Hyatt Regency at Gainey Ranch
Katie Johnson

Leave it to savvy snowbirds and summer staycationers to decide which pools are worth diving into. Their favorite place to test the water and their tanning oil, judging by the crowds? The Hyatt Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale. Ours, too. This secluded resort has something for everyone, with more pools than almost anyplace in town. The recently remodeled quasi-water park offers a three-story, high-speed water slide that takes kids and adults alike on turns at up to 25 miles per hour, a sand beach, volleyball courts, a Grecian-style water temple, and poolside dinning from the hotel's H2Oasis restaurant. Add to that the 20 fountains, 45 waterfalls, and 10 pools, and it's easy to see why people get carried away while getting away at Gainey.

Wet 'n' Wild Phoenix Water Park

Yes, it can be an expensive day. Prices are $39.99 for adults and $29.99 for kids and seniors if you don't get a season pass. (Kids 2 and under get in free). Worth it. And much cheaper than a trip to the pool store. The first time we drove out to the West Valley park, we had no doubt the kids would have fun. What we didn't know is that the place is a joyride even for older, ex-skydiving adrenaline junkies like us. Of the several big-time slides, Mammoth Falls gives us a rush every time. You sit in a four-person raft that, once leaving the station, lurches down a steep flume, rushing toward a 50-foot wall. It has two "oh, bleep" moments — the initial drop, then the out-of-control feeling on the weightless apogee after inertia carries the raft up that wall. But — ha! — we and our kin somehow don't fall out of the raft. The sensation is all part of the design. Our oldest child now enjoys this feeling almost as much as we do, but we're both still young enough to have fun in the wave pool, which has a sort of undulation mode that creates an unending succession of body-tossing waves. Our younger kid doesn't like the big slides but has spent hours in the wave pool, kids' splash area, and wading pools, which makes us feel great, too.

Margaret T. Hance Park

The dog days of summer don't do much for your canine companion, but come winter, spring, and fall, fair-weather furballs flock to the fine-cut grass and fenced-in comforts of Margaret T. Hance Park. The premier dog park in downtown Phoenix pulls in pooches and their pampering pet owners with newly constructed amenities like decorative wrought-iron gates, water fountains for humans and ground-level drinking bowls for dogs, picnic tables, benches, and shaded trees. With nearly an acre of space for frisbee-catching, ball-retrieving, and butt-sniffing socialization, a trip to Margaret T. Hance Park guarantees tails wagging and grass-littered mouths panting.

Castles -n- Coasters

In the West Valley, wedged between Interstate 17 and Metrocenter, you'll find this world-class miniature golf paradise, past which flies a gigantic rollercoaster. Four separate 18-hole mini-courses let golfers (or should we say "golfers"?) putt their way through lush landscapes, fountains, and around a medieval castle. Little kids play for free, and kids of all ages can nip inside for refreshments, video games, and even a little air hockey. Fore!

In an area saturated with world-class golf courses, the We-Ko-Pa Golf Club stands out from the crowd. Both its Saguaro Course and Cholla Course are elite options for golfers of any level, with some of the fastest greens and most elegant scenery of any desert golf course, but the Saguaro Course stands out for its flowing design and more traditional compact layout. Saguaro allows its desert surroundings to determine its winding path, playing like a smoother and more naturally structured course compared to its competitors.

The newest Cactus League stadium is unlike any other. That's because Cubs Park was built to mimic one of the most legendary ballparks: Wrigley Field. The dimensions at Cubs Park are proportional to Wrigley's, the backstop is made of brick, Chicago dogs are sold at the concession stands, and the big green scoreboard in left field is based on the one in Chicago. Granted, the new park has major differences from Wrigley, which turned 100 years old this year. For one, there's no ivy on the outfield walls. Though there are other state-of-the-art spring training facilities in the Valley, Cubs Park is the only one that's a must-see.

Bruce Arians, a veteran of 25 NFL seasons as a coach but only one as a head coach and part of one as an acting head coach, either worked a miracle last season by leading the Arizona Cardinals to a 10-6 season or he really knows what he's doing. We're going with the latter. At this writing, he's 1-0 this season. It was Arians' rookie season with the Cards, a team that has struggled since the departure of famed quarterback Kurt Warner, he of two Super Bowl appearances, including a winning one in St. Louis and a losing one here following the 2008 season. To call the Cardinals dismal in the four years after Warner's departure is kind.

Then came the exit of Coach Ken Whisenhunt, who looked like a genius when Warner was around but sunk fast with a series of awful QBs. In came Arians, fresh off a 9-3 stint with the Indianapolis Colts while filling in for the ailing Chuck Pagano for the 2013 season. And it started off semi-bleak in Glendale, too. The Cards lost four of their first seven games and appeared headed for the NFL sewer. But Arians, a former college quarterback himself, got his veteran QB, Carson Palmer, on the right page, and the team won seven of its last nine games, becoming that rare 10-6 team to miss the playoffs.

