Sun Devil Stadium
Despite all the complaining and groaning about Sun Devil Stadium generated primarily by the hapless Arizona Cardinals, the facility remains one of the finest football venues in the country.

Yes, the toilets are old and concessions stands are limited, but for pure football fans, the proximity to the field and clean site lines can't be beat.

When the fans are fired up, the stadium generates a roar that spills down Mill Avenue and blots out the jets flying into Sky Harbor Airport. The stadium was built during Arizona State University's golden era of football under the direction of former coach Frank Kush, after whom the field is named.

It's a beautiful football stadium, plain and simple.

Despite the Cardinals' derisive feelings about Sun Devil Stadium, the National Football League Players Association last year named the stadium the fifth best facility in the NFL. If the Cardinals simply played a few night games in September and October, there would be no need for a new facility.

The Fiesta Bowl, which will host the national championship game this year at Sun Devil Stadium, will look back on its days at Sun Devil Stadium and realize those were the best of times.

"Walshie," as former Phoenix Coyotes captain Keith Tkachuk used to call him, has a sports nut's dream job: He gets to wander around America West Arena and Bank One Ballpark during professional hockey and baseball games, eyeing the action while hunting for the odd and colorful situation and character in the crowd on which to report. Immediately after the games (and between periods at the hockey rink), Walsh tosses a few quick questions at the athletes themselves, often with more than a hint of irreverence. That's the beauty of Walsh -- he obviously loves sports and knows baseball and hockey inside and out, but he refuses to take the games, or himself, too seriously.

Walsh's résumé has some noteworthy quirks: While attending the University of Arizona, he was team manager for the fabled 1988 basketball team that went to the Final Four. Then, in the early 1990s, his gutless bosses at KTAR radio fired him after he criticized the pathetic Arizona Cardinals from his vantage point as roving reporter. His public axing from the Evil Land of Bidwill turned out to be fortuitous, for Walsh and Valley sports fans alike.

Okay, so it's in Chandler. But Madstone Theaters -- a national chain of 20 cinemas that play predominantly independent and foreign films -- is a godsend in any neighborhood. Until last month, the Valley had gotten by with precious few full-fledged art movie houses, and if it weren't for Harkins Valley Art or Camelview, we'd never see a foreign or indie film at all. But Madstone is here to change all that. The company recently bought an abandoned AMC multiplex and transformed it into this six-screen, upscale cinema that showcases art house and foreign films, as well as documentaries and classic movies. Plush interiors and comfy seating may be a given, but when was the last time you went to a movie house with a concierge, or an art gallery, or a full-service cafe that serves sandwiches, coffee drinks, baked goods, and beer and wine? Madstone features revivals of recent hit indie films, as well as a digital movie screen that will bring live and interactive programming to the Valley.

As if that weren't enough, the company has launched Madstone Films, a new-style studio that funds new works by up-and-coming young filmmakers. Movie fans will want one of Madstone's annual membership kits, which offers discounted tickets and invitations to special screenings and receptions. Let's go to the movies!

As the Valley's arts organizations struggle for economic survival, we hold up associate conductor Robert Moody as a compelling reason to support the Phoenix Symphony. Were his orchestra reduced to a tin whistle and a secondhand set of bongos, we'd wager that Maestro Moody still could conjure an inspired performance to delight the most discerning listener. With eloquence and humor, he amiably explains the pieces he conducts, making classical music accessible -- and interesting -- even to symphonic novices.

And we can't help but notice how dapper he looks in his tuxedo (in fact, we're reasonably sure he never wears anything else). His credentials aren't bad, either: He's conducted at Carnegie Hall and lived in Austria, where he worked at the Landestheater Linz opera house. His current repertoire includes serving as chorus master for the Santa Fe Opera, conductor for the Oklahoma City Symphony's "Discovery" concert series and music director for the Phoenix Symphony Guild Youth Orchestra. Ah, a real Renaissance man.

Rock us, Amadeus.

DJ John Holmberg, along with his sidekicks, Brady Bogen and Beau Duran, have more or less saved KUPD from its longtime creep toward becoming WKRP.

Luckily for listeners, KUPD's management got bored with Dave Pratt too. In early September, they replaced him with the relatively young, inexperienced DJ from the floundering sort-of-alt-rock station The Zone.

The show started slowly thanks to 9/11 and KUPD's mistake of teaming Holmberg with a doormat of a Hooters girl for a sidekick. But as the new team jelled, and as laughing at edgy, dark, gloriously twisted jokes became okay again, the Morning Sickness took off.

