For the second time in five years, an Arizona team has advanced from the Western Regionals to the Little League World Series by rolling over the once invincible California squads. Last time, it was Chandler National. This time, Ahwatukee, which comes out of the same district as Chandler National. For anyone who has taken a small Arizona team over to play a giant California team, in any sport, the sight of the relatively tiny Ahwatukee boys taking it to the bigger and cockier Southern California and Northern California teams in the Western Regionals was a delight. The main force behind the win: Shaun Chase. Besides keeping batters at bay with his pitching, Chase did what only one other Arizona kid has ever done in regional or World Series play hit three home runs in one game. It's that kind of clutch play that has Arizona baseball rising as a force in national tournaments. (At the same time, Arizona's Connie Mack team, the Firebirds, was off winning the Connie Mack World Series.) Chase's finest moment, though, actually was a blunder. As he came around third base after his first home run, Chase tripped on the base and fell awkwardly to the ground. On national TV. But the kid got back up, smiled an embarrassed smile, took the jabs of his teammates in stride and then came back to win the game pitching and hit two more home runs. For a moment, he just looked like an awkward little kid. Which we can too easily forget, with all the hoopla around Little League these days, is exactly what every one of these players is.
Here at Best of Phoenix, there are some things we don't want to recommend. We're not going to tell you where to get a boob job, or what dentist to go to (although we really do love our dentist), or even what vet to send your pet to. We're just a little nervous. We don't want to have to feel guilty because you wound up with your lumpy boobs. So we also won't tell you where to take your little tyke for swimming lessons. Far be it from us to dispense such precious advice, given the whole kid-drowning thing. But one thing we do feel comfortable telling you: If you want to see the best reenactment of the Olympic medal ceremony, head straight for the Arizona outpost of SWIMkids USA. We saw it dozens of times this summer, but we never failed to chuckle (except when it was our own tyke, at which point we must admit we shed a tear or two) when the swimmer of the moment having completed the requirements for a particular level climbed the plywood stairs of the red, white and blue platform to take his or her place in front of the Plexiglassed-over shiny blue streamers. "May I have everyone's attention, please!" the manager yells. "Annabelle has just completed intermediate swimming! Let's give her a round of applause!" Everyone claps, and the manager hits the button on a boom box, which begins to play the Olympic theme. Annabelle stands, proud, while the manager hangs a medal around her neck and takes a picture. On weeks the kid doesn't advance (and it doesn't happen every week), no one minds if she climbs the steps and pretends, stealing a little more glory. We've never felt more patriotic.
With the NASCAR craze in full flower, what better way to make big-time points with your young man than hiring out a racing-themed limousine for the evening? This typical stretch limo becomes an extra-long racing stock car, numbered, painted in multi-colors and raring to ride. The spacious interior is complete with a PlayStation, DVD player, flat-screen monitor, comfy seats and a fridge. The cost? $70 an hour, with a three-hour minimum, plus an obligatory tip. And if you don't want to spend that much on the little one and his pals (the car fits eight adults comfortably), then think of it as a cool opportunity to avoid a detour to the county jail on a drunken-driving charge after that special party, graduation, or sporting event.
Sometimes, you just gotta let a little girl be a little girl. Or a little girl pretending to be a big girl. That's why we're so glad we found Tea Cups & Tiaras. After months of hearing horror stories about over-the-top tea parties with gift registries and spa pedicures, we landed on an appropriate, classic birthday party for our little lady: a bona fide tea party, complete with pink lemonade in a tea pot, crustless PB&J sandwiches, and sliced fruit arranged as daintily as you'd find at a high tea at a fine resort but for far less money. With a standard tea, the girls were also given hats and boas to wear for the duration, but the real draw is just beyond the tea room at this homey spot (where we spotted some grown-up girls enjoying tea on their own), in the party room. There, a vanity table is packed with costumes full dresses, hats, gloves, shoes. Our birthday girl just turned 5, but she's already planning her 6th birthday party at Tea Cups & Tiaras and we'll be happy to grant her wish.

