Best Coach -- College 2007 | Jeff Bzdelik | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
When Jeff Bzdelik was sacked by the Denver Nuggets, he could have grumbled loudly -- as he had every reason to do. Instead, he accepted the head-coaching position at the Air Force Academy and turned what could have seemed a dead-end gig into a dazzling showcase of his skills. He took a team whose players might not have made the cut at most major universities, let alone start, and molded them into a highly disciplined and efficient group capable of taking down the big boys. The University of Colorado will likely ask Bzdelik to turn around its woeful basketball program in Boulder, and CU couldn't find a better man for the job. Coach Buzz is worth catching.
Can't make it to a Rockies game, season-ticket holder? Can't find anyone to take your tickets because the Rocks are eight games below .500 and downtown scalpers are giving away tix for lengthy hugs? No sweat, season-ticket holder. Go to any Dugout Store or the Coors Field box office, and you can exchange those suckers. Granted, there are certain restrictions and blackout dates -- you can't swap a Diamondbacks game for an inter-league clash with the Yankees or a game followed by fireworks, for example -- but for the most part, the Rockies will gladly replace your unwanted tickets with tickets to another game; they'll even try to put you as close to your original seats as possible for a paltry $5 handling fee. And you can upgrade! Say you have six crappy seats -- the Rox will look at the dollar value of those seats and let you exchange for that same amount. So six $10 seats morph into two $30 ones! And while you can't upgrade past games, the Rockies will let you swap out unused tickets of games you missed, no questions asked -- unlike your wife, who demands to know where you were if not at Coors Field. Like it's any of her goddamn business.
What the Denver Hitting Club lacks in glitzy, suburban, mega-batting-cage luster, it makes up for in elbow grease. Elbow grease provided by Sam Morales. "I used to coach youth teams, and we were always trying to find a place to take the kids to hit, and we'd wind up having to take them out to the suburbs," explains Morales. "I always wondered why there was nothing like that in Denver." So in 1992, after hanging up his cleats as an assistant varsity baseball coach at North High School (Morales is still a mailman by day), he converted an old paint shop downtown, installing three cages and numerous pitching machines. Today the Denver Hitting Club is home to everyone from the Liga Latina de Beisbol to downtown businessmen swinging at softballs on their lunch hour and neighborhood children with big-league dreams. Morales keeps the prices fair -- $8 for thirty minutes, $12 for an hour, team rates available -- and is always around to offer a few pointers. Batter up!
Play ball? The centerpiece of HitStreak's training is the ProBatter Professional PX2, an extraordinary pitch simulator that's hyped as the closest thing you'll find to actually batting against Johan Santana in the bottom of the ninth. Through the use of computerized video imagery and multi-pitch simulation capabilities, the state-of-the-art machine -- preferred by such hard hitters as the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox -- combines both the visual and physical aspects of facing a pitcher in competition. The training facility also features multiple hitting tunnels and training stations where wannabe major-leaguers can hone their craft.
Sure, seventeen-foot-tall superpipes and outlandish circus rails might gain the attention of the pros and magazine photographers -- but for the average rider, bigger does not always equal better. The design team behind Keystone's A51 realized this a few years back and has since put together the most coherent -- and fun -- terrain park in the state, one that ranks among the best in the nation, according to TransWorld Snowboarding and Freeskier magazines. Eschewing the trend of high-concept features, A51's rails and jumps are relatively small and simple (or "slayable," in park-rat speak), and organized along four lanes for good flow, quick runs and good times. Shred alert!
Even though there are much bigger mountains and badder terrain parks, Loveland remains beloved. There are no monstrous hotels here, no $8 cheeseburgers, no jerks running the lifts, no Texans. You don't even have to go through the Eisenhower Tunnel to get here, and less road time means more snow time. And you'll be able to make the most of that time on the uncrowded hill; aside from a few more cars in the parking lot, there's not much difference between the weekends and weekdays at Loveland. No wonder real Denverites slap "I ride Loveland" stickers on their cars.
Is nothing sacred? A-Basin, one of the last bare-bones ski areas around, just added some padding to its sleek skeleton. The mid-mountain Black Mountain Lodge features not just a sports shop, but an upscale 200-seat restaurant, with an "alpine bistro menu" that includes grilled salmon and Kobe beef burgers. The fare is a far cry from the usual A-Basin brown-bagging -- but even if you've eaten your fill (and emptied your wallet), you'll want to save some energy for the apres-ski party in the parking lot.
A visit to Ruby Hill is always a high point, since this park is a great place to see the sights of Denver. But this past season, it also became the site of the best ski deal around, when Winter Park Resort and the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation joined together to open Ruby Hill Rail Yard, a terrain park that, like the Denver Skatepark, was free and open to the public from dawn to dusk, and sometimes beyond. The phat little course featured six rails of varying difficulty that took advantage of the hill's natural bowl -- and this year's incredible snowfall -- and boarders from the neighborhood and beyond flocked to the place. Same time next year?
Boarders, bladers and bikers who've cruised through Sandstone Ranch Skate Park since it opened last June might take the 24,000-square-foot concrete course for granted. The smooth arrangement of the expert sections -- like the pool and flow course, alongside such street-plaza components as stairs, gaps and rails -- is so close to perfect that the layout seems obvious, as though it couldn't possibly have been done differently. But that's clearly not the case, as evidenced by the region's abundance of crappy, cramped ramp parks that were definitely done differently. Props to Longmont for entrusting the design to SITE Design Group, true artists of skatepark simplicity.
Technically, the function of the new Highland Bridge is to connect the Commons Park area with the Highland neighborhood. And its form -- 320 foot-long, triple-rib beams arcing 70 feet over I-25 -- is designed as another display of downtown's emerging architectural beauty. But for skateboarders, the bridge is simply a kick-ass new spot. The concrete banks that anchor the bridge's pylons serve as natural ramps for all manner of flip tricks, and the plaza beneath the eastern base of the arch has ledges and manual pads that encourage creative skateboarding experiments that must be executed around cyclists and stroller-pushing yuppies. That's what we call bridging the gap.

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