Now Holmberg and crew are the second-highest-rated morning show in Phoenix behind Howard Stern. And their numbers have been just as good as, and sometimes better than, Pratt's, who had 20 years to build his audience.

Now Holmberg just needs to overcome Stern. It should happen. Day in, day out, Holmberg puts on a much better show.

Peoria Sports Complex
Not every Valley municipal project is a boondoggle.

In its eight years in existence, the sprawling Peoria Sports Complex has become the northwest Valley's magnet for an incredible array of events. One weekend, you can see the Goo Goo Dolls, the next you can watch Japan's best professional baseball players duking it out on the Complex's numerous state-of-the-art baseball diamonds. Because of all the activity, the Complex, in the last three years, has become a draw for all sorts of hotels and restaurants.

You can watch Little Leaguers bashing it out most any weekend. Old guys can attend fantasy camps in which they get to play with their major league heroes. The facility even hosts an Easter egg hunt, besides numerous other community festivals. And it's home-team ground for the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres for Cactus League play.

More so than anywhere in the Valley, you can show up at the Peoria Sports Complex on any weekend and expect to be entertained.

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort
It feels like everyone is cutting their vacation budget. If the kids are bummed because you aren't going to San Diego to escape the heat of summer, take heart. Try the Sonoran Splash plan at the très luxe Scottsdale Princess. The promotion features Dive-In Movies on a 12-foot-by-16-foot screen mounted at the pool, which is filled with inner tubes for wet viewing. Although the movie lineup is aimed at kids of all ages (e.g., Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Shrek, Beethoven's 4th), cocktails are available for adults floating on inner tubes.

Scheduled from June 22 through September 9, 2003, the Sonoran Splash includes lots of extras for parents, such as yoga classes and tennis clinics, and even free breakfasts for kids under 12. And no one of any age should miss the two water slides. At 186 feet and 199 feet, respectively, they are the largest of any resort in the state. Room rates begin at $129, with kids staying free in the parents' accommodation.

Vista Del Camino Community Center
For those of us forbidden to run through the sprinkler when we were children (for fear that -- heaven help us -- we'd smush up the lawn), this small playground on Scottsdale's greenbelt, just northwest of the Hayden-Roosevelt intersection, is the stuff of wet dreams.

Sundry streams shoot from the trunk of a plastic palm tree and from a fish tail sticking straight up into the sky. Kids small and tall can jump through two squirting hoops, dodge half a dozen geysers rising from the concrete and get face-to-face with a bulbous pirate's head, whose nostril nozzles are more than a little creepy.

One consideration: Before you turn your Sunday stroll into a Warrant video remake, please, think of the children. The park's only open during daylight hours, after all.

Sculling calls to mind images of dear old Oxford across the pond, or even rowing upon the Charles River in Boston. Now you can join the sport of English gentry and New England Brahmins right here in the desert. Don't let the artificial lake distract you.

The City of Tempe offers classes in team rowing or individual sculling (providing you've mastered the basics). All levels, from master to novice, are taught on Town Lake under the historic Mill Avenue bridge.

Best Place To Relive Your Brooklyn Childhood

Beyond Bagels

Beyond Bagels has all the stuff you expect to find these days at a deli that claims New York roots: an American flag prominently displayed; a giant photo of the now eerie-seeming Old New York skyline; cartoons by the cash register about kicking bin Laden's ass. And bags of Wise potato chips. But where this place really turns the corner from New York sentimentality into full-on nostalgia is in the check-out line. That's where you'll be enticed by a host of candies and toys -- and not just the stuff you're used to seeing in supermarkets; these are the candies and toys that anyone who grew up back East would recognize, but would probably be amazed to find.

Feast your eyes on the packet of Candy Buttons. Remember those? Small, bright-colored dots of sugar stuck on sheets of paper? How about Pixy Stix? Still as potent as ever. And believe it or not, they even have bubblegum cigars, in all three colors: yellow, pink and green. (Richard, the proprietor, admits to having entertained the idea of also offering bubblegum cigarettes -- the kind you used to blow through to generate puffs of sugar "smoke" -- but he rightly feared that they'd be frowned upon. Most of these vintage goodies, he adds, are available only over the Internet.)

And just to jolt your humid childhood memories into overdrive, there are also the toys. Favorites include the plastic army-man Parachute Jumpers and Stick Ball balls and bats. You'se guys up for a game in the sandlot?

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