Packer paradise--that's training camp in Green Bay. No NFL team better integrates serious football preparation with fan-friendliness. Talk about being in a comfort zone: There's a doughnut shop 150 yards south of the practice fields and a tidy neighborhood of homes 200 yards north. On an early-August day (the Packers have open practices for the first four weeks of camp, July 26 through Aug. 28) fans can watch morning drills from just behind the sidelines, examine Packers lore at the Packers Hall of Fame inside refurbished Lambeau Field, have a Curly's Special Ale ($3.50 a pint) and Grandma Lambeau's Meatloaf ($12) at Curly's Pub inside the Lambeau atrium, hustle over for the afternoon practice and come back to the best gift shop in the NFL. (Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila bobblehead, anyone?) There's also the cutest tradition in training-campdom: Kids line up with their bicycles before and after practice. Players--often as many as 50 of the 80 on the summer roster--commandeer the bikes (as Tim Couch, number 2 at right, and Kris Briggs did last year), and often the kids ride on the back or the handlebars to or from the field. The sight of a mammoth lineman on a preteen's bike is something to behold. Like everything else here, it's Packer perfect. --Peter King
Peter King's piece on visiting NFL training camps will be live on SI.com/nfl.
Think of it as the Thrilla of a Flotilla. The U.S. Rowing National Championships, at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis from July 20 to July 24, feature both elite and club rowers, men and women from juniors to Olympians competing in heavyweight and lightweight sculling (singles, doubles and quads) and sweep events (pairs, fours and eights). There will be more than 100 championships decided, and races will go off every seven minutes. "That's eight finishes every hour," notes former U.S. rowing president Dave Vogel. "That's a pretty good deal." Eagle Creek is one of the few venues at which you can see virtually the entire 2,000-meter race course from the spectator beach. You could say there's nowhere to get more for your rowing buck, but admission to the races is free--and that's only appropriate. "This is one of the few sports that is still purely amateur," says Vogel. "Everyone on the water is there because they love what they do." --Kelli Anderson
It may be "a stupid game played by stupid people," as longtime participant Nella Jolliff lovingly describes it, but Over the Line softball is a San Diego tradition. More than 55,000 fans are expected on Fiesta Island in Mission Bay during the weekends of July 9-10 and July 16-17 for the 52nd annual OTL world championships. The game is played by three-person teams on sand courts and named for the rule that batters have to hit the ball over a line 55 feet from the plate for it to be in play. Pitches are tossed up to the batter by a teammate, and each fair ball not caught in the air is a safe hit. Three hits in an inning score a run, and each additional hit scores another run; a ball blasted past the defense on the fly is a homer. Some 1,200 men's and women's teams in nine age divisions compete in double-elimination tournaments of four-inning games. "It's a great festival, but what I love is the competition," says 60-year-old Tom Whelan, who has won 12 OTL titles and the weighty gold rings that go with them. "And where else can an old fart like me play in front of 20,000 people?" --K.A.