BEST PLACE TO HOST A CO-ED KID BIRTHDAY PARTY

Pump It Up

Face it 6-year-olds don't want expensive party favors or complicated theme parties for their birthdays. They want to jump around, drink soda and make a mess until the sugar high ends and they crash. And chances are, you probably don't want them doing this all over your house or expensive party decorations, so ditch the high-concept birthday and let them get that energy out at Pump It Up. True, it feels a little lazy, but there are advantages to letting the people at the "inflatable party zone" do the work for you: They do all the planning (they'll even preside over the gifts writing down the gift givers' names and bagging up the unwrapped gifts afterward), and you don't have to stress about coming up with a co-ed theme that won't make your kids feel awkward. The kids can bounce, slide and somersault to your choice of tunes, and afterward, pizza, drinks even goody bags are available, for an additional fee. Just bring your own cake.
Castles -n- Coasters
What better way to get out your aggression than to crash giant, gas-powered rubber boats into walls and waterfalls? Figuring out how to maneuver the suckers is half the fun; the steering wheels turn a full 360 degrees, so the challenge is to do more than make crazy circles in the water while everybody else bashes into you. And it's really fun when you get stuck against the wall or your boat dies in the middle of the water, because everybody races to rescue or (more likely) ram you. The boats at C-n-C also have a tendency to float backward when idle, and if drivers stomp on the gas pedal, they can rip into reverse and cause fantastic collisions with other giggling, wet maniacs. Adults love piloting these oversize, motorized doughnuts just as much as kids, and since each boat fits two people, a smaller kid can sit in the passenger seat while you bump and grind.
Mother Nature's Farm
We've tried the bigger, more commercial Halloween festivals, but this year we'll go back to Mother Nature's Farm (humming the Beatles the whole way) to let our kids grab a pumpkin, get their faces painted, and spend a little time in the hay. With a nod to the desert, the folks at this farm not only stock cute crafts in the gift shop, they stock a pen with all sorts of reptiles. (We wish someone had warned us beforehand, so we're warning you.) This is not an all-day affair, more like a quick detour, but with our hay fever, that was perfect.
Glendale Community College
Sure, there are peacocks at the zoo, but how often do you see a large, brightly colored bird wandering around a college campus? You'd cry fowl at least a couple times a week if you attended Glendale Community College. The campus is located right next to Sahuaro Ranch Park, which technically occupied 640 acres until 1977, when the City of Glendale purchased 80 of the original acres. Now the park sits smack-dab in the middle of Glendale, between a fire station and the college and so do the peacocks. The edge of the park bumps right up against GCC's north parking lots, so it's pretty standard to see roosters, chickens and peacocks pecking about between students' cars. The peacocks also stroll the shaded mall between the Life Sciences Building and High Tech centers, along with Gambel's quail and roadrunners.
Wildlife World Zoo
This is the Little Zoo That Could, always to be in the shadow of the bigger, more complete Phoenix Zoo. But this little west-side park is home to some species that that other zoo doesn't have namely penguins. You won't be much reminded of the amazing documentary March of the Penguins; the Wildlife World Zoo is home to only a handful, and they don't march miles in horrendous conditions to eat. They enjoy air-conditioned quarters and a steady supply of fish. But if you've just gotta see one in the flesh, it beats a trip to Antarctica.
No matter how often we visit, we never get tired of seeing the squirrel monkeys roam their 10,000-square-foot habitat just off the Tropics Trail at the Phoenix Zoo, mostly because this is one exhibit where you can get up close and personal no cages involved. Although we've never had one land on our shoulder, we love hanging with the little monkeys (all named with a Star Trek theme, by a Trekkie volunteer), carefully walking through the entrance/exit to make sure none escape and always watching for poop. For once, the animals in the zoo actually look happy to be there and we're happy to be there, too.

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