We attended a game not long after the All-Star break that proved Dan Haren is human. He gave up more than three runs for only the second time all season. On an Arizona Diamondbacks pitching staff that has been mostly dismal this year, Haren's been simply the best pitcher in the National League.

Okay, there's the San Francisco Giants' Tim Lincecum, but we think Haren's better. He may not have a better won-lost record than Lincecum, but Lincecum's on a much better team. Haren's team, on the other hand, was terrible offensively for much of the season. For the All-Star Game, there was big debate about whether Lincecum or Haren should start. And, from where we sit, Dan "The Man" was robbed. Though his record suffered because (during more than a few ace pitching performances) his offense couldn't put runs on the scoreboard, he had the best ERA in the game.

He throws hard, he's got breaking stuff, changeups. He keeps hitters guessing. We also like him because our significant other always lets us watch the game when he's on the mound. At a muscular 6-foot-5, with long dark hair, she always says, "He's too dreamy to be a baseball player" — harkening to pitcher pug-uglies like Randy Johnson, Chad Qualls, and Brandon Webb.

Mark Reynolds is a slugger, and with that comes strikeouts. But the Diamondbacks' third baseman, who has 42 home runs to lead the team at presstime, also has 200 strikeouts, on pace to lead the majors in whiffs again. Oh, he's also on pace to almost lead the majors in homers. Only the incredible Albert Pujos, the St. Louis Cardinals first baseman and perennial power hitter, has more homers at presstime, 47. Striking out is nothing new for Reynolds. He struck out 204 times last year to set a major league record for a single season (such an honor!).

But Reynolds is only 26, and this was his third season in the majors. He gets better every year as a slugger, improving his home run total hugely over the '08 season when he had 28. His batting average also went from .239 to .272. Despite the strikeouts, he's a keeper for the D-Backs.

It's hard to remember now, but Brandon Webb was an even better pitcher than the phenomenal Dan Haren. He won the National League Cy Young Award in 2006 and was the ace of the Arizona pitching staff. Though he couldn't have saved the Diamondbacks from this season's weak hitting, Webb would've made them much better.

If reports are true, could be that Webby will never again don D-Backs Sedona red. There's nothing fair about this (especially to fans). Webb was sidelined with what was at first described as "shoulder stiffness" after his first start of the 2009 season. Nobody among D-Backs brass was officially worried. But the prognosis for his return kept getting worse and worse. Then he had season-ending surgery.

Our guess is that Webb will be back and as strong as ever. Someday. But, as bad luck for Snakes fans would have it, his contract's getting in the way. Webb's will expire at season's end. Arizona holds an option for next season for $8.5 million, but team officials could buy Webb out for $2 million.

The question is, will a team that's getting more and more cost-conscious because of the floundering economy keep a gimpy pitching star around? But would the team want to see the 30-year-old go on to have his best years somewhere else? We hope D-Backs brass bets on him, because somebody else will.

We're not saying Anquan Boldin isn't a stud. He's about as tough a National Football League player as they come. He's a great receiver. Who knows how great he would be if he hadn't gotten his face broken trying to catch a Kurt Warner pass in the Arizona Cardinals 56-35 regular-season loss to the New York Jets last September 28. Boldin was Warner's main target in the game, catching 10 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. He and fellow wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had made the best receiving tandem in the league, and because of the injury, Boldin missed four games.

In the interim, Fitzgerald became the dominant force on the Cardinals and in the league. Then the drama, which began when Boldin had requested a trade following the 2007 season, began again full force. Boldin and his agent whined incessantly that Anquan wasn't being treated fairly because Fitzgerald had signed a four-year, $40 million contract renewal. Meantime, the Cardinals refused to renegotiate Boldin's deal, which now has two years and $12 million left on it.

After his return to action, Q and his agent bitched to the media about how unhappy he was and how he wouldn't play for the Cardinals after the 2008 season without that new contract. It's hard for mere mortals to understand where a guy like Boldin's coming from — how much money does he need?

We love Eric Byrnes, with his crazy hair and hip clothing line. His Eric Byrnes Show on Fox Sports is a hoot, especially the one where he donned a safari outfit and cleaned up elephant shit for a day at the Phoenix Zoo. We loved him as a player, too, when he was in the middle of the lineup a couple of seasons ago and batted around .300.

Unfortunately, maybe he should consider picking up animal turds as his next job, because — after landing that three-year, $30 million contract in 2007 — his career's gone to shit. He's struggled to bat his weight over the past two seasons. He's listed as tipping the scales at 215, though with all that time off . . . Which brings up the point that many of you will make — Eric's gone bad because of injuries: hamstring problems in 2008 and a broken bone in his left hand that required surgery and kept him in the dugout for most of '09.

True, to an extent. But he was going around telling everybody he'd never felt better just before he went down June 25, and he was hitting so poorly that he fell out of the starting lineup. By the time he went down with the latest injury, he was batting .216. The previous season, he could blame the hamstring for his dismal .209 average. But what's his excuse for the crappy offense this year, when he was brimming with health? Hardly the stuff of a $30 million man. His contract is up after next season, and not a minute too soon for the D-Backs.

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.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

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?

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

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.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

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