There's nothing big or machinelike these days about the struggling Reds. But there is one holdover from the Big Red Machine era, and he's a real Hall of Famer: radio play-by-play man Marty Brennaman, who since 1974 has punctuated Cincinnati wins with his signature "And this one belongs to the Reds!" Brennaman's homespun spiel is perfect for the Queen City. "What we do might not work in New York or L.A.," admits the 62-year-old, whose voice retains more than a lilt of his native Virginia. Besides offering patented Brennamanisms ("Good ol' good one" is a low-scoring game), he artfully and often hilariously provides a game-long stream of digressions, which include updates on his family (son Thom does play-by-play for the Diamondbacks) and his golf game (he's a 19 handicap). Thanks to XM Satellite Radio and mlb.com, you can listen--wherever you are--to every major league game. Which means a good ol' good one is just a click or a channel away. --Richard Deitsch
Trainers save their prime stock to race from late July to early September at Saratoga (the jewel on the lip of the Adirondacks, in upstate New York) and at Del Mar, 20 miles north of San Diego--"where the turf meets the surf," as Bing Crosby, a cofounder of the track, once crooned. Both venues welcome their share of celebrities: Among the Saratoga regulars is Louisville hoops coach (and horse owner) Rick Pitino, while at Del Mar you might spot Chargers quarterback Drew Brees and running back LaDainian Tomlinson. Saratoga (top and above) peaks with the Travers (Aug. 27), the showcase for 3-year-olds that routinely lures more than 50,000; Del Mar's centerpiece is the Pacific Classic (Aug. 21), for 3-year-olds and up. Look for long shots at Saratoga; they don't call it the Graveyard of Favorites for nothing. (Man o' War and Secretariat lost here.) At Del Mar stay away from come-from-behind horses, who won't like the short homestretch. Above all, bask in the ambience: at 142-year-old Saratoga, fresh melons for breakfast trackside and an evening stroll past the shops on Broadway; at Del Mar, morning in the foamy surf and, much later, dinner and, as the sun falls into the Pacific, the first flickering thoughts of tomorrow's daily double. --Tim Layden
Like Louie DePalma on Taxi or Otis the Drunk on The Andy Griffith Show, I find comfort in a cage: a batting cage, in which captivity really is captivating. My cage is at Connecticut Golf Land in Vernon (visible from I-84). It's hard to channel Barry Bonds when a sign warns that hitters must be at least 10 years old and four feet tall. The other day I hit the cage with my friend Jeremy. We each took 150 cuts on the Fast machine, which fires balls at 75 mph and at wildly unpredictable intervals. Our helmets were too small and our bats too short, forcing us to lean over the plate like Craig Biggio. My at bats resembled Chuck Knoblauch's: a dozen balls fouled off the fists, followed by the occasional single to center. "I feel middle-aged," said 29-year-old Jeremy after an hour, when our hands resembled raw steaks. I am middle-aged and felt elderly. But I also felt 10 years old. And at least four feet tall. --Steve Rushin
The Ranch is the most famous stretch of water on the Henry's Fork, a smooth, wadable, nine-mile stream that meanders through Harriman State Park in Island Park, Idaho. Open from June 15 through Sept. 30, the Ranch isn't for beginners. The rainbow trout feeding there are wary and wise, having seen thousands of imitation flies drift by every summer. But when dusk falls over the Bitterroot Mountains, the black-cherry surface of the river, blanketed by dead and squirming insects, becomes dappled with the noses of sipping fish; the adrenaline rush lasts until the feasting ends at dark. The trout--there are thousands--are voracious yet maddeningly selective. Hook one of these beautiful, powerful natives before the light fails, and it will be an evening you'll never forget. --E.M. Swift
In summer, ski resorts transform their slopes into mountain-biking playgrounds--and the most daring descents for fat-tire junkies are at Whistler (B.C.) Mountain Bike Park (above). Just ask freeriding phenom Kyle Strait. "Nowhere," declares the 2004 Junior Worlds Downhill bronze medalist, "is as good as Whistler." The resort offers a plethora of ways for you to eat dirt (plus a gentler Magic Bike Park for novices and families). The terrain park has five main veins that cover 125 miles of obstacle-strewn trails and an express lift that lets vertical thrill seekers off at 3,400 feet to begin their downward jaunts. The ultra-audacious can hop on Freight Train, a new expert-only trail that drops 2,200 feet in five miles with all sorts of bumps designed to get you airborne: monster table tops, wide berms and 15-foot jumps. One thing's for sure: You'll go downhill fast. --Yi-Wyn Yen
For Eastern bikers in search of summer slopes, head for Snowshoe (W.Va.) Mountain (www.ride.snowshoemtn.com).
