It's an esteemed honor, and as this year's slate showed, nothing to be taken for granted.
Rosters were unveiled for the July 12 All-Star Game at Phoenix's Chase Field on Sunday, and two things were made clear: The balloting process is bigger and more popular than ever, and the turnover from one year to the next can be quite significant.
Plenty of stalwarts will be making up the American League and National League starting lineups in the 82nd annual Midsummer Classic, including Alex Rodriguez (14th All-Star nod), Derek Jeter (12), David Ortiz (seven), Brian McCann (six straight), Lance Berkman (six), Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton and Ryan Braun (four straight each).
But of the 17 starters announced via the TBS MLB All-Star Selection Show presented by Taco Bell, only four -- Jeter, Braun, Hamilton and Robinson Cano -- started the 2010 version. Seven -- Gonzalez, McCann, Curtis Granderson, Alex Avila, Matt Kemp, Rickie Weeks and Jose Bautista -- are starting for the first time, and last year's voting leaders -- Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer -- are absent.
The All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and Le Reseau des Sports, and around the world by MLB International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.
For the clearest glimpse of the sudden emergence of star power, look no further than the new record-holder for All-Star votes.
At this time last year, we were still getting our heads around the sudden production of a late-blooming Bautista. Now, after following up a 54-homer 2010 campaign with a dynamic first half of '11 -- one that has him leading the Majors with 26 homers and a 1.150 OPS -- the Blue Jays slugger has outdone himself.
In a year that saw professional sports' most extensive All-Star Game balloting system establish a new record with 32.5 million ballots, Bautista led with 7,454,753 votes. That beats out the previous high-water mark of 6,069,688, which was set by Ken Griffey Jr. in 1994.
"I can't even describe how good that feels," Bautista said of being an All-Star for the second straight year.
al all-star starters
|1B||Adrian Gonzalez||Red Sox|
|OF||Jose Bautista||Blue Jays|
|DH||David Ortiz||Red Sox|
"It has been a fun year so far, and it's going to be another honor to represent the team and two countries -- the Dominican [Republic] and Canada."
This year's voting numbers weren't unprecedented merely because of Bautista, though.
Three other AL starters -- Cano, Ortiz and Granderson -- joined him in surpassing Griffey's former record total. Braun -- who injured his leg on Saturday and is currently day to day -- established a new NL record with 5,928,004 votes.
The combined vote total topped the previous high from '09 by about 9 million.
This year, the first that will have the designated hitter deployed in an NL park, fans selected 17 starting position players, while the other 49 were chosen via a combination of the Player Ballot, the two All-Star Game managers and MLB.
Then, skippers Ron Washington (AL) and Bruce Bochy (NL) -- in conjunction with MLB -- each picked five omitted players to make up the All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint, which fans will be able to vote on from now until 4 p.m. ET on Thursday.
Final Vote aside, six Yankees, four members of the Braves, Giants, Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox and Tigers, and 24 first-timers are headed to Arizona.
The visiting AL roster will look like this:
Catcher: Alex Avila (Tigers)
First base: Adrian Gonzalez (Red Sox)
Second base: Robinson Cano (Yankees)
Third base: Alex Rodriguez (Yankees)
Shortstop: Derek Jeter (Yankees)
Outfield: Jose Bautista (Blue Jays), Curtis Granderson (Yankees) and Josh Hamilton (Rangers)
DH: David Ortiz (Red Sox)
The AL pitching staff consists of: starters Josh Beckett (Red Sox), Gio Gonzalez (Athletics), Felix Hernandez (Mariners), David Price (Rays), James Shields (Rays), Justin Verlander (Tigers), Jered Weaver (Angels) and C.J. Wilson (Rangers); and relievers Aaron Crow (Royals), Brandon League (Mariners), Chris Perez (Indians), Mariano Rivera (Yankees) and Jose Valverde (Tigers).
And the backup position players are: catchers Russell Martin (Yankees) and Matt Wieters (Orioles); infielders Adrian Beltre (Rangers), Asdrubal Cabrera (Indians), Miguel Cabrera (Tigers) and Howard Kendrick (Angels); outfielders Michael Cuddyer (Twins), Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox), Matt Joyce (Rays) and Carlos Quentin (White Sox); and DH Michael Young (Rangers).
The NL shakes out this way:
Catcher: Brian McCann (Braves)
First base: Prince Fielder (Brewers)
Second base: Rickie Weeks (Brewers)
Third base: Placido Polanco (Phillies)
Shortstop: Jose Reyes (Mets)
Outfield: Ryan Braun (Brewers), Matt Kemp (Dodgers) and Lance Berkman (Cardinals)
The NL pitching staff consists of: starters Matt Cain (Giants), Roy Halladay (Phillies), Cole Hamels (Phillies), Jair Jurrjens (Braves), Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers), Cliff Lee (Phillies), Tim Lincecum (Giants) and Ryan Vogelsong (Giants); and relievers Heath Bell (Padres), Tyler Clippard (Nationals), Joel Hanrahan (Pirates), Jonny Venters (Braves) and Brian Wilson (Giants).
The NL's bench will include: catcher Yadier Molina (Cardinals); infielders Starlin Castro (Cubs), Chipper Jones (Braves), Brandon Phillips (Reds), Gaby Sanchez (Marlins), Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies) and Joey Votto (Reds); and outfielders Carlos Beltran (Mets), Jay Bruce (Reds), Matt Holliday (Cardinals), Hunter Pence (Astros) and Justin Upton (D-backs).
