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Votebook: Special in any language

Votebook: Special in any language

The patriotic passion demonstrated during the inaugural World Baseball Classic returns via another outlet, as Spanish-language ballots -- to be followed by Japanese ballots -- will give more fans the opportunity to help select the starters for the All-Star Game.

A Spanish online ballot became available Monday on MLB.com, any of the 30 club sites and Monster.com. A Japanese version will be introduced next week, and every fan can vote up to 25 times through June 29, which is when the voting process ends.

The 77th All-Star Game, set for July 11 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, is the main event during a three-day baseball extravaganza, close to where the Monongahela River joins the Allegheny River to form the Ohio River.

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There were more than 11.5 million votes cast online last year, an increase of nearly one million over the previous year. There has been a noticeable increase each year that fans have been able to log onto their computer, navigate to the ballot and vote for their favorite players.

And with the World Baseball Classic being such a huge hit and still fresh in so many minds, there could be a record number of online votes cast in 2006, especially from Japan and the Latin American countries that participated in the first international championship involving professional players.

Team Japan captured the Classic title with a 10-6 victory over Cuba on March 21 in San Diego, capping an event that lured almost 800,000 to ballparks in Japan, Puerto Rico and the United States.

When the three-week tourney started on March 3, there were 179 Major League players on the rosters of 12 of the 16 teams. And although only two of those players -- right fielder Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners and Rangers reliever Akinori Otsuka -- were on a team that reached the finals, games televised and broadcast throughout the world introduced fans to MLB players they might not have known much about beforehand.

And that could take the online voting process to new heights, making an important part of the All-Star selection process even more important.

And just how big has online voting become?

Well, Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz received a record 3,629,492 online votes last year, and, coupled with 508,649 paper votes, he was the overall leading vote-getter, with more than 4.1 million votes.

In the National League, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols had more paper votes than Cubs counterpart Derrek Lee, and he had a 59,000-vote lead entering the final days of the voting.

But a late surge of online voting helped boost the Cubs star, who was having a Triple Crown-caliber season, to an NL-leading 3,560,316 votes. Pujols finished with 3,455,017 votes. Lee also outpolled Pujols on the MLB player ballot, 694 to 385, and led the NL with 3,277,475 online votes.

So, wherever you are, and whether you speak Spanish, Japanese or English -- a special hurrah if you speak all three -- go to your computer, log on to the Internet, go directly to MLB.com -- which is probably your home page, anyway -- and begin voting.

Fans can also vote via paper ballot. Internationally, ballots become available on Monday in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Curacao and Panama.

The rosters will be unveiled at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 2. The announcement will reveal the 16 elected starters, as determined by fan balloting, and 45 pitchers and reserves, as determined by the player ballot, the two All-Star team managers -- Ozzie Guillen of the World Series champion Chicago White Sox and Phil Garner of the NL champion Houston Astros -- and Major League Baseball.

Fans will have the opportunity to select the final position player for each league's 32-man roster at MLB.com. The 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. Fans added Roy Oswalt (NL) and Scott Podsednik (AL) to the rosters with that Final Vote last summer.

For the fourth consecutive year, the league that wins the All-Star Game will receive home-field advantage during the World Series. The AL has won back-to-back-to-back Midsummer Classics since that provision was added prior to the 2003 World Series, and eight straight overall.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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