The process of selecting the All-Star Game starting position players is under way as the names of the players on the American and National League ballots have been released by Major League Baseball.
The fun part has begun for the fans -- and the players. Between Friday and June 29, when the online voting ends, there will be weekly updates on exactly who is leading at what position in both leagues. The drama leading up to the final day of voting promises to be extremely high right down to the last vote, setting the stage for another Midsummer Classic.
The 77th All-Star Game is scheduled for July 11 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Fans from around the world can vote up to 25 times through the Monster.com 2006 All-Star Online Ballot available at MLB.com and on all 30 club sites. Online voting ends at 11:59 p.m. ET on June 29, and recent history assures us that there will be some late-voting heroics.
The leading vote-getter overall last year was Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, who received a whopping 3,629,492 online votes and another 508,649 at ballparks to finish with 4,138,141, the most by anyone in either league.
With the All-Star Game being played in a National League ballpark this season, the DH rule will not be used, so Ortiz is listed on the ballot as a first baseman, his natural position before becoming basically a full-time hitter, and a darn good one at that.
There is stiff competition facing Ortiz, who shares the ballot space with the likes of Paul Konerko of the White Sox, Rangers switch-hitter Mark Teixeira and Jason Giambi of the Yankees, who already has been selected as Player of the Week -- just to mention a few.
A year ago, Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee was well on his way to a career year and edged Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols for most votes among NL players. Lee, currently sidelined with a broken wrist, received 3,560,316 votes last season, edging Pujols, who had 3,455.017.
The way Pujols has exploded from the starting gates this season, leading everyone in home runs in April, he should finish at, or near, the top again.
Giants slugger Barry Bonds is back after missing most of last season and is close to becoming the second-most prolific home run hitter in MLB history. And how about such upstarts as Chris Shelton of the Tigers and Jonny Gomes of the Devil Rays? And the way Jim Thome is crushing the ball for the White Sox? Like Ortiz, he's also primarily a DH, but is listed among the AL first basemen.
The 2006 American League and National League All-Star teams will be unveiled on the Major League Baseball All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Chevrolet, which will air live on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 2.
The program features the announcement of the 16 elected starters, as determined by fan balloting, and 45 pitchers and reserves, as selected by the players' ballot and the two All-Star team managers -- Ozzie Guillen of the World Series champion White Sox and Phil Garner of the NL champ Astros -- and Major League Baseball.
Immediately following the All-Star Game Selection Show, fans will have the opportunity to select the final position player for each league's 32-man roster at MLB.com. The Monster.com 2006 All-Star Final Vote will provide fans the opportunity to cast their votes from a list of five players from each league over a three-day period.
A record number of voters had their say last year when Astros starting pitcher Roy Oswalt and White Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik were selected as reserves for the game played in Detroit. Oswalt received 2,652,549 votes to finish tops among the five NL candidates, all pitchers. He was followed by Trevor Hoffman of the Padres, Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks, and Billy Wagner and Brett Myers of the Phillies. Podsednik received 3,965,473 votes to lead the AL and was followed by Derek Jeter of the Yankees, Torii Hunter of the Twins, Hideki Matsui of the Yankees and Carl Crawford of the Devil Rays.
Also, for the second year, fans will be able to cast Final Vote selections using their mobile phones. Both winners of the Monster.com All-Star Final Vote will be announced after the voting has concluded on Thursday, July 6.
Concluding the All-Star balloting process, fans once again will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet at the 77th All-Star Game via the Monster.com 2006 All-Star Game MVP Vote at MLB.com.
The All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage and MLB Radio will provide exclusive play-by-play coverage of the game on the Internet.
As usual, fans attending Major and Minor League games can vote via a paper ballot. In-stadium balloting also begins Friday in host-city Pittsburgh, Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field, followed on Saturday in Missouri -- Busch Stadium and Kauffman Stadium.
All MLB stadiums will be vote operational by May 6. And, if you are not able to vote at an MLB facility, fear not. We have more good news. Beginning on May 8, in-stadium voting commences in Minor League ballparks and, like MLB, ends on June 29.
Furthermore, with the recent World Baseball Classic increasing the game's popularity throughout the world, online voting begins May 8 in Spanish and Japanese. Fans in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Curacao and Panama also can cast ballots via the Internet.
There are so many places to vote, and so many players to vote for.
Indeed, it's on your mark, get set ... vote.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.