If you're lucky enough, you still might get to witness 80-year-old Eddie (the King) Feigner on a night he feels up to tossing some classic heat. Blindfolded. From second base. For 60 years the King--perhaps the greatest fast-pitch softball pitcher ever--and his three-player Court have taken their act across America. This summer Feigner (below) will make his rounds for the next-to-last time, hitting 20 or more ballparks. (On the slate: Baltimore on July 10, Omaha on Aug. 27 and Portland on Sept. 3.) These days Feigner, who's thrown 930 no-hitters, uses his pitching arm mostly for autographs while serving as emcee. "I'm an entertainer!" the King barks. "I got a little bit of me from George Burns and Jackie Gleason. My show's as fun as my game! Come see it!" --Adam Duerson
Know this about playing tennis on a grass court: You'll skid on the surface like a hydroplaning car. You'll look silly trying to maneuver a ball that doesn't take kindly to the notion of bouncing. You'll see that cloud of chalk dust and stifle any urge to call your opponent's ball out. And you'll have more fun than you've ever had on a tennis court. But don't take it on faith. The 13 grass courts at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. (above), are open to the public for $30 per person per hour. Play a few sets on these lush lawns, and you'll wonder what fool decided that courts ought to be paved. --L. Jon Wertheim
To have the summer's most roaring time, head to a little Appalachian valley off Highway 11 in northeastern Tennessee. There, rising out of a grass field, is NASCAR's most spectacular short track, Bristol Motor Speedway, site of the Sharpie 500 on Aug. 27. The .533-mile oval is sunk into a bowl, and the towering grandstands, which hold 160,000, are right on top of the track. There isn't a bad seat, and you're so close to the action you can smell the burned rubber, the exhaust, the gas. (And bring earplugs. Imagine sitting on the runway at O'Hare--that's Bristol.) You'll witness plenty of paint-trading. Over the years, Bristol has yielded more than its share of dustups as the 3,400-pound speed machines bang like bumper cars while jousting for position; last year, sparks flew between Ricky Rudd (below, 21) and Mike Wallace. The Sharpie 500 is held under the lights, and the start produces one of the season's most arresting sights: When the green flag drops, thousands of cameras flash, and you feel like you're in horsepower heaven. --Lars Anderson
Throwing political correctness to the wind, The Bad News Bears brilliantly skewered the sometimes self-important world of Little League. Now, 29 years after Walter Matthau cracked the mentoring mold as the foul-mouthed, beer-swilling coach Morris Buttermaker, Billy Bob Thornton channels his baseball Bad Santa in the remake, opening on July 22. "We didn't wimp out; we very closely followed the original script," says coscreenwriter John Requa, who adds, perhaps as a caution, "Like the original, it ultimately has a really great message for the kids about competitiveness." Matthau's Buttermaker was a pool cleaner, Thornton's is an exterminator--and a former big leaguer to boot. "Where Matthau [was] a lovable schlump, Billy Bob is more of a keen, sexually charged kind of guy," says Requa. Matthau took the kids out for hot dogs and soda; Thornton (above left, with Bears) shepherds his charges to Hooters. (Don't worry: The new version is rated PG-13.) Is Billy Bob a born Buttermaker? Well, the actor-musician once tried out as a pitcher for the Royals, and his first band was called the McCoveys, in honor of the Hall of Famer. Both good signs. --R.D.
Cinderella Man by Jeremy Schaap (Houghton Mifflin, $24). This gripping, balanced look at 1930s rags-to-riches heavyweight champ James J. Braddock (SI, May 9) depicts a darker figure than the current film does. Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life by Michael Lewis (W.W. Norton, $12.95). The author of Moneyball insightfully recalls the often harsh lessons taught by his high school baseball coach. Inside the Cage: A Season at West 4th Street's Legendary Tournament by Wight Martindale Jr. (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, $22.95). A summer at one of basketball's celebrated blacktops, where the characters are as captivating as the games. Three Nights in August by Buzz Bissinger (Houghton Mifflin, $25). The author of Friday Night Lights mines the psyche of Cardinals manager Tony La Russa for an addictive narrative of a series with the Cubs (SI, March 21). Wilt, 1962 by Gary M. Pomerantz (Crown, $24.95). A crafty, we-were-there reconstruction of Wilt Chamberlain's epic 100-point game. --A.D.