It's attributed to the dumb luck of playing in the same conference with arguably the two best teams in the league, the Seattle Seahawks (who won the Super Bowl) and the San Francisco 49ers. Arians' crowning achievement of putting together a brilliant game plan and beating the Seahawks near the end of the regular season didn't matter to the playoff gods. Even with the departure of more than a few workhorse veterans, the Cardinals are billed to be better this year. We're betting that Arians surprises his team's conference arch-rivals and takes the Redbirds deep into the playoffs this season.

Don't believe the hype that Robert Sarver's a tightwad owner loath to spend big bucks on top talent. It's not true. The Phoenix Suns' head man, he of the giant foam finger in the team's heady playoff days, has had a wide-open wallet since he's owned the team, and it's only going to get more so when he and his staff finish working out star point guard Eric Bledsoe's contract. Hell, Sarver & Co. were ready to do whatever it took to land LeBron James if the star just would just have aligned (sigh . . . King James decided to go home to Cleveland) — so set was Sarver on returning a playoff contender to the Valley of the Sun.

In addition, Sarver has demonstrated his commitment to floor a contender at US Airways Center by making the genius move of hiring the most dynamic coach/general manager combo in the NBA today, Jeff Hornacek and Ryan McDonough. Hornacek's the legendary Suns player who was moved to Philadelphia in the Charles Barkley trade and was an assistant coach for the Utah Jazz before coming here. He's an even more astute coach than he was a player. Smart combined with smart always works, and McDonough, who labored for 10 years in the Boston Celtics organization, lastly as assistant general manager to former Suns coach and Celtics great Danny Ainge, is a basketball genius.

McDonough, just 34, and Hornacek, 51, combined to put together a gritty team that played, well, smart. The result was a 48-34 record, a 23-win improvement over the season before, sans the presence of a superstar. McDonough was runner-up for NBA executive of the year after last season. But it really was Sarver's doing that the Suns struck fear in the hearts of even their staunchest opponents. The irony was that competition was so tough in the NBA's Western Conference that they didn't make the playoffs. Much more to come this season; we're certain of it.

Best Reason to Believe the Diamondbacks Have a Bright Future

Sports Exec Tony LaRussa

The Arizona Diamondbacks made a stunning move when they brought in legendary manager Tony LaRusa as chief baseball officer in the middle of this dismal season. One of the most brilliant minds in the game, LaRussa, when he retired as skipper of the St. Louis Cardinals, had been a major-league manager for 33 seasons, winning three World Series titles. Most famous as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, he also helmed the Chicago White Sox and the Oakland A's, and he was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, this summer. He was the only manager in history to retire after winning a World Series championship.

At this writing, LaRussa has made only one significant move after a few months on the job. He gave general manager Kevin Towers his walking papers.And he is expected to overhaul the team, possibly from manager Kirk Gibson on down, before the 2015 campaign begins. As for Towers, who made many bonehead moves in his five years on the job, including trading slugger Justin Upton and pitching prospect Trevor Bauer, his end couldn't come soon enough for us.

Though better than in the past, Diamondbacks relief pitchers have faltered this year, but La Russa's just the exec to change that. He's credited with streamlining, if not inventing, bullpens. Rather than overusing his closers, he's employed a series of set-up specialists — from flamethrowers to lefties on lefty batters to righties on righty batters — to give his teams match-up advantages. The idea is to give the closer a clean slate to shut down an opponent in the ninth inning and to keep a franchise's ultimate power pitcher fresh.

LaRussa, who reportedly is the first to arrive at work in the D-backs' front office and the last to leave, has his work cut out for him — this year's was the team's worst start since its fledgling season and the deep hole eliminated the D-backs from the playoff early.

Paul Goldschmidt is more than just a power hitter, despite what his 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame (complete with tree-trunk-size guns) might suggest. The first baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks, a National League starter at his position in this year's All-Star Game, hits for average and is a crack defensive player. But power is a major part of his game: He led the league last season in runs batted in and was third when he suffered a season-ending injury in early August. Before getting injured, he was among the top 10 NL leaders in home runs (19) batting average (.300), and on-base-plus-slugging percentage, or OPS (.936). And there's more to his offensive game than his bat: He's quick enough to have stolen 18 bases in his first full season in the majors, 15 in his second, and nine at the time of his injury this year.

He's the all-around spectacular athlete in cleats and a cap, diving and leaping for catches in the field; he won a Gold Glove award in 2013 for his spectacular defense. Arizona was a dismal team this season, but Goldschmidt stood out, as he has since his rookie season in 2011. When the trade deadline came in late July, Goldschmidt was the only Diamondback who was sacrosanct. It's an understatement to say that he and injured pitcher Patrick Corbin are the franchise. Following in the footsteps of the greats who came before him, such as Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, and Stan Musial, Goldschmidt is a sports hero to the bone. And like at least two of them, he's humble to a fault, embarrassed to answer questions about his greatness.

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