Races tighten with Final Vote in key last hours

Races tighten with Final Vote in key last hours

Races tighten with Final Vote in key last hours
It's about to be final, and the last remaining hours will decide whether tightened races and millions of votes will bring change or whether Major League Baseball fans give a unique double wire-to-wire victory to Paul Konerko and Shane Victorino.

Balloting closes at 4 p.m. ET in the 10th annual All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint, and shortly thereafter, MLB.com will reveal the 34th and final roster spots for Tuesday's 82nd Midsummer Classic at Chase Field in Phoenix.

Millions of votes were still to come on Thursday, so no margin may be safe amid robust campaigning that includes celebrity endorsements and an unprecedented five club alliances. Workday 9-to-5ers will be clicking away, with no limit on the number of votes they can cast. Vacationers will be taking poolside vote breaks in a last-ditch effort.

Konerko, the White Sox first baseman and Triple Crown candidate who matched Billy Wagner as the only three-time Final Vote candidate, continued to be followed closely in the American League ballot standings by Tigers DH/catcher Victor Martinez, Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist. Last year, Konerko finished third as Nick Swisher beat Kevin Youkilis to go to Anaheim.

Victorino, the Phillies outfielder trying to become the event's first two-time winner, hasn't played since Sunday due to a thumb sprain and will know Friday whether he might be available for the All-Star Game, or possibly headed to a disabled list. Is that an 11th-hour issue for voters? He is beating back National League challenges from Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier and Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, and those three are followed by Nationals left fielder Michael Morse and D-backs pitcher Ian Kennedy.

Follow @MLB on Twitter for any possible up-to-the-moment voting updates in advance of the deadline.

Balloting commenced at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, following the announcement of 66 All-Star starters and reserves.

For those voting by mobile device: U.S. residents can send "VOTE" to 89269 to receive the 2011 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote ballot, and in Canada, text "VOTE" to 65246.

During the voting, campaign endorsements have come via Twitter from some of the players' most famous fans, including Arizona Sen. John McCain endorsing a Kennedy (from the Midsummer Classic host D-backs); Shaquille O'Neal boosting support for Victorino; John Wall backing fellow D.C. star Morse; and American Idol winner David Cook and actress Alyssa Milano rallying for Gordon and Ethier, respectively.

Alliances include Morse and Jones (Beltway Ballot); Kennedy and Zobrist (1998 expansion brethren); Martinez and Victorino (Victor-Victorino); Ethier and Konerko (Camelback Ranch Spring cohabs); and Helton and Gordon (Rox & Royals). Each club also is campaigning for its respective ally.

Fans are doing their own grassroots work at MLB.com with the All-Star Campaign Manager program. It allows fans to tally points by getting 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.

Here is a campaign update:

National League

Andre Ethier, RF, Dodgers: If you vote for Ethier, you can win two tickets to a Dodgers home game this season, an autographed Ethier jersey or baseball, and a meet-and-greet with Ethier for you and a guest. You also will be eligible to receive a 70-percent-off discount offer for tickets in locations valued up to $50 to either the July 27 or July 30 games at Dodger Stadium.

Ethier is batting .316 with seven homers and 42 RBIs. He has a 30-game hitting streak in his 2011 credentials, and said in a video message to fans: "Punch your fingers away. There's East Coast bias out there, so this is a chance for us West Coasters to overcome it. If we need added incentive, there it is, to put a Dodger in the All-Star Game."

Dodgers season-ticket holder Alyssa Milano obliged, typing the #VoteAndre hashtag for her "favorite" Dodger and tweeting: "Help send Ethier to his hometown for the All-Star Game by texting N1 to 89269!"

Now that Konerko has the lead entering the final 24 hours, will the Dodgers-White Sox alliance help Ethier? The last time the Dodgers had a big-name former All-Star on the Final Vote ballot, they won big with Nomar Garciaparra in 2006. The Dodgers are home all week against the Mets and Padres so expect a heavy campaign theme in Chavez Ravine until the ballot closes.

Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies: He was due to appear on ESPN's "Mike and Mike" radio show on Thursday, continuing its series of Final Vote interviews.

The Rockies sweetened the pot, offering Helton voters a chance to win four Midfield Box Premium or Value Game tickets to a 2011 regular-season game at Coors Field. In addition, eligible voters also will receive a 50-percent discount offer for tickets in select seating categories

"I know people have busy lives," Helton said. "I appreciate them taking the time out to vote for me. ... To me, that's an honor in itself, even if I don't go."