This summer 50,000 visitors will trek to the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum in out-of-the-way Hayward, Wis. (61 miles south of Duluth). The draw, of course, is the museum's collection of all things angling: the hundreds of antique rods, reels and accessories; the myriad outboard motors, among them a 1909 Evinrude; the 400 mounts of nearly 200 species of fish; the 5,000 lures, several of them notable for having been plucked, by a local doctor, out of human beings; and the hall of fame, which includes among its 160 inductees the aptly named Gil Hamm and Louie Spray. The centerpiece is the 4 1/2-story-tall fiberglass muskie that leaps, ferocious mouth agape, above a pond stocked (for budding catch-and-release enthusiasts) with bluegill and perch. Visitors can walk up through the muskie's innards and step out onto an observation platform in its toothy maw. Some couples are so enchanted by the view (which includes greater Hayward, the muskie capital of the world) that they get married there. --K.A.
For leapers and gawkers alike, pickup basketball abounds in the summer, from such hallowed venues as Rucker Park (above) and West Fourth Street in New York City to Venice Beach in Los Angeles. The best run of all is indoors at a Houston gym. Since 1960 the two air-conditioned courts at Fonde have been a haven for the top players in Texas. Fonde is where, in 1981, a raw college kid named Akeem Olajuwon honed his post moves against Moses Malone. "I went down in '95 and got to play against Dream," says Pistons forward and Texas Tech alum Darvin Ham. "Clyde [Drexler] played a little pickup, Rob Horry, Kenny Smith, Nick Van Exel, Stephon Marbury, Shaq. Regular pickup, dude!" Games happen from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Thursday. The NBAers aren't the only VIPs. A local 6'3" guard named Dwayne Rogers has been a standout at Fonde for years; he's known as the Legend. Admission is free, and theoretically anyone can take the court, but as facility manager Earl Hammond says, "You better prove yourself first, and somebody better know you." Still, make the right friends and enough jumpers, and you could be saying "next" to Cuttino Mobley. --Chris Ballard
The beauty--the poetry!--of miniature golf is that Tiger Woods could be creamed by a six-year-old playing the angles and coaxing the ball just so. Places such as Village Greens Golf take the experience to the next level. Covering 13 acres in the drowsy hamlet of Strasburg, Pa., Village Greens is more public garden than celebration of kitsch. The two terraced courses ("gold" and "orange," whose third hole is below) boast bumpy, undulating "fairways" and pinched "greens." The gold's 5th is a 48-foot downhiller with lumps and folds like the belly of your average hacker. After a day on the little links, tool nine miles northwest to the Intercourse Pretzel Factory. Parents will be relieved to learn the place is named for a local town. --Franz Lidz
At the North American Balloon Association's National and Louisiana State Balloon Championships, the competition is part aviation, part high-altitude lawn darts. Every day between Aug. 3 and Aug. 7, 80 balloon pilots will rise 1,000 feet above Baton Rouge soon after dawn and attempt to drop six-ounce beanbags (each with a six-foot tail) onto a nail in the center of a 40-foot X downwind. The pilot who is most accurate over the five days wins. "There's a lot of strategy, and a good ground crew can gain you five positions in the standings," says pilot George Richard, the reigning Louisiana state champion. Admission is free; spectators need just one thing: a camera. Says Baton Rougian Bob Jenkins, who attended each day of last year's event with wife Dottie, "A balloon festival is a photographer's dream." --K.A.
