Most Exotic Sports Guy 2013 | DiDi Gregorius, Arizona Diamondbacks | Sports & Recreation | Phoenix

Diamondbacks shortstop Mreiekson Julius (DiDi) Gregorious is a native of the Netherlands. Now though it may may sound strange to most Americans that a major-league baseball player is Dutch, we'll have you know that our national pastime is pretty popular in the land of windmills, wooden shoes, and dikes. Here's a little history lesson: Baseball started in the country in 1911 after a teacher named J.C.G. Grasé became fascinated with it during a trip to the United States. The country now even has a professional league and a successful national team. Now, baseball pales compared to soccer in the Netherlands, but the Dutch were one of those European nations that colonized in the Americas, and its former colonies simply go wild for baseball. This is where DiDi Gregorious comes in. His family emigrated from the Netherlands to the tiny southern Caribbean island country of Curacao, off the coast of Venezuela. We've all heard of the Dominican Republic and its multitude of famous players (slugger Luis Pujols comes to mind), but DiDi's got to be the most famous (granted this isn't saying much) player (or anything else) from his little speck of a homeland. We doubled over laughing when D-backs GM Kevin Towers said Gregorious was the second coming of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. But nobody was laughing early in the 2013 season when Gregorious, in addition to making acrobatic plays on defense and saving games, posted a .322 batting average with 16 extra-base hits. He's cooled off since at the plate, which makes us think that Towers exaggerated. But not by much.

It wasn't surprising when Valley sports celebrity and Dancing wth the Stars veteran Kurt Warner wound up hosting a reality show on the USA network. A virtual twinkle-toes on the popular ABC dance-off, the retired Arizona Cardinals Super Bowl quarterback became the face of The Moment, a program he's highly qualified to do. The show's about second chances, and Warner's the ultimate comeback kid. At one time out of professional football and bagging groceries, he got back into the National Football League in a big way — eventually leading the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title (he was named the game's MVP). His career waned again when he was backup to Eli Manning with the New York Giants and later to Cardinals washout QB Matt Leinart. After Leinart's collarbone was broken in a game, Warner took over as signal-caller. The rest is history. That is, he wound up taking the previously hapless Cards to the biggest sporting event in the world in 2008. He didn't win that time, but he came so close that we could all taste it.

Concluding a 12-year career, he retired in 2010. But not from the limelight; the manly jock with a toothpaste-commercial smile almost made it to DWTS' semifinal round. The night he was voted off, the show's audience chanted: "MVP, MVP!" Gone again but not forgotten, he was back on the small screen earlier this year hosting the "positive" interview show on USA. In one episode, a guy gets to realize his dream, however briefly, of becoming a NASCAR driver. As his Cardinals teammates couldn't stop attesting, Warner's got a big heart, and that came across on The Moment, which is one reason he was nominated for a Critics Choice Award for his work. Truthfully, Warner's much more interesting than the stories he relates. The latest is that 20th Century Fox has bought the rights to make a movie about Kurt's life. The buzz now is who will play the devoutly Christian ex-QB. Our recommendation: Let the movie-star-handsome Warner play himself. It'd be box office!

Patrick Corbin was listed as the losing pitcher in baseball's All-Star Game this summer? So what! This means he played in the elite event in New York City. He lost because he gave up the first run in a 3-0 American League victory. The Arizona Diamondbacks have had other All-Star pitchers, including Randy Johnson, Kurt Schilling, and (last year) Wade "Duck Dynasty" Miley. As for Miley, he had a terrific season last year, but nothing as outstanding this year. Fellow southpaw Corbin, on the other hand, is destined for the greatness achieved by Johnson and Schilling. Big-league hitters figured out Miley this year and started hitting him with abandon. Miley, though, has nearly unhittable pitches in his arsenal that Miley never had. He has a slider that drops off the table, bamboozling even the best hitters in the game. On top of that, he's increased the speed of his fastball to more than 92 miles per hour. Though the hapless Ian Kennedy (since traded to the San Diego Padres) was the D-backs ace in the first half of this season, Miley (with a 12-2 record and a 2.24 earned-run average at just past midseason) clearly isn't only Arizona's best, but one of the three or four best pitchers out there. Look for the guy who was questionable as the team's fifth starter in the spring to be in Cooperstown someday.

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.

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