In the Facebook group Growing Up in Mesa in the '70s, they're making that whole experience sound much cooler than it was. However, everyone agrees that the 1912 steam locomotive we crawled around in at Pioneer Park (across from the Mormon Temple) was the shit. Nowadays, we're so safety-conscious we'd probably never let kids do that. People who grow up in junkyards, hobo jungles, and poorly maintained farms are so lucky.

But even if we never get back onto old Southern Pacific Engine #2355, seeing it restored and moved to a place of honor on the front side of the park will feel great. It's an official Centennial Legacy Project of the state of Arizona, and donations are accepted at the website. The cold steel, the tall steps, pulling levers and spinning wheels because if we did it in just the right order, we were sure something would happen — those are memories we don't want to lose.

Once the Phoenix Coyotes ownership situation got settled, with IceArizona taking over the team from the National Hockey League — which had grabbed the Coyotes because of their financial hardships — general manager Don Maloney found himself in a buyer's market. Suddenly, every free agent out there was getting shopped to Maloney, who'd had to practically beg good players to come to the desert. And, during the frenzy, the Coyotes were able to land a player they'd long coveted to fill a spot on their roster that they desperately needed to fill. In signing Montreal native Mike Ribeiro to a long-term contract, Maloney filled a five-season void at the center position. What star player would come to the desert when he had no idea where he'd be living a year or two later? Once the ownership deal was consummated, Ribeiro signed a four-year, $22 million contract with Phoenix. Last season, Ribeiro scored 13 goals and a point per game with the Washington Capitals; before that, he'd had a high of 27 goals and 93 points with Dallas. A big reason for his success in the Lone Star State was his association with Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, when Tippett was with the Stars. Tippett, along with Maloney, engineered the deal for Ribeiro, who considers his reunion with his old coach a match made in hockey heaven. It's hoped that Ribeiro, a quality playmaker who led the NHL with 20 power-play assists last season, can help the Coyotes with that formerly dismal part of their game. With Ribeiro taking the ice in Glendale, the Yotes may again move to the top of the Valley's pro sports franchise pile when it comes to success in their sport.

Patrick Peterson won the national Chuck Bednarik Award as best college defensive player his last year at Louisiana State University, where he was a unanimous All-American in 2010, but that isn't what he's most famous for as an Arizona Cardinal. Oh, Arizona's fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft still plays defensive back, and plays the position well. But he's dazzled fans as a pro with his punt-return prowess: the Cardinals' rookie record for most punt returns in a season in 2011, four punt-return touchdowns, which ties the NFL record; a game-winning 99-yard touchdown in 2011, the longest of that season for the Cardinals; the team's most punt-return yardage in a single season, 699 in 2011; named All-Pro in 2011, and selected for the Pro Bowl in that year and the next. He scored his first NFL touchdown in Week One of the 2011 season, with a fourth-quarter punt return of 89 yards against the Carolina Panthers to seal a win for his new team. Peterson also is a bright spot on pure defense for new Cardinals coach Bruce Arians. The cornerback has 111 solo tackles in just two seasons. On his first NFL play, he picked off San Diego Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers and returned the interception for a TD. In certain situations this year, the Cardinals plan to use Peterson as an offensive weapon. He proved he could go both ways last year when he rushed twice for 13 yards and caught three passes. With a new coach and a new QB, we predict that Peterson will show up regularly on the other side of the ball, and that will be fun to watch.

Despite his selection as a finalist for the 2011 Heisman Trophy, Tyrann Mathieu still was around for the Arizona Cardinals to snag in the third round of the NFL draft. It would've been stunning for an athlete of Mathieu's talent to get picked 69th overall, except for what's been reported to be his off-the-field drug habits. He was kicked out of the LSU football program in 2012, after which he entered drug rehabilitation. The New Orleans native returned to the LSU program only to get arrested, with three fellow players, for possession of marijuana. In an age when pro (and college) sports are trying to clean up their images, a "problem" such as Mathieu's can be sudden death for a promising career. But the Cardinals wisely decided to take a chance on Mathieu, one of the most aggressive cornerbacks ever to play the college game (the Cardinals are moving him to free safety).

