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Votto, Swisher take early leads in Final Vote

Votto, Swisher take early leads in Final Vote

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Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher and Reds first baseman Joey Votto are your early leaders after more than 10 million votes were registered in the opening 24 hours of the 2010 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint.

Swisher leads a tightly contested race for the American League's final roster spot, followed closely by first baseman Kevin Youkilis of the rival Red Sox; Rangers third baseman Michael Young; White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko; and Twins left fielder Delmon Young.

Votto jumped out of the gate fastest in the National League and is narrowly ahead of Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman; Braves closer Billy Wagner; Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez; and Padres closer Heath Bell.

The ninth annual All-Star Game Final Vote ballot commenced exclusively on MLB.com and the individual club sites at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday and will continue until balloting concludes at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday. No vote totals are released in the meantime and winners will be announced shortly thereafter exclusively on MLB.com.

One survivor from each league will become the 34th and final roster selection for the 81st All-Star Game on July 13 in Anaheim. Each quintet of candidates was presented to you by the respective All-Star Game managers, Joe Girardi of the Yankees for the AL and Charlie Manuel of the Phillies for the NL. The rest of the All-Star rosters were announced on Sunday.

As originally introduced during this year's online balloting for the elected starters, fans can campaign for their favorite player on the Final Vote ballot through the MLB.com All-Star Game Campaign Manager Headquarters, tallying points by getting their friends, family and co-workers to vote through social networking, and competing to be recognized as an "official" Final Vote Campaign Manager for any player they helped support.

Mobile voting is available exclusively on Sprint, Nextel and Boost-capable mobile phones, and fans can send the word "Vote" to 1122 to receive the 2010 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint ballot. Message and data rates may apply. In Canada, fans can text "Vote" to 88555. Standard text rates apply.

Here is a closer look at your candidates, with stats entering the week:

American League

Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox
No team has had more Final Vote participants than the White Sox, who have fielded a candidate in seven of the nine years. That includes two winners, Scott Podsednik in 2005 and A.J. Pierzynski in '06, and we call your attention to '04, when Konerko and teammate Frank Thomas wound up splitting the vote in a dead heat for second as Hideki Matsui of the Yankees won. The Sox have always come up with clever campaigns, and they are calling this one "Pauliewood."

Konerko will have no competition from his teammates this time, and the White Sox will be showing off all that imaginative social-media prowess on his behalf. Of course, Konerko has done all of his talking on the field: He had 20 homers and 57 RBIs. Konerko is a quiet leader for a White Sox club that has vaulted back into AL Central contention.

Nick Swisher, RF, Yankees
Swisher has been a catalyst for a Yankees club that has baseball's best record and is trying to repeat as World Series champions for the first time since 2000. He has 13 homers and 47 RBIs to go with a .293 average. He also has 1,218,121 followers on his Twitter account and wasted no time in using it to campaign for himself:

"I need yalls help! Go to www.yankees.com and vote as many times as you want and #SENDSWISH." The hashtag at the very end is a common element of tweeting, allowing people to see a single topic of tweets in one place, so in his case he is campaigning for himself with that custom hashtag. It is also prominent on Yankees.com.

One might think the Yankees would be a powerhouse in the Final Vote given their wide-reaching fan base and voting bloc potential, but it rarely has worked out that way. They are 1-for-5 in Final Vote candidates, with their last three coming up short. The only exception was Matsui in 2004, and even he fell short the following year, splitting the vote with teammate Derek Jeter. Yes, Jeter was a Final Vote bridesmaid. Albert Pujols, Roy Halladay ... there is a long list of marquee names that failed to get your attention for that last roster spot.

"I think Swish is probably the perfect guy for campaigning for himself," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Swish is a personality that loves to have fun and is not afraid to do anything on the video board, no matter what they ask him to do. Swish is good at it. The thing about Swish is, all these things that he does, it's usually one take.

"I don't think it will be a distraction, as long as he's not texting MLB.com during the games. So, keep voting for him."

Kevin Youkilis, 1B, Red Sox
Red Sox Nation knows how to win these things. Outfielder Johnny Damon won the first Final Vote in 2002, catcher Jason Varitek won it the next year, and reliever Hideki Okajima won it in 2007. That's a perfect 3-for-3 whenever they have a player on the Final Vote ballot, and that makes Boston the winningest team in this competition.

Will that be relevant in 2010? Times have changed a little bit. Social media is a huge factor now, with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and so many viral platforms. Their candidate this time has been in typical Youk form. He has a .299 average, 17 long balls, 54 RBIs, 65 runs, including the ninth-inning solo shot on Sunday that provided the only damage against Brian Matusz. It wasn't the best of times early this season for the Red Sox, but now they are right there in the hunt with the Yankees and Rays atop the AL East.

"It's one of those things where it's out of your control and it's up to the fans now, and there are four [other] guys who are probably very deserving, too," Youkilis said. "You know, if I make it, it will be an honor and it will be a good thing."

