Best Professional Athlete (Team Sport) 2001 | Luis Gonzalez | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix
In the past 12 months, the sky has fallen on many of Phoenix's sports superstars. Jason Kidd, Aeneas Williams, Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick have all been sent down the road. The only local sports team not in a total rebuilding mode is the Arizona Diamondbacks. Pitchers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling have had their usual superb seasons, and free-agent acquisition Mark Grace has been nothing short of stellar. But one player looms larger than the rest: Luis Gonzalez. The trade that brought Gonzo to Arizona from Detroit for Karim Garcia in 1999 didn't get as much press as the Randy Johnson signing or the Curt Schilling trade, but it may have been the deal that put the Diamondbacks over the top. Not only has Gonzalez's batting average hovered around the .340 mark this season, but he had 51 home runs at press time. He was voted to the starting lineup for the National League in the All-Star Game (and won the Home Run Derby over Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, to boot), and was named NL Player of the Month in April and June.

All this, and he's the father of 3-year-old triplets, too. Anyone who can handle the pressures of the media spotlight and the home front has to be a star in our book.

When it comes to baseball, you can sit with the roof closed, far, far away from the field. Or you can wait for the weather to cool and sit front-row center, close enough to hear catchers mutter to umps, "How many fingers you see me holding up?" We've never been able to figure why this extraordinary peek at baseball's future gamers doesn't draw larger crowds. But those with baseball savvy know this league for its one-day Hall of Famers -- Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra are two -- who've knocked its chunky red dirt from their shimmering cleats. The league's six teams, comprising farm and first-year talents from major league clubs, play at five Cactus League stadiums from October through the second week in November. It's baseball the way it should be, played on green grass in bright sunlight.
Metro Network traffic stud Gregg Paul is pissed off. After serving in Desert Storm during the first Bush administration, he returned to Arizona and scored a five-minute commentary spot on KZON's afternoon show, where he tells it like he sees it -- always in an honest and unforgiving tone. The son of a West Valley blue-collar father, Paul's Everyman rants are often justified and always legitimate. His ongoing, on-air temper tantrums cover politics, race and general social injustice and are delivered uninterrupted and with no indication that he didn't mean every syllable he just wailed. Paul doesn't report the news, he reacts to it -- whether we like it or not. As Paul himself would say, "That's the fact, Jack!"
What passes for "live" TV news these days too often consists of shots of a place where something exciting happened hours ago, and the only thing close to "live" is the reporter in front of the camera. But when it comes to delivering real breaking news, reporting without a script from the scenes of fires, explosions, shootings or whatever, Meeks is head and shoulders above his mere hairdo competitors. He is adept at speaking extemporaneously into the camera, giving all the salient facts in clear, grammatical sentences without stumbling over words or hemming and hawing. No looking like he's about to cry at tragic scenes, no acting all hyped up by the excitement of it all, no appearing more concerned about his hairstyle or clothing than delivering information. Just journalism, thank you very much.
When Channel 10 announced it was beginning a one-hour newscast at 9 p.m., we expected lots of slow talking, meaningless stories and chitter-chatter just to fill the time. But this show is none of that, thanks to John Hook. A former Valley TV reporter, Hook knows what he's talking about, but he doesn't come off as too serious or self-absorbed. He can even deliver the goofy stories and mandatory Fox show promotions with the right amount of sarcasm and amusement, sans annoying giggles. Hook manages to tell us the news -- lots of it -- in a believable (and, yes, sometimes entertaining) way. And that's all we ask for in a newscaster.
All it takes is one scroll through the baby animal pictures on this nonprofit sanctuary's Web site, and we're head over heels in love. The photos are just a few examples of the injured or orphaned wildlife rescued and rehabilitated by Southwest Wildlife, including gray foxes, coyotes, raccoons, wolves, bobcats, mountain lions, deer, javelina and black bears. Since 1994, Southwest Wildlife has successfully released 70 percent of the thousands of wild animals cared for at its 10-acre desert habitat. Volunteering takes dedication, consistency and a minimum of six hours a week, helping as animal keeper, clinic assistant, educational speaker, groundskeeper, office assistant or rescuer. Hard work, yes, but worth it when a baby bear can be returned happy and healthy to its forest. And since it's illegal to have wild animals as pets, volunteers get a rare chance to get to know these creatures in a helpful way.
Elvis has not left the building. The entertainer extraordinaire is alive and in full, glittery color at Casino Arizona. You can see the mighty pelvis-twister in all his glory at shows -- 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays -- in the cushy lounge. And the price is very good: free. Sometimes, we even get an extra glimpse, as the King sweeps through the gaming rooms and bars to promote his shows, trailed by a bevy of gold-lamé-bedecked beauties.

Thank you, Casino Arizona. Thank you very much.

Yummy and cheap. Those two factors give the nod to Harkins. While not quite at the haute-cuisine level of the trendiest California movie concessions stands, Harkins does offer a nice specialty-coffee selection, hot dogs, nachos and plenty o' candies. But the deals on basics are steals: Buy a large drink for $3.50 and get $1 refills the rest of the year when you bring back your souvenir cup. Buy a large bag of popcorn for $4.25 and get one free refill. And if you don't mind being a Harkins geek, wear your $20 Harkins tee shirt for free popcorn all year round. Given that the price of good eats at most theaters can easily exceed the price of admission, the deals are enough to hearken to Harkins.

Best Place For Smokers, Strippers, Swappers And Soothsayers

Gene's Hickory Smoked BBQ

It's like a Disneyland of debauchery here: Not only does Gene's serve up some mighty tasty hickory-smoked barbecue, but it shares space with a topless bar, a flea market and a psychic. This gleaming white trailer sits in the parking lot of the Candy Store exotic dance club, an ambitious piece of asphalt that's also home to Paradise Valley Swap Meet. But not only is this a bargain mecca, it's run by folks who happily read our palms while we take a break from shopping. Oh, and if we've got an important document to be notarized, they do that, too.

Gene makes his 'cue from scratch, smoking tender brisket, beef, pork, pork ribs and chicken (breast, of course) for 10 hours. The thick, sweet sauce is Gene's own creation, too. He says the recipe is a secret, but we've been thinking we might be able to work out a deal with the on-site psychic.

When we first heard about Governor Hull's most significant accomplishment this past summer -- getting her eyes done -- we smirked. Jeez, lady, you don't need to go under the knife, we thought. Some scissors and a bottle of Clairol will do just fine. Really, no one's looking at your eyes -- who could, after being blinded by your fire-engine helmet head?

Then we saw the governor on television, post-cut.

Wow, great job! Can we get the name of the surgeon? As one observer remarked, "Yeah, Governor Hull got an eye job -- all over her face."

Okay, so she really got a face lift; don't all politicians lie? Who cares, she looks fabulous! Who would have guessed that Jane Hull was a slave to the mirror?

Now if you'd just pay as much attention to the state of the state as you did to the state of your sags, Guv.

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