Come on, his drug use allegedly involved pot, and while the Cardinals don't want professionals playing stoned, this can't be a big deal. Jeez, they can't be worried that he's a slo-mo stoner — the kid's known as the freakin' Honey Badger, and nobody has to tell us how fearsome honey badgers become when they're hungry. And Mathieu's always famished — his on-field grub being opposing guys trying to score. Proof of that is that his zealous attitude got him named MVP of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Championship, which LSU won. (Did we mention that the SEC is the toughest college football conference in the land, whose champion could've beaten the Cardinals last season?) In the '11 regular season at LSU, he had five forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries (two of which he returned for touchdowns), and 60 solo tackles. He received the Chuck Bednarik Award for best college defender for his trouble, the second year in a row an LSU player had won the honor (former/current teammate Patrick Peterson preceded Mathieu in 2010).

More on why Mathieu's called the Honey Badger: He's a little guy by football standards (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) who literally terrorizes much-larger running backs and receivers — something the Cards desperately need in their defensive backfield.

Everybody thought he was crazy (and not in a good way) when he traded slugger Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves for utility man Martin Prado, pitcher Randall Delgado, and a few tidbits. Towers' thinking was that the Diamondbacks could only contend big-time as a scrappy-ass team, and Prado, who can play almost any position (and has, this season) was better for manager Kirk Gibson's boys of summer than the can't-hit-when-it-counts Upton. And though we had our doubts about general manager Towers at the beginning of the season when Upton was tearing it up for Atlanta, we don't now. J-Up virtually has disappeared into the mediocrity he showed in the clutch here. Truthfully, Prado hasn't hit to his potential — it's been his second-worst season, batting-average-wise, in a long time — but he's on the, um, upswing. And he's saved countless runs with his gangbuster defense. He may well be the better offensive player by the end of the season. Towers still has work to do with his pitchers. Injuries and kismet have effed him somewhat in that department, though his getting rid of mediocre Ian Kennedy for a solid relief pitcher (and change) has helped. As usual, Towers is figuring it out. Arizona's lucky to have a premier baseball strategist at the helm.

Aaron Hill spent almost the whole first half of the Diamondbacks' 2013 season on the disabled list from a rare fracture to his left hand. But when he returned, he was gangbusters. Despite the fact that he's sure to need surgery on his glove hand in the offseason, he came back slugging, complementing slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt in the middle of the lineup. Hill always has been the Diamondbacks' best-all-around player when he's healthy. Always in the Gold Glove hunt in whatever league he's playing in (he came to Arizona from the American League Toronto Blue Jays), Hill's been solid-plus at his second-base position, despite the pesky injury. The D-backs held their own without him, but since his return, he's won several games with his stellar offense. A bona fide slugger in his own right, he blasted three home runs in the first month he was back, batted .333, knocked in seven runs, and had a .538 slugging average. Along with Goldschmidt, Hill anchors Arizona's offense; he's a big part of the reason they have a chance of going all the way.

You wouldn't want to piss him off. He could take your hide off with his sandpaper face. His stare could bore a hole in the barrel of slugger Paul Goldschmidt's giant bat. Smiles are hard-won from this guy. So are compliments. He never runs with the bulls; they run from him. No, that's the Most Interesting Man in the World ("Stay thirsty, my friends"). Kirk Gibson may not be the most interesting man on the planet, but he's definitely the most interesting member of the Diamondbacks organization. In addition to being a baseball legend who limped around the bases after homering for the Los Angeles Dodgers — in one of the most unforgettable moments in sports history — Gibson's becoming one of baseball's elite managers. He's taken a scrappy bunch of also-ran veterans (Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin, and Aaron Hill notably excepted) and fielded a club that battled for first place in the West all season. How does he do it? By commanding respect and demanding that millionaire players put out on the diamond. He's a quiet, intense motivator, and that's what it takes to go to the World Series. He's been there. And won. Twice. If anybody can return to D-backs to the Series (which they won in 2001), it's Gibby.