Greg Luzinski has an olfactory memory of Boog's Barbecue in Baltimore. "I never tasted it, but I used to sit in the visitors' dugout and smell it," says the former big league slugger and mid-'90s Royals hitting coach of the scent wafting from the onetime Orioles first baseman Boog Powell's stand at Camden Yards. Last year a Boogian flashback helped inspire Luzinski's own burning ambition. Luzinski, 54, is the proprietor of Bull's BBQ beyond rightfield at the Phillies' boutiquey two-year-old Citizens Bank Park. Known as the Bull during his playing days with the Phils and the White Sox (he looks like a bull, he hit like a bull, and, well, he played leftfield like a bull), Luzinski arrives a couple of hours before every game and stays until the fifth or sixth inning. Seated near the giant grills where the ribs and brisket are smoking away, he's ready to sign (gratis--but one autograph per customer, please) almost anything thrust upon him. Most visitors want to chat about the Bull's great Phillies teams (including the '80 World Series winner, page 144), but he'll also talk 'cue. Bull is a self-taught chef who tinkered on his backyard grill with his own rubs and sauces. When a spot opened in the concessions area known as Ashburn Alley, Bull was there with basting brush. He has ceded most of the cooking duties, but he does some tasting, purely for quality control. "If I ate this every night, I'd weigh 900 pounds," says Bull, who is close to his playing weight of 225. He urged, "Try the pulled pork or the turkey leg." I sampled both (each $7.50) along with the baked beans, slaw and a cold Michelob Ultra. The ketchup-based sauce gave the mesquite-smoked meat just the right tang, so I had to deliver my clichéd review: "It was a home run, Bull." --Jack McCallum
There are many things for minor league ballpark aficionados to love about the new home of the Class A Stockton (Calif.) Ports, not the least of which is the legend that Banner Island Ballpark (above) sits on the approximate spot that inspired Ernest L. Thayer's Casey at the Bat. Unlike the mythical Mudville multitudes, today's patrons will find joy here no matter what the score. This little gem is loaded with charming quirks, including a 13-foot-high mini-Monster leftfield fence that invokes Fenway Park. But Banner Island (capacity: 5,200; tickets range from $4 to $9) also has rocking chairs in the Jackson Rancheria Back Porch in rightfield and deep-fried asparagus, a Stockton specialty, at the concession stands. Everything is on one level, so spectators are never far from the action. "In rightfield the fans feel like they are right in your pocket," says Danny Putnam, the Ports' All-Star outfielder. "It's fun to play here." It's fun to watch here too. --K.A.
The people who run driving ranges seem to value simplicity. They give you a bucket of golf balls and figure they'll be retrieving them later. But at Woody's Golf Range (right) in Herndon, Va., you'll also get a flyer touting the Ironmasters Challenge, a game invented in the early '90s by the range's owner, former PGA Tour player Woody FitzHugh, to add a little spice to the experience. It's not complicated. You smack balls ($5.75 for the small bucket, $10.50 for the jumbo) off a mat and collect points for hitting seven blue wooden targets (inset) parked at intervals from 50 to 200 yards out. Land or bounce a ball onto one of these pinball-style bumpers, and a red LED mast lights up and a blue beacon flashes. Hitting the target 50 yards out is worth 10 points; hitting the one 200 yards away earns 40. "Here you're aiming at something," says the range's assistant general manager, Rich Rahnama. "There's consequences. There's pressure." And now there's competition. A British company, Golf Entertainment International, this month is scheduled to introduce its TopGolf target game at a range in Alexandria, Va., 30 miles from FitzHugh's facility. TopGolf should appeal to the technologically inclined--each ball has an embedded microchip that transmits accrued points to a leader board--but players shoot at traditional target greens, not ones that look like alien spacecraft. Pity. --John Garrity
The 10,000 cycling enthusiasts in The Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) range from Lance wannabes to families pedaling together. But the seven-day event (which begins in LeMars on July 24) is no place for either the out of shape or the calorie conscious. Before finishing in Guttenberg, riders not only take on nearly 500 miles of often-rolling terrain (as between Mapleton and Schleswig, below), but they also run a gantlet of pork chop grills, Bloody Mary stands and bake sales. "If you haven't gained weight on the RAGBRAI, you aren't trying," says Brian Duffy, the Register's editorial cartoonist and a veteran of 15 Rides. Entries are closed for the full ride, and at week's end only a handful of day passes remained. "It's not the landscape that brings people back," says Duffy. "It's the excuse to visit with new people and forget about the outside world. I mean, how much corn do you really need to see?" --K.A.
For a bucolic Northeast ride (up to 62 miles), try New York's Aug. 21 Tour de Goshen (845-294-7242).