Helton is batting .315 with nine homers and 39 RBIs. He recently played in his 2,000th career game. Will he return to the All-Star Game, where he was a fixture in those 1.000-plus OPS days of 2000-04?
Twitter hashtag: #VoteHelton

Ian Kennedy, RHP, D-backs: No Final Vote winner ever has come from a team hosting an All-Star Game. Kennedy could be the first. The right-hander has been a workhorse for the D-backs, fashioning an 8-2 record with a 3.01 ERA over 116 2/3 innings. Most impressive, he is on pace for a 200-strikeout season, ranking in the NL's top 10.

Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said he hoped Kennedy's vote total would pick up, but he knows that the Phillies' popularity is a tall order to overcome.

"I think it's a no-brainer," Gibson said. "We all feel the same about that. At the same time, it happens every year. The manager gets put in a situation and he's got to make decisions. I know [Kennedy is] All-Star caliber, and he's had an All-Star first half for us. As soon as I saw the participants, you could tell Victorino was going to be formidable."

Kennedy got a nod of support from U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) via McCain's Twitter page. McCain forgot to use the #VoteIanIn hashtag but he has 1.7 million followers so it was a loud endorsement.

Michael Morse, LF, Nationals: Morse is batting .301 with 15 homers and 46 RBIs -- tracking for benchmark stats that scream All-Star. Voting for him has perks. If you vote for Morse and choose the Nationals as your favorite or other favorite team, you receive a 50-percent-off discount for two tickets to a select Nationals home game this regular season. Not only that, but you are entered into a sweepstakes to win one of his game-used jerseys.

Here's one last campaign stump from the candidate himself: "I think that it would be one of the biggest accomplishments that I could ever achieve in this game, besides winning the World Series and going to the playoffs," Morse said. "Being able to get consistent playing time right now, words can't describe what it would mean to make the All-Star team."
Twitter hashtag: #VoteMorse

Shane Victorino, CF, Phillies: Fans who vote for Victorino at least 100 times at phillies.com/votevictorino are eligible to be entered into a random drawing to win a meet-and-greet with Victorino at Citizens Bank Park, two tickets to an upcoming game, parking and a signed Victorino jersey.

Victorino has led despite a tougher circumstance than 2009. He and the Philly mayor met with people in the streets back then, amid a homestand. Victorino has been out of sight -- injured Sunday and having to leave the club to be evaluated back in Philadelphia. Yet the "re-election campaign" has succeeded so far for a player who has been a reliable and steady force behind the Phillies' Major League-best record.

"I'm excited to be recognized again," Victorino said. "If you had asked me a month ago when I was on the DL [with a strained right hamstring] if I'd be in this position, I'd say no, missing three weeks. Obviously being back now, I'm excited. I'm excited, and I'm sure Philly fans will do what they did last time. It's happened once. Why can't it happen again?"

Twitter hashtag: #VoteForShane

American League

Alex Gordon, LF, Royals: In his final on-field campaign bid on Wednesday, Gordon went 2-for-4, scored twice and helped the Royals beat Konerko and the White Sox on the road. Gordon is batting .296 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs, and is on pace for about 200 hits and 100 runs.

The club is adding incentive by giving Gordon voters a chance for 50 percent off a game ticket this regular season.

Former Royals employee and 2007 American Idol winner David Cook just released a new album and also just told his quarter-million Twitter followers to vote for Gordon.

During an appearance on ESPN's "Mike and Mike" radio show Wednesday morning, Gordon said his favorite campaign strategy so far was back home in Nebraska, where restaurants were having "Vote Alex Meals" -- telling diners to vote.

Take it from Royals manager Ned Yost. He was manager of the Brewers in 2008 when Corey Hart won in the NL. "We just need to push it and people need to vote," Yost said. "It's really easy to vote, and you can vote an unlimited number of times. If you've got 15 minutes, go vote and you put in 45, 50, 100 votes in 15 minutes."
Twitter hashtag: #VoteAlex

Adam Jones, CF, Orioles: Jones is hitting .283 with 13 homers and 46 RBIs, numbers consistent with two years ago, when his sacrifice fly drove in Curtis Granderson with the decisive run for the American League in St. Louis.

Fans who vote for the 2009 All-Star will be entered into a sweepstakes for a chance to have a VIP meet-and-greet with Jones, plus parking and four field-box seat tickets to an Orioles non-prime home game this season.

Jones, who has gotten a stream of encouraging texts, has shied away from self-promoting on Twitter -- where he has more than 18,000 thousand followers -- although he acknowledged that the support from the organization, fans and his teammates has been cool. Jones took to his Twitter account on Tuesday to express his gratitude for everyone's votes and several teammates -- led by Jeremy Guthrie -- have taken to their accounts to help drum up support.
Twitter hashtag: #VoteAdam

Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox: Let's face it, Konerko is doing most of this himself. He is strengthening his AL Triple Crown bid every day. After Wednesday's day game, he was sixth with a .324 batting average, and fourth in the AL in home runs (22) and RBIs (64).

