Best Neverland 2009 | Men's Senior Baseball League World Series | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix

Long after spring training is over, even after the Diamondbacks have ended their season, baseball fantasies are fed here in Phoenix. Every fall, the Valley becomes a Neverland for men who want to live out their childhood dreams of playing hardball.

The Men's Senior Baseball League hosts its annual World Series at spring training facilities (as well as some college and high school fields) in the Valley each year and gives teams of grown men from across the country, playing in age groups from 18 to 70, a chance to come enjoy the weather and play ball for almost three weeks.

The group sees softball as the enemy, in a half-hearted attempt to hold true to the baseball values these men learned as children. They are devoted to the purity of the game and think that anything related to baseball that can be done with people from the office, coed, or drunk, is a disgrace to the game. Trust us, they're a load of fun to watch.

A few thousand college kids high on wrapping up their semester and an endorsement to take their clothes off — what could go wrong? Turns out it's a lot less than you may think. In the past two years, ASU has celebrated the semester's end with a massive on-campus party during which students strip down to their undies. Their discarded clothing goes to charity and the students take a run around the campus. In 2009, so many clothes were taken off that ASU was able to fill a U-Haul truck with the donated clothing. Of course, how the generous students get dressed again is completely up to them.

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Improv AZ and the AZ Cacophony Society had already thrown time-stop and pillow-fight flash mobs when they decided to take it up a notch. The mission: create original superhero or villain identities, make those creations manifest through costume, and do battle with each other at Scottsdale Fashion Square. On June 27, costumed crusaders armed with swimming pool "noodles" and marshmallow guns "fought" for truth and justice (and something to laugh about at the bar afterward). Our favorite heroes included Musical Theater Girl, Dark Elvis, and The Human Recliner.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Word to the wise: You don't wanna to piss off Ann Thrash or any of the other fierce-looking females who populate the Valley's roller-derby scene.

Like many in the roller-girl sisterhood, the punky 36-year-old has become skilled in hand-to-hand combat as captain of the Arizona Derby Dames' Runaway Brides squad. Wielding hands of stone and the ability to land her elbow in some uncomfortable places, Thrash can not only put your lights out but can do so while wearing a pair of Riedell track skates.

Said skills are of vital importance to the gals and grrls who've dished out ass-kickings aplenty over the past six years as amateur flat-track roller derby has exploded in popularity in the Valley. Once a staple of '70s fringe culture, the all-female sport was revived by California punks and feminists in the early Aughts and has since spread nationwide. (There's even a Drew Barrymore-directed roller-derby flick coming out in October).

Since migrating to Phoenix in 2003, it's become an infamous part of the local alt-culture landscape. Three different leagues (the Derby Dames, the Renegade Rollergirls, and Arizona Roller Derby) have sprung up, each holding monthly matches at venues such as Tempe's Surfside Skateland and Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

It isn't hard summing up roller derby's allure: Tough-as-nails women (many of whom are of the tattooed-and-pierced bent) clad in fishnets and miniskirts batter each other while circling an oval track and soaking up the cheers and jeers of bloodthirsty crowds. What's not to love?

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For many comic book artists, it would have been enough to be the guy who breathed new life into Spider-Man. Not Todd McFarlane, a Canadian we're happy to say now calls the Valley home. He didn't rest 'til he'd built an empire — complete with a wildly successful series that spawned an animated TV series, a full-length film, a line of action figures. Along the way he opened a toy store, directed music videos and designed realistic sports action figures for the NBA, MLB, and NHL. As Spawn reaches issue 300, we're delighted to report that McFarlane is back to the drawing board — writing and illustrating the comic himself, just like the old days.

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Long ago, Big Surf meant school was out and the beach — such as it was — was open. We wee Gidgets and mini Moondoggies pulled on our snorkels and grabbed our boogie boards and headed to Tempe to enjoy America's original water park, which was a fake "ocean" with a giant wave machine buried in its big, wet belly.

Today, we take our kids there. Big Surf Tempe is 20 acres of body slides, tube slides, speed slides, water basketball and volleyball, and children's play area. That wave pool is still there, only now it's grown to hold more than 2 million gallons of water on which beachgoers can body surf or just splash straight into its watery depths on one of Big Surf's 15 water slides. Elsewhere, beach bunnies will find several themed areas, one with little-kid water features that won't frighten the younger set, like the Tahitian Twisters, a pair of smaller but still swell slides that scaredy-cat moms will like, too.

At summer's end, Big Surf panicked the masses by announcing it was going out of business. We now hear that's not true; we're crossing our fingers and toes that we'll be able to hang 10 next year.

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Tucked away behind State Route 143, near Sky Harbor airport, Pueblo Grande isn't easy to find — but it sure is worth the search. This half-museum, half-archeological park transports visitors back nearly 1,500 years to the crumbling capital of the ancient Hohokam civilization.

