The stretch run for determining the position starters for the 77th All-Star Game in Pittsburgh is just around the hot corner. Only two weeks remain for fans to vote for their favorite players and help send them to PNC Park for the Midsummer Classic on July 11. Rosters for the All-Star Game 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.
Thursday marks the ending of the in-stadium voting at three MLB sites -- Chase Field, Comerica Park and Rogers Centre (see chart). The Monster.com 2006 All-Star Online Ballot, available on MLB.com and the 30 club sites, ends at 11:59 p.m. ET on June 29. Just as there are some exciting division races developing as the season approaches the halfway mark, the same could be said of several All-Star Game position battles. In the National League, which will host the All-Star Game this season and again in 2007 when it is played in San Francisco, some terrific, down-to-the-wire races are shaping up at third base, shortstop and the outfield. At last count, New York Mets third baseman David Wright moved past Cardinals third-sacker Scott Rolen and into first place. Both have substantial leads over third-place Morgan Ensberg of the Astros. Right next door, at shortstop, David Eckstein of the St. Louis Cardinals continues to lead the way with the Mets' Jose Reyes running second, followed closely by Edgar Renteria of the Atlanta Braves.
And in the outfield, Braves center fielder Andruw Jones is closing in on one million votes, while a healthy Ken Griffey Jr. of the Cincinnati Reds has moved into second place. The battle for all three starting spots could go down to the wire. Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran had a 1,300-vote lead over Nationals left fielder Alfonso Soriano for the third spot as of Monday, and all four candidates are separated by fewer than 80,000 votes.
So, more than ever, you could say every vote counts.
The American League has one hotly contested battle brewing heading into the final two weeks of fan voting -- catcher. But, surprisingly, the receiver with the highest batting average in the Major Leagues, let alone the AL, remains out of the running for a starting spot.
Twins catcher Joe Mauer, batting .381 as of Wednesday, has yet to crack the top five vote-getters.
Jason Varitek of the Boston Red Sox has a slim lead over veteran Detroit Tigers receiver Ivan Rodriguez, but having a player from the Red Sox (or New York Yankees) leading his respective position is par for the course this year.
In seven of the eight starting positions being contested, either a Yankees or Red Sox player is running first or second. And in two cases, at first and second base, they are one-two. David Ortiz and Jason Giambi are fighting it out at first, while Robinson Cano and Mark Loretta are the leading vote-getters at second.
The left side of the Yankees infield -- third baseman Alex Rodriguez and shortstop Derek Jeter -- is far out in front of the competition. Jeter, hoping to make his seventh All-Star appearance, is in a neck-and-neck race with Los Angels Angels right fielder Vladimir Guerrero for most votes. Jeter currently leads by about 6,000 votes -- an extremely narrow edge considering both have received more than one million votes.
But with a fast finish at the polls, A-Rod or Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez, who also have more than 1 million votes, could emerge as the AL's top vote-getter.
However, it is unlikely any of them will surpass NL leader Albert Pujols, the injured Cardinals first baseman who has nearly 1.5 million votes so far.
Fans once again get the opportunity to select the final position player for each league's 32-man roster. The Final Vote will provide fans the opportunity to cast their votes on MLB.com 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 in 2005.
The All-Star Game winner receives home-field advantage during the World Series. The AL has won each Midsummer Classic since that provision was added prior to the 2003 World Series, but the NL representative Florida Marlins won the Fall Classic in '03. However, the AL Red Sox and White Sox used the home-field advantage as jump-starts en route to Series championships the past two seasons.
The AL is riding an eight-game All-Star winning streak, the longest since the NL won every game from 1972 through '82.
|In-stadium balloting for the 77th All-Star Game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh is beginning to wind down. Below is a chart of balloting end dates at each of the Major League ballparks.|
|Great American Ball Park|
|Citizens Bank Park|
|Minute Maid Park|
|U.S. Cellular Field|
|Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome|
You might recall that the NL went 19-1 from 1963 through '82 and took the game far more seriously, it seemed.The All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports and shown 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, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage and MLB Radio will provide exclusive play-by-play.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.