Teammate Dustin Pedroia, on the disabled list and walking with crutches, said: "I've got a lot of free time. I'll be voting like crazy for Youk. Hopefully he gets into that thing. His numbers are ridiculous."

Delmon Young, LF, Twins
This is a breakout season for Young, who has helped the Twins stay around the top of the AL Central for most of the way. After running hot and cold for the majority of the first two months of the season, Young found a groove in June, batting .320 with 24 RBIs and 13 runs through Saturday. Maybe Twins fans will be able to do what they were unable to do in their previous Final Vote opportunities, going 0-for-3 with Lew Ford in 2004, Torii Hunter in 2005 and Francisco Liriano in 2006.

Just ask the Rays what he has meant. On Thursday night in Minnesota, Young hit a solo homer to tie the score, and the next night he ruined David Price's bid at a 12th win by stroking an RBI double to tie it and scored what proved to be the game-winner. Young has nine homers, 55 RBIs, a .298 average and -- most notably -- only 35 strikeouts.

"You're not trying to think of anything like that, especially when the Tigers came in here and boat-raced us the first game. So it's the last thing on your mind when you're trying to catch a playoff spot," Young said.

When asked if he would stay up all night to vote for himself, Young added: "I definitely won't be doing that. It's out of my control. Just be thankful that everything's going pretty good this year, especially after last year, missing time and going home and everything. I'm just honored that I was even mentioned."

Michael Young, 3B, Rangers
Here's an endorsement from one of the best players ever, even if he technically employs this candidate: "If you look at Michael's numbers, they are phenomenal," Rangers president Nolan Ryan said. "Five years with 200 hits ... it just shows the dependability of his bat, the longevity and the consistency. No matter what organization, the all-time hits leader is one of your star players who has spent a lot of time with the organization and contributed a lot, whether it was Craig Biggio in Houston or Michael Young in Texas."

Will he be the third consecutive third baseman to win the AL Final Vote, following Brandon Inge last year and Evan Longoria the year before? There are a lot of reasons to think he could, starting with a .307 average, 11 homers, 55 runs and 51 RBIs and a Major League-high 339 at-bats for a team that has led the AL West for a while now and posted the best 75-game start in franchise history. Young's 10th full season is shaping up as one of his best.

There is another good reason to want him on the AL roster if you're a fan of the AL: He is money in late innings of the Midsummer Classic. Young was named Ted Williams Most Valuable Player at the game in Pittsburgh after hitting the game-winning triple off Trevor Hoffman, and it was Young's walk-off sac fly in the 15th inning that finally ended that epic 2008 battle at Yankee Stadium. "I'm surprised. I felt like he may have been the player's choice because they know exactly what he's brought to the All-Star Game the past five years," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Now we've just got to get out and campaign to make sure Michael makes that All-Star team."

National League

Heath Bell, RHP, Padres
Bell racked up his Major League-leading 23rd save on Saturday and then got the win in relief on Sunday, there was an immediate outcry by Padres fans over him having to make it this way . . . and he was bringing up the rear in the first voting update here. San Diego fans are likely to start a movement because not having the game's saves leader in Anaheim might seem odd.

"If the San Diego fans get out there and vote, and if I keep doing what I'm doing and hopefully fans watch me on TV, maybe they'll vote me in over some other guys," Bell said after picking up the win in San Diego's 3-2 walk-off victory over the Astros on Sunday. "I can text my friends, go out there and pitch the best I can and vote as many times as I can."

Bell led the NL with 42 saves last year, and he also was the losing pitcher in the All-Star Game at St. Louis. Manuel brought him in to maintain a 3-3 tie in the eighth inning, but Bell gave up a triple to Curtis Granderson, then the go-ahead sacrifice fly by Adam Jones. Bell was the losing pitcher in his first All-Star Game, "threw my glove, kicked a door," and now, of course, wants a chance for atonement.

Bell is a steady force for the NL West leaders. He's part of the San Diego bullpen that calls itself "The Pen-itentiary" and goes by Bell's credo: "Got 'em on lock down!" Do the Padres have enough All-Star representatives to go along with their win total? Up to you.

Carlos Gonzalez, CF, Rockies
They call him CarGo in Colorado, and many fans are about to learn a lot more about this player who is bursting onto the Major League scene for a Rockies club only five games behind San Diego entering Sunday. That is how the Final Vote often works -- the way it was for another Venezuelan, Pablo Sandoval, in last year's balloting. In his third season, Gonzalez has 14 homers, 52 RBIs, 12 steals and 49 runs.

After being named a Final Vote candidate, Gonzalez produced an RBI single and was walked three times, including one intentionally that preceded Todd Helton's walk-off sacrifice fly to beat the Giants. There is a lot of respect building among pitchers; how about among fans?

