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Once again, fans to have the Final say

Once again, fans to have Final say

The Monster 2008 All-Star Game Final Vote is under way now until 5 p.m. ET on Thursday exclusively at MLB.com, offering a decidedly different theme than last year and with the 100 millionth all-time Final Vote about to be cast.

A year after an all-pitchers ballot, this time it is all position players. It is an amazing mix of marquee and quietly productive talent, and included is a rookie sensation -- third baseman Evan Longoria of the Rays, who own baseball's best record -- whose fairy-tale Major League Baseball start is now in your hands.

Managers Terry Francona of the American League and Clint Hurdle of the National League have presented you with their five nominees per league so you can decide the 32nd and final roster spots for the 79th All-Star Game, being held on July 15 at Yankee Stadium. It is the seventh year for this, and it gets better every time.

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AL nominees are outfielder Jermaine Dye of the White Sox, first baseman Jason Giambi of the Yankees, outfielder Jose Guillen of the Royals, Longoria of the Rays and second baseman Brian Roberts of the Orioles.

NL nominees are outfielder Pat Burrell of the Phillies, outfielder Corey Hart of the Brewers, outfielder Carlos Lee of the Astros, outfielder Aaron Rowand of the Giants and third baseman David Wright of the Mets.

Choose one per league, and choose wisely. Just think what kind of work these players have put in, from offseason workouts to Spring Training exhibitions to the regular-season long haul. There is no All-Star Game like Major League Baseball's traditional Midsummer Classic, and their fate for this honor now lies in your hands.

The Monster 2008 All-Star Game Final Vote follows another record run of balloting by fans to determine the starting lineups, which were announced on TBS along with the rest of the rosters during the Major League Baseball All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Chevy. More than 41 million votes were cast in the final 24 hours of online balloting for starters, 57 percent more than the previous single-day record of 26 million, set in the final 24 hours of online balloting in 2005. A record 214.7 million total votes were cast over 16.5 million ballots at MLB.com in the overall Monster 2008 All-Star Game Online Ballot, despite having seven fewer days in the voting cycle than in 2007. The trends continue to show amazing interest in online voting by fans.

Last year, Padres pitcher Chris Young won the NL Final Vote with a record of more than 4.5 million votes. Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima was the AL representative, with more than 4.4 million votes.

At some point during this balloting period, someone is going to cast the 100 millionth vote in the history of this technological event. That's what makes it so great. It's about the fans as much as it is about the players. You basically own this. And to make it even more fun, there is a major grassroots-campaign wrinkle thrown in this time. MLB.com is offering a widget that fans can put on their social-networking sites, making an online happening even more widespread.

Fans also can vote for the fourth consecutive year by mobile phone. Just text the word "VOTE" to 36197 to have the Final Vote candidates sent to your handset. To vote for a specific player, reply with the appropriate choice. On the AL ballot, you can reply with one of these codes: A1 for Dye, A2 for Giambi, A3 for Guillen, A4 for Longoria or A5 for Roberts. For the NL, it's N1 for Burrell, N2 for Hart, N3 for Lee, N4 for Rowand or N5 for Wright. In Canada, fans should text the word "VOTE" to 88555. Standard text-messaging rates apply.

Expect to see a lot of creative grassroots campaigning by the clubs and fans involved, and vote as often as you wish. The winners will be announced on MLB.com shortly after the voting ends.

Here's a closer look at the candidates:

American League

Jermaine Dye, OF, White Sox
The White Sox are practically the Professional Final Vote Club. They have had a representative in six of the seven years (excluded last year), and Scott Podsednik (2005) and A.J. Pierzynski (2006) won behind great marketing. Dye has numbers that speak for themselves -- .308, 19 homers and 52 RBIs (plus Gold Glove-caliber defense in right) -- but the question is whether he will leave his quiet ways to self-promote.

"I don't know how Podsednik got in that one year against [Hideki] Matsui, with New York and Japan behind him," Dye mused after Sunday's 4-3 victory over Oakland, keeping his White Sox out front in the AL Central. "It will be fun and a little bit exciting, going up against a couple of those guys who are friends of mine. It will be tough to go up against New York [and Giambi], but we will see what happens."

Jason Giambi, 1B, Yankees
Yes, Dye was referring to the guy with the mustache in the biggest market. Giambi becomes the eighth player to make multiple appearances on the Final Vote ballot, joining Frank Thomas, teammate Bobby Abreu, Travis Hafner, Roy Oswalt, Billy Wagner, Brandon Webb and Young. Giambi, among those beaten out by Jason Varitek in the 2003 Final Vote, is returning to his old power levels, with 18 homers and 53 RBIs. Most notably, he is durable now, having started 58 games at first. With this game being part of the swan song for Yankee Stadium, it will be interesting to see if he is included.

"I hoped I was going to be able to do what I've been doing defensively and being out there every day," Giambi said of his season. "It's really paid off -- a lot of the running I did during Spring Training and even the offseason. [Manager] Joe [Girardi] has done a good job of working a rotation to get us all in there and keep us healthy."

Jose Guillen, OF, Royals
Guillen becomes the first Kansas City representative on the Final Vote ballot, leaving only the Mariners, Rangers and Reds as teams never involved in this process. Guillen has excelled on the field since going to Kansas City, hitting .274 with 13 homers and 64 RBIs. He had a torrid June, driving in 25 runs, scoring 17, batting .345 and stroking seven homers and nine doubles.

"It's good. It's up to the fans now," Guillen said when told of the news on Sunday, after his team's loss to Tampa Bay. "If it happens, it's good. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen."

Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays
This is shaping up like one of those rookie seasons you can't even dream about as a kid, because it would be too fantastical. He was fast-tracked to the parent club in the spring, has his number on the back of countless fan jerseys, has walk-off tendencies and has his long-moribund team on top of Major League Baseball. Through Sunday, he was batting .281 with 16 homers and 52 RBIs.

"Just to be included in that list of names is awesome," said Longoria, whose latest homer came in Sunday's 9-2 victory over the Royals -- helping the Rays to a seven-game winning streak. "I didn't really think down the stretch I was going to get any kind of voting or any kind of mention. But it was a good overall day for me."

Brian Roberts, 2B, Orioles
Roberts was an All-Star two of the past three years, but he requires fans' help this time. He is batting .293 with six homers and 31 RBIs, but he is on pace for a career year for total bases, with 162 through 84 games. He becomes the second Baltimore player on a Final Vote ballot, joining catcher Ramon Hernandez (unsuccessful) in 2006.

"I know [Ian] Kinsler's having a heck of a year, and [Dustin] Pedroia's having a heck of a year," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said of the two All-Stars chosen at second base. "There's probably others, but Roberts is as good as anyone in this league."

National League

Pat Burrell, OF, Phillies
Burrell's hot start set an immediate tone for the defending NL East champs, who have maintained a steady division lead for much of this season, including now. This is shaping up to be one of his best seasons, as he ranks among the Major League leaders with 21 homers and 53 RBIs to go with a .278 average.

Corey Hart, OF, Brewers
Remember Geoff Jenkins? Hart's numbers are similar to those that Jenkins put up as a Brewers outfielder when he won the Final Vote in 2003 -- the first real example of grassroots campaigning putting a nominee over the top. Milwaukee couldn't do the same for pitcher Chris Capuano two years ago, but the club has a chance again now. Hart is batting .294 with 14 homers and 53 RBIs. He also has wheels: 12 stolen bases, in case you want the NL to have more speed in trying to end this losing streak.

"It would be exciting if it happened," said Hart, hoping to join fellow Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun in the Midsummer Classic. "But right now, I'm just trying to not worry about it. It would be overwhelming if it happened."

Carlos Lee, OF, Astros
Will Lee be back for a fourth consecutive Midsummer Classic? He has been consistently productive since going to Houston last season, and his 2008 numbers are .293 with 19 homers and 66 RBIs. Those last two figures rank him fifth in the NL, so some might legitimately wonder if he was snubbed in having to go this route. The fans hold the cards. Lee can ask teammate Oswalt for some Final Vote advice; Oswalt is 1-for-2 in appearances on this ballot.

Aaron Rowand, OF, Giants
He made it to his first All-Star Game last year with the Phillies, and now it remains to be seen whether Rowand can make it two in a row. There is no question what he has meant to the Giants so far. Since guaranteeing the Giants' contention after signing with them over the offseason, he has led the club to within four games of the NL West lead. Rowand is hitting .303 with eight homers and 47 RBIs, is seven for his last 11, and you get the feeling he really wants this one.

Rowand was with the White Sox when he saw the first of those two successful campaigns mounted, during Chicago's title year. Now that he is on the ballot, he said, "It's neat to see how they brought this in and to watch [the voting] over the next couple of days."

David Wright, 3B, Mets
One thing's for sure -- it won't take grassroots campaigning to put this guy on anyone's radar. Wright participated in the past two All-Star Games, hitting a big homer in his first one at Pittsburgh. Who knows? It could be the Year of the Third Baseman in this Final Vote, if Wright makes it along with Longoria. Wright is batting .288 with 16 homers and 66 RBIs.

Wright or Longoria could become the first to win the Final Vote from the third base position. There never has been a second baseman (or shortstop), either, so Roberts also could be a breakthrough winner.

The Final Vote composition is always based mainly on the manager's need, knowing what it took to put together the other 31 spots. Hurdle, who will have managers Lou Piniella of the Cubs and Bud Black of the Padres on his coaching staff, analyzed his situation and was asked if the NL side of the Final Vote ballot reflected the need for another center fielder.

"[Nate] McLouth plays center, [Ryan] Ludwick plays center, [Kosuke] Fukudome plays center," Hurdle said. "[Alfonso] Soriano, we'll find out more about him on Wednesday. There's an option out there if someone were to be picked. We've got [Aaron] Rowand in play out there. Coery Hart can go play center. So I was thinking about that, but I wanted to pick five players. You pick any of them, I'm good with any of them. I'm good with any of them. They're all good players."

As for all of the NL Final Vote players being right-handed hitters, Hurdle added:

"When I looked at all the numbers, you know what? That just goes to speak that if you go deeper into the statistics, right-handed hitters that hit right-handed pitching ... I don't know if you went that far," Hurdle said. "I did. So it was not just a flip-the-coin, I needed a left-handed hitter for a right-handed pitcher. I thought we needed to represent, get the five guys that were on the next tier down, that I was agonizing about not having a spot. So, throw this one out to the fans. 'Go pick us a good player.' "

The AL West is the only division not represented in 2008.

Now it's time for the annual fun, because there's nothing like the Monster 2008 All-Star Game Final Vote. It is the ultimate "final say" for fans.

The fun won't end with the Final Vote, either. Once again, fans will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet at the 79th All-Star Game through the Monster 2008 All-Star Game MVP Vote on MLB.com.

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which will determine home-field advantage in the 2008 World Series, will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD, and around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game in addition to its other live coverage from San Francisco. MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage of all festivities surrounding the All-Star Game.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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