At its creation in the late 1960s, Ultimate Frisbee was the ultimate counterculture sport, played in the name of fun, cooperation and mutual respect--what in those groovy times became known as the Spirit of the Game. Today, even with corporate sponsorship, that spirit prevails at the Chicago Sandblast, at Montrose Beach from July 15 to July 17 (one of five Ultimate competitions around the U.S. this summer; for more, go to www1.upa.org/tournaments). Forty-eight teams (five to a side) in two divisions will play one-hour matches in which the object is to get the disk into the foe's end zone with a series of passes. The Tournament Division winner gets a bye into the '06 Sandblast. The champ of the Spirit Division (where you'll hear spontaneous cheers for opponents) will be decided by team captains. As Sandblast director Adam Levy puts it, "The Spirit Division keeps the game in perspective." So does the equipment. The game uses a Frisbee; how could it not be fun? --K.A.
Despite advances in roller-coaster technology, the summer's wildest ride starts with putting a raft or kayak on California's raging Tuolumne River, double its usual roiling intensity thanks to runoff from near-record snowpacks in the Sierra Nevadas last winter. The T, as it's called, is split into two sections: Cherry Creek, a nine-mile stretch on the upper river that features 15 Class V (obstructed or violent) rapids; and the lower Tuolumne, offering the classic Clavey Falls (above), a staircase rapid that plummets from an eight-foot vertical into a foaming current. Cherry Creek also boasts Lewis's Leap, a 15-foot drop leading straight into a giant hole that can catch you and make you feel as if you're swirling in a washing machine. Even a savvy Tuolumne guide such as Scott Armstrong has no escape plan. His advice? "Try not to fall out there." --Y.Y.
Picture Red Rocks, where U2 recorded one of the sweetest live albums ever. Got it? The incredible red rocks jutting 250 feet into the sky? The crisp Colorado air? The binoc-busting views? Now pretend the stage is a green, and the back row is a tee box, and the whole thing is a par-3. That's just one hole--the 13th--at Arrowhead Golf Club in Littleton (11 miles south of Denver), one of the most photographed courses in the U.S. (And public to boot!) Now pretend there are 17 more eye-catching holes like it, such as the 424-yard par-4 10th (below), many framed by preposterously beautiful red sandstone formations that make it nearly impossible to lose a hook or a slice. Your Titleist just ricochets off 300-million-year-old rock and back onto the green. Very considerate of God, we think. --Rick Reilly
For seaside public golf, try the "poor man's Pebble Beach," Pacific Grove (Calif.) Golf Links (www.ci.pg.ca.us).
It was a crazy idea, given life during the '70s running boom. Cape Cod runner-bartender Tommy Leonard watched Frank Shorter's 1972 Olympic marathon triumph and imagined a race from a bar called The Captain Kidd in Woods Hole to his place, The Brothers Four in Falmouth Heights. It would snake along the scenic coves and inlets of Nantucket Sound, and it would be 7.1 miles long because that was the distance between the bars. The Falmouth Road Race was born a year later, when 92 intrepid runners completed the course and then partied into the night. For this year's race, on Aug. 14, more than 10,000 runners will be urged on by the 60,000 people watching them. (Registration for runners closed in May.) Recently, with more than $100,000 in prize money on the line, top-class African racers have dominated. Entrants must be ready for the Cape's sometimes powerful heat: In 1978 Alberto Salazar collapsed at the finish from heat exhaustion. (Still, he made three return trips and won twice.) Most runners, of course, survive the race and then settle in for a picnic that lasts all day and all night. Some have called Falmouth the best nonmarathon in the world, and while there are other superb summer road races--Atlanta's Peachtree 10K (which took place on July 4) and the 15-kilometer Boilermaker (July 10) in Utica, N.Y., come to mind--none combine the effort of running a challenging course with the joy of spending a summer's day on the New England coast. --T.L.
MORRY GASH/AP (PACKERS)
MARK COWAN/ICON SMI
COURTESY OF XM SATELLITE RADIO
TWO COLOR PHOTOS
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COURTESY OF THE INTERNATIONAL TENNIS HALL OF FAME
ERICK W. RASCO
BRIAN M. CHRISTOPHER
COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION
ERICKSON POST CARDS & SOUVENIRS
COURTESY OF WOODY'S GOLF RANGE (INSET)
GARY FANDEL/THE DES MOINES REGISTER
COURTESY OF CHICAGO SANDBLAST
GARRETT W. ELLWOOD
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