Sports & Recreation

Writers’ choice

Illustration By Leif Jones

Best outdoor pickup basketball

T and 46th streets
There’s only one basketball court in the yard behind the Coloma Community Center in East Sacramento, but it’s the best court for outdoor pickup games in the grid. You can get a quality five-on-five game almost any weekday, but what’s unique is the caliber of play. Bruised arms, sore feet, copious sweat—every game is tightly contested, and everyone plays defense, unlike the poseurs at Sutter and Roosevelt parks. And if you enjoy playing late into the evening, the setting sun over downtown will only affect your baseline jumper, which—admit it—probably sucks anyway. Coloma Community Center, 4623 T Street.

Best place to learn same-sex salsa

Sacramento DanceSport Project
Back in elementary school, it was no big deal for two girls to be partnered in dance class, although the question of who should lead hung awkwardly in the air. At Sacramento DanceSport Project, our area’s first same-sex-partner dance school, gays and lesbians master the art of leading (or following) in Latin, standard ballroom and West Coast swing dance classes. DanceSport co-founders Kilee Cooper and Camille Wojtasiak can be found at Faces four nights a week liberating same-gender couples from the rigid idea that a (dance) couple equals one man and one woman. Cooper and Wojtasiak also compete in ballroom-dance tournaments and once were ranked third in the world.

Best River Cat

Dan Johnson
First baseman Dan Johnson, called up in late May from the Sacramento River Cats, has proceeded to tear it up as an Oakland Athletic. Before Oakland General Manager Billy Beane made the move to Johnson, the Athletics were in last place with one of the worst records in Major League Baseball. Now, the Athletics have turned it all around, winning almost 75 percent of their games since the end of May, putting them in the thick of the playoff race. No doubt, Johnson’s clutch and consistent hitting has had a tremendous impact. Of course, all this success at the major-league level comes as no surprise: Johnson, Pacific Coast League Most Valuable Player for the River Cats in 2004, has been itching to cut loose in Oaktown for a while now.

Best Monarch (traveling to 2009)

Nicole Powell
In 2009, four years after trading Nicole Powell to the Monarchs, the Charlotte Sting’s managers undoubtedly are still kicking themselves. When she moved to Sacramento in 2005, the Stanford grad blossomed, and the 6-foot-2 “small” forward was just what the Monarchs needed to take their game to the next level. An All-Star from 2006 through 2008, Powell perennially ranks at the top of the league’s 3-point shooters and combines with forward DeMya Walker and center Rebekkah Brunson to form one of the most formidable frontcourt combinations in the WNBA’s history. Averaging 17 points and 9 rebounds per game, Powell also holds the WNBA record for consecutive double-doubles. Former teammate Yolanda Griffith, hired as the head coach of the Los Angeles Sparks in 2007, calls Powell the strongest offensive player in the game, and we’re glad to have her.

Illustration By Leif Jones

Best reason to start using needles

There’s no denying that the do-it-yourself (DIY) culture is on the rise—after all, there’s an entire cable channel devoted to craft and home-improvement programs, including the popular knitting show Knitty Gritty. Of course, you don’t have to tune in to the DIY Network to discover the joys of knitting. Instead, consider joining Sacindiestitch, a group of like-minded DIYers who share a love of knitting, crocheting and cross-stitching. The all-levels, all-ages group meets regularly at pubs and coffee shops to share patterns and knitting tips, swap yarn, inspire each other and, of course, get down to the knitty gritty. Check the Web site for times and locations:

Best reason to nail that 360 flip

Tanzanite and Granite Regional skate parks
If we taped a map of California to the wall and shoved a thumbtack into each public skateboard park, you’d see nearly as many tacks as there are cities. But somehow, the state’s capital missed the skate-park bus over the past decade. The only city-run parks in Sacramento are temporary setups with modular ramps rather than permanent, concrete obstacles. No longer. The city is in the process of building two concrete parks, slated to open in 2006: Tanzanite in North Natomas will be the first to open, followed closely by Granite Regional, on Power Inn Road south of Folsom Boulevard. The latter will be nearly two acres of bowls and street obstacles—one of the largest public parks in the state. So, get a new deck and brush up on your lipslides before next summer. Sacramento Department of Parks and Recreation, (916) 808-5200.