Miguel Montero's got the big contract (five years, $60 million), but it's his backup, Wil Nieves, who's delivered to the maximum this year. We wince when Montero goes to the plate — he seems to have lost his will to hit since getting all that dough. He may have been a guy who's good only when he's lean and hungry (which he certainly isn't on either count). He's left countless men in scoring position this year, batted in the low .200s, and his defense never has been all that. We'd much rather see Nieves — who, amazingly, barely made the team this year — get the lion's share of playing time. 'Cause he's roaring, and Miggy's not. First off, Wil's just as good a defensive catcher as Montero, has a soothing way with pitchers, whom his position must manage on the field, and his hitting's been off the charts. Dude was batting .354 in 37 games (highest average on the squad), with 34 hits and 14 runs batted in, just past midseason. Incredible stats for a part-time starter! The guy's clutch, too. Despite his limited playing time, he's been the reason the D-backs have won certain games. Why he and Montero haven't reversed roles this season is beyond us. Yeah, Nieves is a journeyman backup catcher, but perception isn't reality here! Time to move the guy who's helping the team to the premier role behind the plate — and, maybe, bump up his bargain-basement $800,000 annual pay. If for no other reason than that Montero might wake up and start effin' hitting.

Thank God for Goran Dragic! He was the only bright spot in the Phoenix Suns' dismal lineup last season. He continued to do it all: score, pass, rebound. The Suns didn't win many games — 25 of 82, to be exact — but the ones they did win were mostly because of the lightning-fast Serbian. The Suns are making moves to improve their on-court fortunes, with the addition of promising rookie Alex Len in the 2013 NBA draft. In a year or so, he should become Dragic's principal go-to guy under the basket. Even on last year's dismal squad, Dragic averaged 15 points and seven assists a game. He tutored under one of the game's great point guards, Steve Nash, and it shows. He's a pass-first player who can dunk and rebound. Dragic had three boards a game in the latter category, great for among the shortest players on the team. With better talent around him, he could return to the prowess he showed in game three of the 2010 Western Conference Finals, when he scored 23 of his 26 points in the final period to give the Suns a 110-96 come-from-behind win over San Antonio. It was billed as one of the greatest fourth-quarter performances in playoff history. Dragic's scoring blast included five of five three-pointers. Dragic's a seasoned veteran at only 27. He started his professional career in Slovenia at 17, spending five years playing in Europe before entering the 2008 NBA draft and winding up with Phoenix. It remains to be seen whether he will be as good as his mentor, Nash. But it was at the same juncture in his NBA career that Nash began to break out in points and assists with the Dallas Mavericks. He and Len are the future of Phoenix's oldest professional-sports franchise — how that future plays out under economically cautions Suns management remains to be seen.

Jeez, Heath Bell used to be great! Jeez, he's sucked this season! Despite Kevin Towers' management prowess, his biggest bonehead move this year was bringing Bell over from the Florida Marlins, where he was beneath dismal last season. Kevin, the guy's O-V-E-R! Bell once was great with the San Diego Padres, but he's lost it. Batters seem to anticipate his every pitch (he has only two, a fastball and a curve). You and manager Kirk Gibson believed Bell would improve after his first outing. Remember that first game, Kevin? Gave up two home runs to the first two batters he faced. Um, AZ lost the game. And we've lost countless others because Bell's been worthless on the mound. He apparently got the memo that closers are supposed to damn well close, 'cause we can tell he feels real bad after blowing it so many times. He should've felt like jumping into the Grand Canyon after a couple of those. Man, we quake to think that Arizona's paying $9 million a year for the "Heath Bell Experience." After the All-Star break, Bell was moved into a setup role, which helped. But we still feel nausea when he trots in from the bullpen. We're not sure how Bell survived the trade deadline — maybe he cleans Towers' pool.

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