We almost fell over dead when Edgerrin James signed with the Arizona Cardinals. But there he was holding up his red and white number 32 jersey and grinning at the camera with that grill of gold teeth, dreadlocks hanging around his face. James is among the top running backs in the NFL these days, and we just couldn't see him playing for the lowly Cardinals, but there was no mistaking that metallic grin. He made life so much easier for quarterback Peyton Manning at Indianapolis, where he starred for seven seasons, before signing his four-year, $30 million contract with Arizona. Check out these stats: The four-time All-Pro has rushed for 9,226 yards in his pro career. Once he gains 183 yards for the Cardinals which should happen in his second or third regular-season game he will surpass Earl Campbell as number 20 on the all-time rushing list. To say that James follows the beat of a different drummer would be a freaking understatement! One of his best friends is rapper Trick Daddy. He's installed a huge plasma-screen TV next to his Cardinals locker. In Indianapolis, he had the same arrangement, and his locker became the focal point of the Colts' post-game partying. He's a joker who reads voraciously. Some have called him bipolar, but in a "good way." His nickname ain't Edge for nothing! Naturally, he's not much for the routine that football teams insist upon for their players, often skipping out on voluntary off-season workouts to hang out in his home in Miami, where he hits the nightclub scene with regularity when he's not playing sports with ghetto kids in his nearby hometown of Immokalee next to the Everglades. Last we heard, he was looking for digs in the PHX, and we hope he finds them. If we can keep Edge in town, maybe the Cards can contend.
State Farm Stadium (formerly University of Phoenix Stadium)
There's an old saying about teams like the Arizona Cardinals, who for 18 years played in cavernous Sun Devil Stadium in front of thousands of fans disguised as empty seats: The stadium was vast, but for the most part, the team on the field was only half-vast. But hold on to your seats things may be looking up for the local NFL team. With the recent opening of Cardinals Stadium, the new $455 million, 63,400-capacity venue on the west side of town, the future appears to be much brighter. The stadium is state-of-the-art, having recently been named by Business Week as one of the top 10 sports facilities in the world. It's the only stadium in North America to have both a retractable roof and a retractable playing field. The field itself is an engineering marvel: Weighing 18.9 million pounds, it sits in a tray resting on 13 rail tracks and 542 steel wheel assemblies. Since the field is made of natural grass, it remains outside the stadium to get sunlight until the night before a game. Then the wheels start turning (at 11.5 feet per minute) to travel the 741 feet the field will move until it's in position, a process that takes 65 minutes. The roof panels are translucent, which allows plenty of light into the stadium, even when the roof is closed. And perhaps the best thing about the new stadium, as far as Cardinals fans are concerned: It's air-conditioned. Of course, with a new facility also comes a certain amount of economic impact, and Cardinals Stadium is ready for its national close-up. Beginning January 1, the stadium becomes the new home of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, to be followed the very next week by the first-ever Bowl Championship Series title game. Some other key dates: The Rolling Stones will play a concert here this November 8, and Super Bowl XLII will be held at the stadium on February 3, 2008. With a new home, as well as a few key personnel acquisitions in the off-season, there does seem to be cause for optimism for this year's Cardinals. For the first time since the team relocated to Arizona from St. Louis, every home game is sold out. That means that every single Cardinals game this season will be broadcast on local television. For, like, free! Maybe soon there will be a new saying in these parts: Today, Glendale tomorrow, the world!
HoHoKam Stadium
Since 1997, the folks running Hohokam Stadium have kept the price of the lawn seats at five bucks. Five bucks to watch the Cubbies, for God's sake! Five bucks to watch the ebullient Cubs fans before the Cubs have been able to begin losing any real games, when Cubs fans are still happy-go-lucky drunks rather than the sour drunks, like Mike Royko back in the 1960s, like Mark Grace back in the '90s, like Cubs fans for the whole glorious 1918 season, which itself was unusually short because of World War I. Simply, Cubs fans are the best. (No, we're not from Chicago; don't even much like the place.) And while cities throughout the Valley scramble to make these spring training fields look like the best of the major league fields, the only thing that matters are the fans. Great fans in a dump beat, say, Diamondbacks fans in Chase Field. Hohokam has Cubs fans in spring. 'Nuff said. The only downside of Hohokam, though, is quite serious. Old Style is served there, but it is served in plastic cups, as though one were at a country music festival outside Cedar Rapids. At Wrigley Field, the Old Style comes in wax cups, something longtime aficionados of "Dog Style," as we called it in college, say makes the beer the best in the world. We always just bought the crap because of the price. But if Cubs fans say so, we say so. Get some wax cups, and Hohokam truly will be Heaven on Earth, a garden of love and hope, before the snake of each doomed season must arrive in Eden.