"I think obviously you hope the fans enjoy you, but having your peers vote you in is something that is rewarding," Holliday said of being selected via the Player Ballot. "Having the respect of your peers is something that's important to me."
Holliday was one of several who were involved in tight races for starting spots.
Another was Reyes, who trailed Tulowitzki by 244,832 on Monday, then wound up beating him by nearly 800,000 when voting finished at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday.
Heading into Sunday's action, he led the Majors in batting average (.354), hits (124) and triples (15), and ranked second in stolen bases (30) while being a sparkplug for a resurgent Mets team. Now the question is whether the hamstring tightness that forced Reyes out of Saturday's contest will hinder his All-Star Game availability.
One player who will likely be held out because of injury is Pujols.
A wrist injury has "The Machine" on the disabled list and will likely keep him out at least through the All-Star break (though indications are that he's recovering more quickly than expected). That has set the stage for Fielder, who used a monstrous first half to edge out Votto and start his second All-Star Game.
As recently as Monday, Fielder and Votto were separated by just 70,727 votes, but the injured Pujols sported a lead of more than 450,000 over both of them. Had the idle Pujols maintained it, the Player Ballot would've decided the first-base starter. But Fielder passed Pujols over the final week of balloting, garnering 4,864,523 votes -- 610,218 more than Votto and 693,429 more than the third-place Pujols.
nl all-star starters
"Those two other guys are All-Stars and MVPs, so for me to be able to start this Game is just an honor," said Fielder, who had 21 homers, a .299 batting average and an NL-leading 69 RBIs heading into Sunday. "I'm very appreciative."
Avila trailed Martin throughout the balloting process and was within 450,000 votes as of Tuesday. Then, at last, Tigers fans rewarded the 24-year-old Avila, who came into Sunday leading AL catchers in batting average (.299) and RBIs (46).
A couple of other close races resided in the Senior Circuit, where Weeks -- batting .276 with 14 homers and 33 RBIs -- edged out Phillips at second base; and Kemp -- having an MVP-type season with a .327 batting average, 22 homers, 64 RBIs and 22 stolen bases -- sneaked past Holliday.
But no race was tighter than the one for the third outfield spot in the AL.
That one came down to Hamilton and Ellsbury. Hamilton held the slightest of leads -- 121,325 votes -- on Tuesday; he wound up winning by a mere 36,727 to capture his fourth All-Star Game start. Ellsbury sported a .300 batting average, .361 on-base percentage, 25 stolen bases and nine homers entering Sunday's action, while Hamilton was hitting .301 with 10 homers and 40 RBIs despite missing time on the DL.
"He's the reigning MVP," Washington said. "He's talented. Yes, he missed the first month of the season's games, but he's back rolling. He's certainly playing like an MVP."
While a lot is different about this year's All-Star Game rosters, the left side of the Yankees' infield is a sign of stability.
Thanks to a .304 batting average, 13 homers and 52 RBIs, A-Rod is an All-Star Game starter for the 11th time and is tied with Ivan Rodriguez for the active lead in overall appearances.
And despite a down year that has him batting .260 with two homers, Jeter is an All-Star Game starter for the sixth straight year. By the time this year's version rolls around, Jeter, who is currently rehabbing a calf strain in the Minor Leagues, should be healthy enough to play, and he could do so as the 28th member of the 3,000-hit club.
A few things must still be decided, such as who will start on the mound. That decision lies in the hands of the skippers. But under MLB rules, no pitcher who starts next Sunday will be eligible to pitch in the Midsummer Classic.
And then there's the Final Vote, which will come down to Alex Gordon of the Royals, Adam Jones of the Orioles, Paul Konerko of the White Sox, Victor Martinez of the Tigers and Ben Zobrist of the Rays in the AL; and Andre Ethier of the Dodgers, Todd Helton of the Rockies, Ian Kennedy of the D-backs, Michael Morse of the Nationals and Shane Victorino of the Phillies in the NL.
Final Vote winners will be announced on MLB.com shortly after Thursday's 4 p.m. ET deadline.
Mobile voting in the U.S. is exclusive to Sprint, Nextel and Boost subscribers. To receive the 2011 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint mobile ballot, text the word "VOTE" to 1122. To vote for a specific player, simply text message your choice to 1122. For example, text "A3" to vote for AL Player No. 3, or "N3" to vote for NL Player No. 3. Message and data rates may apply. Mobile voting in Canada is open to all carriers; fans should text their choices to 88555.
Also, fans will once again be able to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevy during the All-Star Game, via the 2011 All-Star Game MVP Vote Sponsored by Sprint on MLB.com.
That day, the NL will be looking to build on last year's victory -- their first in 14 years -- while the AL will look to prove they're still this era's more dominant Circuit.
They'll play for bragging rights, for home-field advantage in the World Series and -- perhaps most of all -- for the enjoyment of the fans.
"It's fun," Ortiz said about the All-Star Game experience. "It's something that the fans really enjoy. Those few days, you really get worn out, but it's worth it because the fans put a lot of enthusiasm into it. Pretty much everybody is hanging out with their family, and you get to know some of the guys that you'd like to know how they are, besides being good baseball players. It's a good time."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.