Best place to pick a peck of Halloween pumpkins

Sheldon Farms Gourmet Market
After passing rural horse pastures on an idyllic stretch of Sheldon Road in Elk Grove, you end up at a small farm with a few bleating goats in the back, bales of hay and hundreds of Halloween pumpkins. Kids traipse through the field picking out their favorites while adults haul the pumpkins around in little red wagons. But Sheldon Farms offers the gourmet version of everything, so along with the hefty orange gourds we’re all familiar with, you can find spooky white ones; small, striped, crook-necked ones; and some that are almost tomato red. Inside the market, prepare to be tempted by specialty jams and sauces, and homemade fruit pies—these delicacies are available even after Halloween; the market’s open all year. 10527 Sheldon Road in Elk Grove, (916) 689-7767,

Best place to enjoy a river by bike (traveling to 2010)

Along the American River from Old Sacramento to 28th Street
For those who haven’t been biking in a while, a newly paved path in downtown Sacramento is a real treat. Five years ago, in 2005, the favorite urban ride was the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, which runs along the northern side of the American River near downtown. It guided you to the water at points but also stranded you on the wrong side of the river from the city between distant bridges. Though lovely in parts, the trail wasn’t entirely practical for commuters or scenery buffs. You could always gain access to the levee on the south side if you wanted river views, but the practice wasn’t entirely sanctioned by the city Department of Parks and Recreation—until now. After years of fund-raising and planning, the new trail on the southern side of the river is complete and drawing cyclists by the dozens. Affording gorgeous views of the water the whole way, the new paved route stretches from the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers near Old Sacramento to Sutter’s Landing Regional Park, at 28th Street. Benches here and there offer good spots to sit and have a sip of water while you gaze off into the distance and shake off the tension of the workday, and occasional bike racks let you park and take a walk down to the shore, where you can see rabbits, egrets, butterflies, squirrels and lizards along with all that beautiful blue water.

Best place to practice your Gabrielle Reece imitation

Illustration By Leif Jones

Tahoe Park’s sand volleyball pit
So what if you can’t block, kill or captivate men with as much intensity as supermodel-athlete Gabrielle Reece did in the 1990s? Playing barefoot in the sand is not something we Sacramentans can do easily without taking a road trip to Santa Cruz, which makes the volleyball pit at the southeast corner of Tahoe Park a find for energetic inlanders who long for beach culture. Grab a few of your closest friends, string up a net and start serving. If you play long enough, you might even hear the sound of waves crashing. Tahoe Park, 3501 59th Street. Sacramento Department of Parks and Recreation, (916) 808-5200.

Best weekend getaway

Pyramid Lake, Nevada
Gleaming like a gem in the dusty, sage-scented rangeland just half an hour north of Reno and a world away, Pyramid Lake is an ancient-seeming place, shielded from encroaching sprawl by the 475,000-acre Paiute reservation that surrounds it. Some would say it’s a dream—undisturbed, uncrowded and un-Tahoe—while others might call the place completely backward: Where else do people visit the Indian reservation to get away from the casinos? Only about three hours northeast of Sacramento, with nearly a hundred miles of its own shoreline, Pyramid Lake has plenty of premium, no-fuss camping ground. Whether you want to park the RV, moor the fishing boat and set up a 10-person tent or just unroll a sleeping bag in the back of the pickup, it’s easy. (Of course, if you really want to rough it, you can always chance a Reno hotel.) That leaves not much else to do but soak in the stillness and impossibly starry skies, watch for waterfowl and feel the place putting years back onto your life.

Best bikers (traveling to 1896)

The Capital City Wheelmen
Visiting Sacramento in 1896, I discovered that the Capital City Wheelmen, a group of bicycling enthusiasts who’d been using paths and roads along the American River for their tours for more than a decade, had combined their resources with those of the businesses and civic groups in the area to construct a cinder path from Sacramento to Folsom (since there was, in 1896, no good road to ride). Supporters had received “Patron of the Wheelway” ribbons, making it easy to tell who among the locals was behind the venture. Completed from 31st and J streets to Brighton (past the site of the future California State University, Sacramento, which moved to its final location in 1953), the path hosted its inaugural ride on April 12, 1896, and this intrepid time-traveling cyclist joined some 500 local bicycle aficionados on a fine spring tour along the American River, on what eventually would be known as the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail. Bravo to the Capital City Wheelmen and their bikeway.

Best place to play pool

T.C.’s Billiard & Dart Club
With 21 regulation-size tables (including four for tournaments and one that’s coin-operated), T.C.'s on Fulton Avenue is our favorite spot for a few games of pool. It’s about the sport here, not upscale cocktails or pre-nightclub flirting—although drinks and snacks are available and there’s music on the jukebox. And it’s not as pricey as you might be used to. The club rents tables out by the hour at a cost of $5 for a single player, $7 for two players and $8 for three to six players. If you’re in the mood for a little friendly competition, sign up for the nine-ball tournament on Monday nights (sign-ups start at 7 p.m., with games starting at 8 p.m.). The space is large, so you won’t have to battle crowds or worry about people constantly interrupting your shot. Winter is the club’s busiest season, but otherwise you’ll rarely have to wait in line. 3500 Fulton Avenue, (916) 978-9916.