BEST PLACE TO SPOT SPRING TRAINING PLAYERS OFF THE FIELD

Sluggo's Sports Grill

The Chicago Cubs may be cursed, but that doesn't mean local fans wouldn't want a 'graph from John Mabry or Derrek Lee. Sluggo's is a natural post-practice watering hole for Cactus League players. It's only a mile from the Fitch Park training grounds the Cubs have called their home away from home since 1979. It's also the closest thing to the Wrigley Field clubhouse Phoenix has to offer. Cubs memorabilia hangs on every wall, from jerseys to pennants and team photos. It may be difficult for baseball stars to hide amongst a crowd of devoted sports fans, but regulars at Sluggo's are so used to players popping in for burgers and chili that they don't even bat an eye.
The statuesque ladies of the WNBA are not to be found cruising the nightclubs of Snottsdale en masse. Whether it's because they're clean-living, underpaid, or a little of both, Phoenix Mercury hoopsters tend to fuel up for practices and games at this friendly little cafe in the Safeway shopping center at Seventh Street and McDowell Road. We're not suggesting stalking (it's very wrong, and also these Amazons can kick your ass), but a little broad-daylight appreciation of superior role models goes great with a bagel and schmear, a cheese-steak panini, or a crafted-on-the-premises blackberry lemonade that's just tart enough to build character. The atmosphere is equally wholesome, with smiling staff at the counter and an honest-to-gosh community bulletin board in the back corner. Diana, Cappie and their teammates may be superstars, but they put on their astonishingly long pants one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.
Sorry if this turns out to be the kiss of death for what must be a dream beat for a sports nut like Joe Reaves the national baseball writer for our usually wretched daily rag. We appreciate his knowledge of the game and love of offbeat takes, such as his clever look back at the infamous 1919 Black Sox betting scandal and how it parallels today's steroid crisis. Speaking of drugs, Reaves' piece about the love that pro ballplayers have for greenies (known to the uninitiated as amphetamines) provided quite the jolt for readers. Before he fled the Republic newsroom a few years ago, Reaves was The Man there, writing prolifically and well on sex scandals in the local Catholic diocese and such. That's not surprising, coming from a onetime foreign correspondent (Chicago Tribune) who has two published nonfiction baseball-related books on his rsum. Let's hope that this small tribute doesn't land old Joe back on night cops, where the closest thing to a bat is a billy club.
When we think "super fan," embarrassing images of shirtless drunk dudes painted team colors come to mind. Gross. That's why we were so delighted to discover Mike "Tee Guy" Crowley an ASU football fan so devoted, he has a cult following of his own. And he keeps his shirt on. For the past 12 seasons, Crowley has served as the "tee guy" for the Sun Devils football team, meaning he's the one who runs onto the field after the ball is kicked to retrieve the tiny orange stand (tee) used to hold up the ball. It doesn't sound glamorous, but it's important the stand can't be on the field during the next play and he's got to be quick about it. Crowley's devotion to Devils football has been strong since day one, but his own odd celebrity status was only born a few years ago during the Rose Bowl. Two fans made signs reading "We Love Tee Guy," and a football cult hero was born. We admit it's a little odd that a grown man is timing himself to see how quickly he can retrieve a piece of plastic from the football field, but this guy's too funny and too nice to dislike. Even though it's weird, we can't help but chant along with the crowd: "Tee Guy! Tee Guy!"
As caustic comedian George Carlin once opined, "Death makes you popular." Nowhere in town is this truer than with the gravesite of popular pro wrestler Eddie Guerrero. Ever since the World Wrestling Entertainment superstar known as "Latino Heat" was body-slammed into the ground last November at the Scottsdale cemetery, hundreds of wrestlemaniacs from around the Valley and across the country have peeped his final resting place. Not content with simply paying their respects, these ghoulish grappling groupies have taken pics to post on the Internet and left myriad mementos of the former world champion. Green Acres staffers often have to clean up plenty of pairs of fuzzy dice and keyless car remotes (Guerrero was a lowrider aficionado), copies of wrestling magazines, handmade posters, and even an imitation title belt. Although Eddie loved his fans, as The Undertaker might say, let him rest in peace.
Ask Phoenix newbies what they miss most after moving to the desert, and, whether they say Seattle's rain, Michigan's lakes, or California's beaches, the common denominator is usually water. Which is why this way-cool waterfall, a collaboration by Salt River Project, the Phoenix Art Commission, and the Arcadia neighborhood, is just the place to take 'em. Stand here on a summer night with the spray of the falls hitting your face, and you'd swear you were at a mini-Niagara. Only a little warmer. The site housed the first hydroelectric plant in the city, and now you can see the antique gears through walls of water part of a public art project created by Boston artists Lajos Heder and Mags Harries (they did those Squaw Peak pots that made such a stir, years ago). Today, the falls generate enough hydraulic electricity to power 150 homes. Now that's a cheap thrill!
Most everyone has dreamed of skydiving. But the gap between dream and actually jumping out of some plane at 13,000 feet above Arizona can be, um analogy, please? Yes, of course, as big as the gap between you and the ground you're terrified of being pancaked on. This first jump, seemingly a jump to oblivion, must be handled by gentle, competent, cool people to make it the pleasure you imagine beyond the terror you imagine. This is why Skydive Arizona is the place to go if you want to feel safe (or as safe as one can feel) about death-defiance. The staff here seems hand-picked for vibe: very cool, very smart. The equipment used, from aircraft to parachutes, is topnotch and clearly well-maintained. Here you feel the love for the sport, the love for the spiritual renewal and brainpan-frying buzz of free fall. Now, remember, that's just our opinion. We haven't performed any inspections or anything. But we're not alone in our adulation. Skydivers writing into dropzone.com, the leading Web site for skydiving reviews, chose Skydive Arizona hands-down over other skydiving companies in the state. Of 24 reviewers, from novices to experts, Skydive Arizona had an average of five stars per rating. Yes, everyone who went there (at least, everyone who went there and reviewed it on dropzone.com) loved the experience. Other Arizona companies seemed pressed to get one five-star rating. It will cost you $189 on weekdays or $199 on weekends for a first-time tandem training jump. For this jump, your instructor will be with you through the entire experience. For the more advanced skydiver, solo jumps cost only $79. And beyond the jump itself, the Skydive Arizona campus is a joy somewhat austere, but clean and functional. Hanging out here for coffee or drinks afterward can be as much fun as the drop. Well, okay, no, not quite as fun.

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