Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
There have been a few great Arizona Diamondbacks during the team's short existence: pitchers Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, Brandon Webb, and Dan Haren; hitter Luis Gonzalez. But "The Kid" may turn out to be the best of them all. That's our prediction, anyway, and a growing number of baseball professionals are also shouting the praises of Justin Upton.
Upton, 21, played in his first All-Star Game this season, and we're sure it won't be his last. He's the best all-around hitter on the team, batting .303 at this writing, with 24 home runs, 27 doubles, and 75 runs batted in. At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, he's becoming a bona fide power hitter. He was third in the National League in slugging percentage at .536, second among outfielders.
When the former Great Bridge High School shortstop from Chesapeake, Virginia, was called up to the D-Backs as an outfielder on August 2, 2007, he was the youngest player in the majors at 19. Four days later, he almost became the youngest player ever to hit a homer, a triple, a double, and a single in one game. He missed by the single. The next season, on July 6, 2008, Upton hit the second-longest homer (a 484-foot shot) in Chase Field history.
While his hitting has never been suspect, his fielding early on with the Snakes left a lot to be desired. He often botched seemingly easy catches, costing his team runs and games. But the problem was solved this season, with Upton making miraculous catches in right field and nailing runners with his precise throws.
Baseball runs in Upton's family. His brother is Tampa Bay center fielder B.J. Upton. During the 2009 season, Justin and B.J. became the first brothers in MLB history to win player of the month honors in the same year. Justin's National League award came for May when he — after breaking out of a slump that had some sportswriters posturing that he should be sent back to the minors — hit .372 with seven round-trippers and 21 RBI. B.J.'s American League honor came in the next month.
In a game where getting a hit a third of the time almost assures a player entry into the Hall of Fame, Upton is a comer. At his tender age, he's so far been spared major injury. He's already virtually assured himself a career spot as a starter in the majors, and if he continues to prosper, he's the one current D-Backs hitter who can make it to Cooperstown.
If you've never seen the PhoenixPhreaks in action before, just wait until the next First Friday rolls around. This roving gang of cycling psychos (who serve as the local chapter of the national Freakbike Militia) can typically be found cruising down Roosevelt Street or in the vicinity of Bikini Lounge or the Firehouse. They're as much a part of the monthly art walk as the paintings and free cheese and crackers. Speaking of masterpieces, the modified two-wheelers being piloted are works of art in their own right. Most are ordinary bikes that have been elongated and rebuilt to resemble Harley-Davidson choppers straight outta Easy Rider (if Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda were pedaling their way across the Southwest, that is). Others have been pimped up and polished in classic cherry lowrider style. Then there are the bizarre and beautiful customizations, like Allan Greenblazer's "Green Fuzzy Chopper," which (as the name implies) is covered in emerald-colored shag carpeting. We were feeling pretty green ourselves, albeit with envy, after seeing it roll past.
The annual Cruise on Central has been happening in the Valley since the 1960s, and it embraces a proud tradition of hot rods, custom cars, and pimped-out lowriders. Generally held the first Saturday in April, Cruise on Central features a variety of vintage rides, from '70s model Chevy Impalas to '67 Chevy trucks to '41 Pro Street rods. Participants meet at Park Central Mall, just south of Osborn, and proceed south on Central Avenue in a parade of classic and American muscle cars. The event is so hugely popular that it's created problems, with hundreds of people lining up across several blocks of Central Avenue and creating traffic and crowd control concerns. Luckily, the Cruise on Central is adaptable — it'll switch dates at the last minute (as it did this year, when the April 11 cruise was rained out and rescheduled for April 18), or even switch locations (this year's cruise actually happened on Jackson Street).
We've looked high and low, and Purple Lizard — a dear little boutique in west Phoenix packed with cute linen clothes, cuter bags, and spicy-sweet candles — is the only place in town we could find that is currently selling the supplies you need for Dia de los Muertos, a.k.a. Day of the Dead. Here we can stock up the supplies to make sugar skulls (molds, decorations, and the meringue power essential to getting the sugar to stick together), marigolds (the holiday's traditional flower, conveniently made here out of paper) and all manner of skeletons. Not real ones, of course, but the papier-mâché traditionally made to celebrate the dead. At Purple Lizard, you can find a larger-than-life-size lady or a classic diorama with tiny figures, as well as books, tissue paper cutouts, paintings and other items making up the most unique collection of Day of the Dead offerings we've seen anywhere.
Nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like a good old-fashioned auto race. For those of us who don't own a muscle car or have the cash to try the big leagues at Bondurant, there's Speed Street Indoor Racetrack, where you can traverse a third-mile track in a bright yellow speedster with a nine-horsepower, four-stroke engine. Okay, their go-karts aren't exactly NASCAR-worthy, but if you crank one up to top speed — about 50 miles per hour — it's still pretty freaking awesome. Each kart has racing slicks for advanced traction and ROC timing to clock your speed as you make a lap, and the indoor arena is temperature-controlled to reduce those nervous sweats. We're a little wary of the happy-hour special, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Fridays, but Speed Street's waiver assures us there won't be any DUIs out on the track.
Want to reach new heights but you're afraid of coming face-to-face with a rattler, scorpion, or hive of Africanized bees? Get inside. The Phoenix Rock Gym offers routes for any level climber. The Beginner's Canyon has straight vertical walls, and those without gear can rent everything they need and climb all day for under $20. More experienced? Ape up the walls of the two more technical areas of the gym, Hueco Canyon or Exit Canyon, or boulder 'til your fingers bleed. The gym offers monthly and quarterly passes, which are both reasonably priced. (For a cool $1 million, The Phoenix Rock Gym also offers a lifetime pass.)