Votebook: Far East fans have their say

Votebook: Far East fans have their say

The game of baseball is exploding throughout the globe, and once again, fans in Japan and China will be able to cast their online lots for their favorite stars to this year's All-Star Game, at Yankee Stadium.

The game is scheduled for Tuesday, July 15, and will be just one of the many fitting sendoffs for the sport's iconic ballpark in its last season.

Seattle outfielder Ichiro Suzuki anchors an impressive list of Japanese ballplayers, a group that is now eight strong in position players and eligible candidates on the fan ballot.

Joining Ichiro on the American League side of the ballot is teammate and catcher Kenji Johjima, Tampa Bay second baseman Akinori Iwamura, A's catcher Kurt Suzuki and Yankees designated hitter Hideki Matsui.

In the National League, Japan is represented on the ballot by Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome and a pair of second basemen: Tad Iguchi of the Padres and Houston's Kazuo Matsui.

Ichiro arrived in 2001 and has been a fixture at the All-Star Game ever since. He also secured MVP and Rookie of the Year honors that year.

Though Fukudome has a high bar to clear if he wishes to match the celebrated Mariners outfielder, he's helped to raise expectations in his first year in Chicago.

Fukudome homered and went 3-for-3 in his first game in a Cubs uniform and hit .305 for the month of April. His average has dipped some in May, but he is still getting on base at a .399 clip.

Fukudome played nine seasons in Japan but is technically considered a rookie. He could be the Cubs' first rookie to be chosen for the All-Star team since Sam "Toothpick" Jones in 1955. The only other Cubs rookies to make the All-Star event were catcher Toby Atwell in 1952 and infielder Don Johnson in 1944.

Fukudome was a four-time All-Star in Japan.

"I didn't put my name on the ballot, and I really appreciate it," Fukudome said through an interpreter. "I don't know who's going to vote. I just try my best so people will vote for me."

Fukudome will be facing some tough competition in the balloting from a strong crop of NL outfielders that includes Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, St. Louis' Ryan Ludwick, Colorado's Matt Holliday, and Pittsburgh's Xavier Nady and Nate McLouth.

The 79th Midsummer Classic will be the fourth held at Yankee Stadium and the eighth in New York. The Yankees previously hosted the All-Star Game in 1939, 1960 and 1977; the Polo Grounds held the game in 1934 and 1942; Ebbets Field was the site in 1949; and Shea Stadium hosted the 1964 Midsummer Classic.

Fans can cast their votes for starters up to 25 times with the Monster 2008 All-Star Online Ballot at MLB.com and all 30 club sites until Wednesday, July 2, at 11:59 p.m. ET.

Starting rosters will be announced during the 2008 All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Chevrolet on TBS on Sunday, July 6. Baseball fans around the world will then be able to select the final player on each team through the Monster 2008 All-Star Final Vote at MLB.com.

And the voting doesn't end there. Fans will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet at the All-Star Game through the Monster 2008 All-Star Game MVP vote at MLB.com.

The All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports and around the world by Major League Baseball International. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio play-by-play, and MLB.com will offer extensive online coverage.

Two NL second basemen who will be looking for their first All-Star berths are Matsui and Iguchi. Florida's Dan Uggla, the Phillies' Chase Utley and the Cubs' Mark DeRosa may make their candidacies difficult, but they're hoping for a warm reception back home.

"Well, Iguchi is playing for the National League, so as a second baseman, it might be hard for me to get the Japanese vote," Matsui said through an interpreter. "But whether it's people from Japan or people from the United States, if they vote for me, I'll appreciate it. To get many people to vote for me, I have to play well. I just want to play my best and if I get votes for that, that would be great."

In the AL, two-time All-Star Hideki Matsui is currently second in batting average, tied for sixth homers and eighth in RBIs, but he'll likely get a boost from the New York bloc. Ichiro should also be a fan favorite again despite hitting .292, fifth among AL outfielders.

Suzuki (.253) and Johjima (.227) currently trail Minnesota's Joe Mauer, Cleveland's Victor Martinez, Detroit's perennial All-Star Ivan Rodriguez and Chicago backstop A.J. Pierzynski in batting average, whereas for Iwamura, there are five AL second basemen with higher batting averages and more RBIs.

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