The White Sox enlisted the help of two of Chicago's professional sports teams in the quest to get Konerko to Arizona. Both the Bulls and Blackhawks have joined the "PaulStar" campaign by playing a personalized video message from A.J. Pierzynski and other White Sox players on their respective Web sites, encouraging both fan bases to vote for Konerko. Bulls broadcaster and fan favorite Stacey King utilized social media to spread the word on the "PaulStar" campaign as he tweeted to his more than 26,000 followers to also vote for Konerko, using the #PaulStar hashtag.

Everyone who votes for Konerko is entered into the 2011 Vote Paul Konerko All-Star Game Final Vote Sweepstakes. Ten winners will receive two tickets, an autographed Konerko jersey and a pre-game on field photo with Konerko on Aug. 30 at U.S. Cellular Field.

Konerko joins Billy Wagner as the only three-time Final Vote candidates, having come up short in 2004 (splitting the vote with teammate Frank Thomas) and 2010.

Victor Martinez, DH/C, Tigers: No matter what happens, is there any greater love than having your son campaign for you with this video? That will go down as an all-time Final Vote highlight.

Martinez is batting .324 in his first year with Detroit. The four-time All-Star has played 45 games as a designated hitter, 23 behind the plate and three at first.

If you vote 100 times, you are eligible to win two tickets to a Tigers home game this season, watching batting practice on the field and meeting the four-time All-Star himself. Fans in Motown are seeing messaging at the Palladium and Uptown theatres, and a digital billboard campaign. Illich Holdings Inc., which owns the Tigers and many other entities, has sent out company-wide emails. Vote Teams are visiting corporate-partner locations or community venues during peak traffic times to encourage fans.

Martinez's teammates are getting in the act, too. After Justin Verlander's campaign helped build support for catcher Alex Avila to win the All-Star starting nod at catcher, making him Detroit's first All-Star starter voted in since 2007, Verlander has taken up Martinez's cause. The pitcher asked his followers on Twitter to come up with a logo for the "Vote Victor" campaign, with the offer of a signed baseball for the best one. Now, he's tweeting the #VoteVictor hashtag. Fellow Tigers pitcher Brad Penny also has given his support.

"It's something that's out of my hands," Martinez said. "If it happens, it'll be nice in Arizona. If it doesn't, I'll be happy with my family back home."

Ben Zobrist, 2B, Rays: A middle infielder never has won the Final Vote. Will Zobrist be the first? He's tied with Adrian Gonzalez for the Major League lead with 28 doubles, helping manager Joe Maddon's club hang with the Yankees and Red Sox in the tough AL East. Zobrist is bidding for his second All-Star Game, having been added as a reserve in 2009 by his own manager.

"He's not going to promote himself," Rays outfielder Sam Fuld said. "We've got to do it for him -- no doubt."

Fuld has used his Twitter account to promote Zobrist's campaign, tweeting, "Congrats to @DAVIDprice14, Joyce and Shields, all well deserved. Now let's vote for Zorilla, too! #helpZoGo."

All-Star left-hander David Price also showed his support on Twitter, retweeting a message from a fan with links to the Final Vote page. Maddon has worn a Zorilla t-shirt to support Zobrist, while also encouraging fans to vote for the versatile Rays star.

There is an extra treat for fans in the Final Vote. If you are not a current MLB.TV subscriber (MLB.TV or MLB.TV Premium), you are eligible to receive a 10-day free trial of MLB.TV from July 9-19. If you are a current MLB.TV subscriber (MLB.TV or MLB.TV Premium), you will receive a 15-percent discount to the MLB.com Shop. MLB.com will send an email on July 8 to all Final Vote voters with instructions on how to redeem the applicable offer.

Also, MLB.com and its partner JibJab, the leader in personalized entertainment, have introduced a specially created Starring You® campaign featuring each League's five Final Vote candidates in a humorous, animated video of the traditional seventh-inning stretch song, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

Fans can watch the candidates' Starring You videos and then cast their online votes for the 2011 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint here. They then can create their own free Starring You® video where they can choose their favorite teams and insert photos of themselves, family and friends. The videos, including those featuring the 10 All-Star Game Final Vote candidates, can be embedded and shared via e-mail, through social network platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. For complete details, visit MLB.com/jibjab.

For the final phase of All-Star Game voting, fans will be asked to help decide the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2011 All-Star Game MVP Vote Sponsored by Sprint. That voting will take place on MLB.com during the Midsummer Classic.

The 82nd Major League Baseball 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 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. You also can leave comments on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.