This is the second try for a Rockies candidate. The first? You have to go back to the beginning in 2002, when Larry Walker came up third. Things have changed a lot since then, and the club's official @RealRockies Twitter account spread the word Sunday: "#VoteCarGo is being intentionally walked again! Don't forget to #VoteCarGo at vote.mlb.com!"

"We're good players, really talented players," Gonzalez said of the Rockies. "We just need to keep playing the way we play and we'll be there. Everybody is supporting me, all my teammates. I feel really happy. Hopefully, I'll get to go. If not, I'll watch these guys on TV."

Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
"I was disappointed. I would've liked to have gotten in on the first vote, but I still consider this an honor to give myself a chance to go to the All-Star Game with a pretty good group of guys."

That reaction by Votto after the Reds' 14-3 victory at Wrigley Field Sunday was shared by many around Cincinnati, especially considering that at this rate he's a likely NL Most Valuable Player candidate for a team 1 1/2 games up in the NL Central. But that's what happens when you have an unbelievably deep pool of outstanding first basemen in one league, and it's about time that Reds fans see for themselves what all this Final Vote excitement is about. He's their first nominee.

Votto has the stats: 19 homers, 57 RBIs, a .312 average, 53 runs, only two errors through Saturday -- easily enough to hang with the elite at NL first base. What he needs is some public recognition. Whether he gets enough of that through the massive reach of the Final Vote will be seen this week, and the Reds have their work cut out for them because the team is away all week, visiting the Cubs and Mets. They are fired up about this season in Cincinnati, and you can expect that the thrill of contention will be felt in this Final Vote race.

"Hopefully we can get some T-shirts and rally behind Joey, get the fans out there," said Reds third baseman Scott Rolen, who was selected as an All-Star. "He has certainly earned it at his position. He is probably the most valuable player on this team right now."

Billy Wagner, LHP, Braves
"I think I'd be thrilled," Wagner said of making the Midsummer Classic. "To be put in the All-Star Game is always a special moment in any player's life. Knowing that it would be my last All-Star opportunity, it would be very special. I hope for a good outcome, but there are a lot of quality players out there, and whoever gets in, it will be special for them."

The question is, will the third time be a charm for him, or will he become the Susan Lucci of the Final Vote? Atlanta's closer is the first player to appear on three Final Vote ballots, and the crazy part is that he has done it with the Phillies (2005), Mets (2006) and now Braves. Wagner is pretty much the official Final Vote representative of the NL East.

All that matters for Final Vote is right now, this season, and the resurgent Braves are two games ahead of the Mets in the NL East during this Bobby Cox Farewell Tour. There has been a lot of magic at Turner Field, and Wagner has provided much of it. He has converted 17 of 20 save opportunities. He's also 5-0.

Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals
Feel like a tough choice yet? Last year, Zimmerman was chosen as a reserve for his first All-Star Game, and he flied out to center off Edwin Jackson, then flied out to right off Joe Nathan. Meanwhile, his partner on the left side of the 2009 Nationals infield, Cristian Guzman, was on the Final Vote ballot and failed to capture the voters' imagination.

Now, it's Zimmerman's turn, and one would think his chances are better -- especially given the increased electricity surrounding Nationals baseball this season. Zimmerman has 14 homers and 44 RBIs, is as good as it gets at the hot corner defensively, and was practically a one-man wrecking crew on the day of the Final Vote introductions. He drove in four of the team's five runs in a loss to the Mets, three of them on his 14th homer.

The Nationals went through a tough June, but they expect to remain in the chase. They are home throughout this Final Vote balloting to face Bell and the NL West-leading Padres, so that might work in his favor.

"Zim is just an all-around All-Star, regardless if he makes the All-Star team or not," Nationals teammate Willie Harris said. "He is an All-Star in our locker room -- he is a leader, and he's our guy. That's all [there is] to it. He's a star, even when he's not playing baseball. He's an All-Star guy." It's actually the third overall attempt by this franchise. The first was way up north during the 2003 season, when a young shortstop named Orlando Cabrera failed to stir interest as an NL candidate from the Montreal Expos -- their second-to-last season before moving to D.C.

The All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote program has seen nearly 200 million votes cast since its inception in 2002. Previous winners of the All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint, in addition to Shane Victorino and Inge last year, are: Longoria (AL, 2008); Hart (NL, 2008); Okajima (AL, 2007); Chris Young (NL, 2007); Pierzynski (AL, 2006); Nomar Garciaparra (NL, 2006); Podsednik (AL, 2005); Roy Oswalt (NL, 2005); Matsui (AL, 2004); Bobby Abreu (NL, 2004); Varitek (AL, 2003); Geoff Jenkins (NL, 2003); Damon (AL, 2002); and Andruw Jones (NL, 2002).

The fun won't end with the Final Vote, either. The final phase of All-Star Game voting will have fans once again participate in the official voting for the All-Star Game Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2010 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote Sponsored by Sprint. Carl Crawford of the Rays won the award in 2009.

The 81st Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet, Sportsnet HD and Le Reseau de Sport, and around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Follow @MLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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