We suggest starting with the 10-minute video introduction to the prehistoric ruins before grabbing one of the museum's giant umbrellas and heading outside. Follow the winding red path to see what remains of the ancient Hohokam village, the mysterious "platform mount," irrigation system, preserved adobe compounds, pithouses, garden, and ball court.

The air-conditioned museum is a welcome respite from the hot sun and offers an overview of what it may have been like to live as a Hohokam in the Salt River Valley centuries ago. Interested in archeology? Here, you can learn some of the basics. Whether you're an ancient-history geek or just looking for a way to spend a hot summer's day, it's definitely worth the $6 entry fee.

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Forget about T.O. (that would be Terrell Owens), Randy Moss, Chad Ochocinco, Steve Smith. Andre Johnson, okay?! Larry Fitzgerald, he of our very own NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals, is the best wide receiver in the professional game today. He's big, he's sure-handed, he's money.

Everybody liked to marvel at aged Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner's renewed prowess last season, and it was something to behold. But, without Fitzgerald, Warner wouldn't have bridged that gap between above-average and good/great. Fitz is a QB's dream: a big, 6-foot-3, sticky-fingered wideout with huge leaping ability who rarely misses a pass in his vicinity. And who, when he gets his hands on the pigskin, advances it up the field because he's so freakin' hard to bring down.

Look at his incredible post-season, which wound up with the Cardinals (the Cardinals!) going to the Super Bowl. During the NFC title game, which the Cards won 32-25 over the Philadelphia Eagles, Fitzgerald became the first player in history to catch three touchdown passes in a conference championship game. In the post-season, he set a record with 546 receiving yards, 30 receptions, and seven TD catches. The fact that the Cardinals eventually lost 27-23 to the Steelers in the Super Bowl had nothing to do with Fitzgerald (it was about the defense's inability to hold a lead): He caught two touchdown passes in the game.

During the 16-game regular season, Fitzgerald led all NFL receivers in efficiency. He caught 96 of 154 passes for 1,434 yards and 12 TDs. His longest regular-season catch was good for 78 yards. He edged out the Houston Texans' Johnson who caught 115 out of 170 for 1,575 yards and eight scores.

The dreadlocked former ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings is a bull. After last season's Pro Bowl, in which the former University of Pittsburgh standout caught two TD passes and was named the game's Most Valuable Player, it was discovered that he'd been playing with a broken thumb for more than two months.

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Tourists and locals alike are still ranting and raving about DBG's spectacular exhibition featuring the gigantic glass sculptures of Seattle-based artist Dale Chihuly. Though the exhibit had traveled internationally before it came to the Valley (we had seen it at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis back in May 2006), Chihuly created a number of site-specific installations just for the Desert Botanical Garden. The knockout works competed mightily with a number of pieces installed on the canals of Venice, Italy.

Depending on the time of day or evening, each one of Chihuly's jewel-colored glass tableaux, scattered over the entire acreage of the garden, would take on a different persona. What appeared to be alien desert life forms during the day would turn into entirely different, brilliantly lit creatures at dusk and again after dark. We're just sorry Chihuly's exhibit, which took months to mount, isn't a permanent fixture of DBG, though we're told that the garden may be keeping several pieces permanently.

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Muhammad Ali was the greatest athlete, much less the greatest prizefighter, ever. Beyond legendary. The Scottsdale resident moved to the Valley after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and is seen at a plethora of charity and sporting events around town, including at the NBA All-Star Game at US Airways Center earlier this year.

Ali was the proverbial poet in boxing gloves, thanks to his precise punches, fancy footwork, and claims (until the end of his career) that no opponent could touch his "pretty" face. It was his smooth tongue, as much as his prowess in the ring, that made him famous. Many younger sports fans know him for his star turn in the legendary documentary When We Were Kings, about Ali's famous "Rumble in the Jungle" with George Foreman (long before Foreman got fat and hawked grills). The documentary showed Ali at his pinnacle, when he backed up his infamous braggadocio with in-the-ring perfection. Before the fight, he enlisted the citizens in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) to his cause. Locals roamed the streets repeating, "Kill him" (meaning Foreman in the ring) in their native tongue. Biographers believed the Ali-generated hype surrounding the fight got inside the head of the more physically powerful Foreman, and Ali won the bout in the eighth round after knocking Foreman to the floor.

Termed, during his prime, the "most beautiful male athlete" in history, Ali today has been humbled by his disease. He is never shown attempting to speak in public. A shame, since he was a master of the clever putdown in his day. He once said of opponent Joe Frazer: "He's so ugly that he should donate his face to the U.S. Bureau of Wildlife." About another opponent: "I'll beat him so bad he'll need a shoehorn to put his hat on." He was also a master of self-aggrandizement: "I'm not the greatest; I'm the double greatest"; "Not only do I knock 'em out, I pick the round"; "I'm so fast that, last night, I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark." Sometimes he was just plain funny: "My way of joking is to tell the truth. That's the funniest joke in the world." "My toughest fight was with my first wife."

The Valley's own Charles Barkley, the NBA legend-turned-sportscaster, also is a master of the one-liner, but he stole Ali's act.

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