Best strange new sport

Disc golf
Disc golf is the love child of traditional ball-and-club golf and the freewheeling Frisbee. Born in the 1970s, disc golf is a late bloomer, only moving from fringe sport to mainstream pastime in the last few years. Now the Professional Disc Golf Association has more than 16,000 members and courses all over the world. Here’s how to play: Toss a disc from a tee area to a target—a.k.a. the “hole.” Most disc-golf courses use a “pole hole,” which is an elevated metal basket. As a player progresses down the fairway, she or he throws each consecutive disc from the spot where the previous one landed. Disc golf can be as frustrating as its paternal parent (trees, bushes and terrain challenge players as they attempt to “putt” into the basket), but there are no greens fees, carts are unneeded, and bad tee times are rare. Plus, the game is accessible to the disabled. All you need to get started is one professional-quality disc, which costs about 10 bucks. There are eight disc-golf courses in the Sacramento area. Rocklin Disc Golf Course in Johnson Springview Park in Rocklin is among the most popular.

Best Sacramento King

Mike Bibby
Exactly who can we look to to lead “the Kings: Reloaded” into the new season? We’ve got to be talking about Mike Bibby. Barring injury, Bibby is destined for an all-star season. We all know this. Plus, he’s already one of the top point guards in the league. And, oh yeah, duh, he’s one of the most amazing players in the clutch since Michael Jordan. But let’s face facts: It’s now up to Bibby to top even this. It’s his time to calmly, coolly, rise—to lead Geoff Petrie’s old-meets-new Kings lineup to a stunning season. Strangely, based on the latest trades, we are suddenly optimistic that this and more are possible.

Best poker prize (traveling to 1882)

Heiress Amy Crocker
Choosing between two perfectly good suitors can be so impossible that it’s probably easier just leaving it to chance. At least, that’s what Amy Crocker, the audacious daughter of Sacramento art collectors Edwin and Margaret Crocker, must have thought in 1882 when she pitted two admirers against each other in a hand of poker. Not only was the beautiful Amy’s hand at stake, but so was the $10 million inheritance that she would claim someday. The lucky winner—with four aces—was Richard Porter Ashe, a nephew of Civil War naval hero Adm. David Farragut.

Best source for accolades

Spauldings Trophy Co.
Do you remember how receiving a trophy at the end of the season, when you played sports as a child, was more exciting than playing in the games? Well, why not revisit that feeling by giving a trophy next time you need to tell someone he’s appreciated? Can’t afford to give your employees raises? Consider rewarding them with personally engraved bronze plaques. Even the most anti-sport office worker will be unable to resist the kitschy charms of a trophy creation from Spauldings. In business for more than 30 years, Spauldings not only makes sports regalia, but also provides awards to local businesses and state workers. Centrally located and open early, the store creates professional trophies with a quick turnaround—hold that trophy where your halo at! 1912 P Street, (916) 444-8339.

Best hoops player to dribble with both hands

Kara Lawson
Nobody disputes that Monarchs guard Kara Lawson played a huge role in the team’s championship-winning season. Lawson, with her dexterous dribbling and thrilling three-point shooting, has been a favorite out at Arco for her diligent but explosive style on and off the court. Lawson does double Maloof duty since she also serves as a “pro” commentator for Maloof Sports & Entertainment during live broadcasts of Sacramento Kings games. Kara, you go!

Best shared blood pool to ever sing the national anthem at Arco Arena

Ruthie Bolton’s family
Monarchs fans swarmed to Arco Arena on August 20 to watch beloved WNBA great Ruthie Bolton get her honors due. Yes, that was the day—during the team’s match against the Seattle Storm—when her No. 6 jersey was retired to the rafters. But fans saw Bolton do much more that day than just keep her emotions in check as Jerry Reynolds and Joe Maloof fell all over themselves telling the fans at Arco and on national TV lots of great stuff about her; Ruthie and her large, extended family came out at the game’s beginning—wearing bright-red “Bolton Family” T-shirts—and sang a soulful, heart-rending version of the national anthem. Oh say, can you see! Ruthie, you and your family rock. Meanwhile, best of luck to the Mississippi Boltons in their efforts to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.