miniature championship hockey trophy in his hand. Alas, the cup fell to the ground, and Poole was briefly detained, but his local legend was made, the video documenting what he'd later call "one of the best nights of my life." Which makes sense. This year, the Blues will try to protect their cup — you know, the real, non-beer-containing Stanley Cup. And even if they don't, and the Cup falls, what matters is that it'll still be one hell of a thing to watch.

Kiener Plaza.

Oh, you wanted a studio studio? Tough tadasanas. You can do that anywhere, in any city. You can even do that in a suburban strip mall. But the free — emphasizing that part — sunrise classes on Tuesdays from mid-April to mid-October offer irreplaceable Arch views in the heart of the city. Seriously, you could just get coffee and sit quietly for 45 minutes in Kiener Plaza, and you would feel better about your day. But this is an opportunity to get a little of the exercise you know you have been missing while connecting to the place you live. It's not like we can go for a run in the mountains or swim in the ocean before work in St. Louis. And yet, there's something zen about the Arch, especially when it's catching the first light at sunrise. Take advantage.

Tony Hawk skating Peter Mathews Memorial Skatepark.

Built by skaters on the grave of a failed gas station, Peter Mathews Memorial Skatepark is a south-city refuge of sloped concrete and angle-iron ingenuity. Tony Hawk himself supported the spot and even showed up to skate a few turns (carrying a St. Louis flag!) during a 2017 visit. His foundation, along with carmaker Mini, selected the project for some pretty serious grants, but it was the locals who put in the sweat equity to build this oasis in Bevo Mill. In the early days, skaters and a few helpful friends literally shaped this place by hand and shovel, working long hours to build something on the site out of nothing. Now, you will find them there, picking out new lines and generally enjoying the spoils of all that hard work. They did it right.

We love 'em all, but Ryan O'Reilly was amazing.

All due credit to Jordan Binnington for doing what no St. Louis Blues goalie had ever been able to do, but forward Ryan O'Reilly had a career year with the St. Louis Blues. He equaled his personal best in goals (28) and broke his career highs in assists, points and plus-minus in the regular season. It was the sort of season you want to see from a new signing, but it was in the playoffs where he really mattered. O'Reilly was the engine for the Blues, scoring, setting up goals and setting the tone in that delirious Game 7 when he deflected in Jay Bouwmeester's shot for that first goal of the game. O'Reilly hustled and checked, got back defensively and fought it out in the trenches behind the net, doing all the little things that add up to a complete game and a Conn Smythe Trophy for most valuable player in the playoffs.

Plenty of smiles at Ellen Clark Sculpture Park.

Free admission ranks high on the list of reasons to visit the Ellen Clark Sculpture Park at the corner of Lindell and Grand boulevards, but it's not the best one. Although the sculpture park, which is owned by Saint Louis University, is not officially a dog park, locals in the neighborhood have claimed it as territory for their four-legged friends. As the park's name implies, there's just as much for humans to enjoy here as their pups, including colorful sculptures by the late Brother Mel Meyer of Vianney High School in Kirkwood. The university even seems amenable to the fenced-in park's unofficial status for furry friends, having installed waste bags and posted a sign requesting humans to pick up after their pups.

Saratoga Lanes.

There's something at once secretive and nostalgic about Saratoga Lanes. Much like a speakeasy, entry feels exclusive: The second-floor bowling alley can only be accessed by climbing 26 concrete stairs, and when you step inside, you feel as though you've been transported to a different era. There's no pretense or retro theme here — after 100-plus years of business, Saratoga is an eight-lane time capsule. Located in Maplewood, Saratoga boasts being the oldest bowling alley west of the Mississippi River, and now, when you're staring down your latest strike or spare, you're part of that long story, too.