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 clich�d 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.